Bernie Sanders protesting the furlough of federal workers, October 2013 / Getty Images
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders seems to be getting more serious about running for president. He discussed it last November with Salon’s Josh Eidelson, but didn’t have much to say about it; the interview was mainly about the issues that animate him. Now, in a longer interview with John Nichols in The Nation he talks about a Democratic vs. third party run, strategy, money and more.
And separately, in an interview with Time magazine’s Jay Newton-Small , he talks about the pluses and minuses of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama versus Bernie as presidential material, and why the left hasn’t produced an angry grass-roots movement like the Tea Party.
For some smart insight into his Jewish identity, check out this January interview with JTA’s Ron Kampeas.
None of the interviews discusses his age as a presidential consideration; he’s 72, which means he’d be 76 when he started his first term. Hillary is only 66, and some people talk about her age as a disadvantage. Ronald Reagan was 70 when he entered the White House and probably had dementia by the time he left.
Bernie still hasn’t yet decided to throw himself into it, but he’s getting down to strategies in his thinking. He tells Nichols he thinks the Democrats are too close to big-money interests and too many are too similar to Republicans. But he seems to be leaning heavily against a third-party bid, because the odds are very much against success and he doesn’t want to be a Nader-type spoiler:
As hard as leaders of AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby, are trying to maintain a politely bipartisan tone among the 14,000 activists gathered for the lobby’s annual conference, unhappiness with the Obama administration keeps surfacing in small conference rooms and chats in the corridors.
Occasionally rancor surfaces in the mass plenary sessions, despite the leadership’s best efforts to roll back the partisanship that hurt the lobby during the recent confrontation over Iran sanctions. Arizona Republican Senator John McCain received loud standing ovations on Monday morning when he blamed the Ukraine crisis on President Obama’s “feckless foreign policy in which nobody believes in America’s strength anymore.”
Nor is the rancor always partisan. New Yorker Chuck Schumer, the Senate’s No. 3 Democrat, delivered a direct attack Monday evening on Secretary of State John Kerry, moments before Kerry was to take the stage, thundering that “those who warn that Israel must make agreements that she feels are unjust because the boycotts will get worse are wrong. Those quote-unquote friends should be in every possible way condemning the boycotts.” He was referring to Kerry’s February 1 warning at a security conference in Munich, which drew furious protests from Israeli leaders.
It’s in the smaller sessions, however, that the gloves sometimes come off in the course of what begins as a dispassionate expert analysis of anything from Syria to the Pacific rim.
The Bank of Israel, the Jewish state’s central bank (equivalent to the Fed), has rolled out the design for its new 50 shekel note, and the face on the front is of someone you wouldn’t particularly expect from a government widely depicted as rightist, xenophobic and religious-dominated: the great socialist Hebrew poet Shaul Tchernichovsky. The Hebrew website Ynet.co.il has an image of the new bill here.
The Crimea-born Tchernichovsky (1875-1943), a physician who settled in mandatory Palestine in 1931, is probably best known for his poem “Ani Maamin” (“I Believe”), which is commonly referred to by its opening words, Sachaki Sachaki (שחקי שחקי – “Laugh at me, laugh at me”). This translation gets the idea of the poem, though it translates “sachaki” (laugh at me) as “rejoice,” which sort of misses the point. There’s a movement among Israeli civil rights advocates to adopt it as an alternate national anthem, instead of or alongside “Hatikvah.”
The opening lines: Laugh at me, laugh at my dreams / So say I, the dreamer / Laugh at me because I still believe in man / Because I still believe in you. / Because my soul still yearns for freedom / I haven’t sold it for a golden calf / Because I still believe in man / in his powerful spirit.
Pro-Russian activists rally March 1 in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk / Getty Images
The AIPAC conference may be opening at an awkward time for the lobby, as the Forward’s Nathan Guttman writes today. Beyond the fact that it’s still licking its wounds from the Iran sanctions imbroglio and has no clear message to rally around, it has to compete for attention—which is, after all, the point of bringing 14,000 people to Washington—from Oscars night and yet another winter storm.
But there could be an even bigger kink in the planning. As Chemi Shalev writes in Haaretz today, the explosion of Ukraine crisis vastly overshadows the Iran crisis that AIPAC wants to make the centerpiece of the conference. AIPAC was figuring to rev up the troops by invoking the Iranian nuclear threat. It apparently wants to avoid a direct confrontation with the administration over the issue, but it’s not planning on making nice either. Now the entire AIPAC agenda is probably off the front page.
On the other hand, the Ukraine eruption could work to the advantage of Israel’s prime minister, who meets President Obama at the White House on Monday. It’s sort of like a replay of the Monica Lewinsky crisis, which erupted just as Bibi was headed to the White House for a showdown with President Clinton in January 1998.
Profiles in democracy: The latest New York Times-CBS News poll indicates that voters are favoring Republicans over Democrats 42-to-39 in the upcoming midterm congressional elections.
The reason? They’re angry at Democrats for failing to implement their agenda, which voters largely favor — including greater economic equality, higher minimum wage, abortion access, marriage equality, legalized pot, higher taxes as part of budget reform — in the face of unremitting Republican opposition. That is, they want to punish the Democrats for letting themselves get stymied by Republican obstruction, unprecedented use of the filibuster, refusal by the Tea Partied House GOP to pass any of the measures Democrats and most voters see as important. So to punish the Democrats, they’re going to vote Republican.
Put differently, they’re going to vote Republican to punish the Democrats for failing to prevent the Republicans from doing things they don’t like.
Harold Ramis, the comedy genius who died yesterday at age 69, was the head writer of the brilliant Canadian sketch comedy show Second City Television (SCTV) before going on to co-star in “Ghostbusters” and then write and direct “Caddyshack” and “Analyze This.”
The premise of SCTV was that it was a low-rent local television station in the fictional city of Melonville. Some of us consider it one of the most inspired television comedy shows ever. Here a few of Ramis’s classic bits.
And after the jump, a couple of SCTV classic bits, showcasing Ramis’s writing and the acting of the immortal John Candy as Johnny La Rue and Eugene Levy as Sid Dithers (not to be missed).
Mort Finkel: “Do-It-Yourself Dentistry”
Moe Green: “You’re Dead. Now What?”
“Match Unto My Feet” visits a family seder
(Perhaps the greatest SCTV sketch of all. Apologies for the poor sound quality. Stick with it if you can.)
More after the jump:
Senator Robert Menendez addresses AIPAC, March 2013 / Getty Images
When I wrote last week that Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu had instructed AIPAC to go stick its head in a noose — specifically, to pick another fight with the White House over Iran sanctions legislation, a scant 11 days after its bruised retreat from the last one — I wasn’t expecting the lobby to turn around on a dime and publicly assume the position just five days later on the Op-Ed Page of The New York Times, with the entire world looking on.
I mean, it’s no great surprise, at least not to the hard-core cynics among us, that when Israel’s prime minister tells the pro-Israel lobbying juggernaut to jump, the response from its H Street headquarters is “how high?” For all the power routinely imputed to the lobby in Washington, nobody seriously suggests that it wields much influence in Jerusalem. Not that they’ve ever tried. It’s more of what you might call a one-way street.
Usually, though, the process is conducted with a bit of class. AIPAC doesn’t advertise how its decisions are reached nor how closely, if at all, they’re coordinated with Jerusalem. Its public demeanor is that of a dignified American civic association with a deep interest in international affairs. Its decision-making is famously secretive; that’s part of its mystique. Senior officers almost never address the media, except from the dais of their annual Washington policy conference, where they have 10,000 cheering followers parked between themselves and the cameras.
Well, the next conference is in less than a week. They’re expecting 14,000 conferees. The prime minister himself will be the guest of honor. What was so urgent that it couldn’t wait a week and had to be said now, in the Times?
The signs suggest that the leadership wanted to head off a potential uprising at the conference next week from hardliners angered over what looked like a surrender to the White House on the Senate’s Menendez-Kirk Iran sanctions bill. That’s how the February 6 decision not to seek a vote on the bill has been interpreted in the mainstream media. The ideological press has been even harsher. Bill Kristol, writing the Weekly Standard, accused the lobby of making a “fetish of bipartisanship,” and suggested that its behavior might lead to “a nuclear Iran.” Ouch.
And, of course, that was the message in Bibi’s public spanking: Gentlemen, an about-face is in order.
Hence, the hasty Op-Ed piece. You can tell the authors were acting in haste and under duress from the piece itself; it’s full of holes.
America is reportedly stepping up its commitment to the Syrian rebels with new injections of money, upgraded weapons and intelligence coordination, according to several respected Arab news sources, the Abu Dhabi-based The National and the Jordanian-based Ammon News.
The moves are said to include supply of shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, which Saudi Arabia has been eager to supply but Washington has opposed. Ammon News reported Tuesday that the shoulder missiles will come from Jordan and Turkey and that Washington continues to oppose the supply.
According to The National, a secret operations command center has been set up at Jordanian intelligence headquarters in Amman to work with the rebels, staffed by military officials—military intelligence officers, according to Maariv—from 14 countries including the United States, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and various European states. Jordan denied that the center exists. But Washington Post foreign affairs pundit David Ignatius reported this week that intelligence officials from most of the countries named by The National met in Washington a week ago to discuss Syria strategy.
Israel is watching the shifts nervously, Maariv reported, partly because of a decision by the moderate Free Syrian Army to shift its main forces from northern Syria, where they face stiff competition from jihadi militias, to the south, close to Israel. The shift southward, it’s feared, could tempt jihadi forces to move southward following the fighting, putting Israel in danger from Al Qaeda-linked terrorism.
New York City mayor Bill De Blasio just appeared on MSNBC’s “All In With Chris Hayes” and was asked in the last few minutes about his January 23 speech to an AIPAC gathering at the New York Hilton, where he told the pro-Israel lobby he would “stand by you” whenever he’s needed “’cause that’s my job.” His response to Hayes was pretty eloquent. (The show is rebroadcast at 11 p.m. Eastern; look for this segment around 11:57.)
My transcription of the exchange, enabled through the magic of DVR, appears below.
The mayor’s 6-minute AIPAC speech (audio recording after the jump) drew some pretty sharp criticism from the left (and, less noticed, from the right as well). It even got Jon Stewart in trouble with the left for interviewing De Blasio and not grilling him about it.
Hayes, a former Washington editor of The Nation, makes it fairly plain in the way he poses the question that he sympathizes with the critics. But De Blasio stands tough: It’s not just that Israel deserves support as a “pluralistic society” that’s “been under attack.” Perhaps just as important—and legitimate—he’s the mayor of a city that “has one of the largest Jewish populations of any city on earth.”
New York City has had a foreign policy of its own for more than a century, going back through the legendary Fiorello LaGuardia and police commissioner Teddy Roosevelt, representing the interests and values of the peoples that make up this melting pot. And an immigrant metropolis, like a nation, has underlying overseas interests and commitments that can transcend the personal views of an individual chief executive. Yes, that’s part of Hizzoner’s job.
‘Arguably treasonous’? Former Israeli intelligence chiefs Meir Dagan of Mossad (left) and Yuval Diskin of Shin Bet / Wikimedia Commons
There seems be a growing realization on the pro-Israel right — in some corners of it, at least — that its notions of Israel’s security needs don’t have much support among Israel’s security professionals.
What the right calls standing firm on Israel’s bottom line, the generals call sabotaging the peace process. What the generals call basic Israeli security doctrine, the right calls left-wing, pro-Palestinian propaganda.
Reactions from the right to this realization have been pretty much what you’d expect from any self-respecting right-wing ideologue these days: indignant protests that the so-called experts don’t know what they’re talking about. In recent months a growing roster of conservative commentators in both Israel and America have accused the defense establishment as a group or its most prominent members of ignorance, stupidity, disloyalty and even “arguably treasonous” behavior.
This is a new and disturbing development. It’s enough to recall the response in September 2009 to the United Nations’ Goldstone Report, which accused Israeli troops of war crimes, to remember the onetime intensity of the taboo against questioning the integrity of Israel’s defense establishment. But that was before the political leadership of the Netanyahu era began spinning an ideologically-driven security agenda that was radically at odds with the longstanding doctrines of the defense and intelligence establishment, and the politicians discovered that they couldn’t get the generals and spymasters to tailor their assessments to fit the political winds.
The security establishment—former heads of the Mossad, Shin Bet, military intelligence and the IDF general staff—began aggressively speaking out around three years ago, some two years into the Netanyahu administration, once they began suspecting that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hardline policies on Iran and the Palestinians weren’t tough bargaining positions so much as ideologically-driven recklessness.
In the first half of 2011, Netanyahu swept out the heads of all the main security branches, including the Mossad, the Shin Bet, the IDF and the national security council, all apparently because the incumbents had refused during internal deliberations to endorse an Israeli military strike against Iran. The months that followed saw a steady stream of public statements from ex-service heads, in speeches, interviews and op-eds, laying out their views on what Israel does and doesn’t need to be safe. Some were directly critical of the government’s policies; others criticized only by implication.
The Anti-Defamation League will surely find a new national director to take over when Abe Foxman retires in July 2015, but it won’t replace Abe Foxman. And it won’t be the same ADL.
For one thing, he’ll be a hard act to follow. There’s nobody quite like him, inside the league or outside. Nobody with his range of contacts in the Jewish world and beyond, his grasp of the issues from civil rights law to Middle East politics, his ease with Jewish cultures from Torah to Hollywood, his skill at pressing the flesh and squeezing the checkbooks. His feel for the pulse of the Jews in the pews. And, of course, his chutzpah.
That’s at least partly his fault, as folks around the agency have been whispering anxiously for the past few years. He never nurtured a successor. The ADL has been the Abe Show. He did it so well that it was hard to fault him, but everybody knew the day would come when he wouldn’t be around, and then what?
Well, now it’s coming. They’ll have to find someone else. The challenge will be to find someone who isn’t Abe but can run a different sort of operation with the tools that Abe hands over. That will take a bit of imagination.
You can sort of imagine the search committee sitting and doing the math. Let’s see: We’ve got research and investigative (we call it “fact-finding”) units that study bias and hate groups. We’ve got our “World of Difference” and “No Place for Hate” diversity training and anti-bullying curricula operating in schools and law-enforcement agencies all over the place. We’ve got our civil-rights and religious-freedom legal defense teams, plus our interfaith and Middle East staff experts. We’ve got a Washington office that lobbies our issues with the government. We’ve got 30 regional offices that promote the programs in the communities, organize local interfaith and intergroup dialogues and raise money to fund the whole thing. Who can we find that will be able to take that pile of blocks and work with it? What would it all look like with candidate X in charge? Candidate Y?
In a way this is nothing new for ADL. More than most other major Jewish agencies, the league has always been a reflection of the person at the top. Having no direct dues-paying membership—since it used to be merely a department of another organization, B’nai B’rith—the staff (or its chief) has more independence than in most agencies. Hence Foxman’s sprawling operation is worlds away from the neoconservative hothouse he inherited in 1987 from Nathan Perlmutter, as distant as Perlmutter’s agency was from the brawling, gang-busting outfit that Ben Epstein and Arnold Forster had built after World War II out of the prim and proper educate-and-protest bureau that Richard Gutstadt built in the 1930s. After Foxman leaves, it will be something else again. If the search operation is successful, the next ADL could be as interesting as the last few have been.
The harder part, in fact, will be imagining the American Jewish community in the next period. Foxman hasn’t just been the head of the ADL for the past 27 years. He’s the closest thing the Jewish community has to a national spokesman.
Jerry Seinfeld is in trouble. He’s been under attack on the web for the last week or so, accused of racism. The complaints focus on the lack of gender and racial diversity among the guests on his web series, “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.” More specifically, critics are steamed over a televised interview with Peter Lauria of BuzzFeed, in which the comic was asked about diversity and he angrily dismissed the question, saying it didn’t interest him.
I mean, people think it’s the Census or something? I mean, this has gotta represent the actual pie chart of America? Who cares? It’s just funny, you know. Funny is the, is the—is the world that I live in. You’re funny, I’m interested. You’re not funny, I’m not interested. I have no interest in gender or race or anything like that. But everyone else is kind of with their little—calculating, is this the exact right mix? You know. I think that’s, uh—to me it’s anti-comedy. It’s anti-comedy. It’s more about, you know, PC nonsense than, Are you making us laugh or not?
The segment aired Monday morning, February 3 on CBS This Morning, and promptly came under fire. Kyle Chayka at Gawker jumped on it immediately, saying that Seinfeld “seems to suggest that any comedian who is not a white male is also not funny, though he’s also likely fed up with the amount of bad comedy he’s been forced to sit through in his (waning) career.
Which is too bad, because Seinfeld is downplaying the work of everyone from Richard Pryor and Bill Cosby to Aziz Ansari, Mindy Kaling, and Eddie Huang, who are all in various stages of their own sitcoms that just might turn out to be the next Seinfeld.
That’s an awfully big leap. Seinfeld said nothing at all about the work of Pryor, Cosby or anyone else. Chayka cites a number of top-notch comics who aren’t white males—and the truth is, there are legions of them working today, more than ever before—to suggest that Seinfeld overlooked them by narrowing his search to white males. But what Seinfeld was saying was precisely that he’s not interested in searching for comics according to their racial, ethnic or other identities. He wasn’t searching for white males. He wasn’t searching for anything except funny.
Should he have searched for a more diverse guest list? If you watch Comedians in Cars, you have to be struck by the intimacy of the format. Seinfeld clearly began by going after comics he’s closest to or has most admired. As the series goes on, he starts reaching outside his immediate circle, and the list immediately becomes more diverse.
The day after the interview, February 4, Time.com entertainment writer Lily Rothman weighed in, arguing that the interview gains importance because it comes on the heels of the diversity storm that hit Saturday Night Live in October over its lack of black female comics. People are mad at Seinfeld, Rothman wrote,
Hamas police on the Gaza-Egypt border, September 2013 / Getty Images
Ideology continues to trump security in the Netanyahu government’s approach to combating terrorism. As Hamas struggles to maintain its November 2012 cease-fire with Israel in the face of increasing rocket fire, mostly by al Qaeda-linked Salafi jihad factions, Israel responds by bombing Hamas facilities.
In addition to jihadis, the secular Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine has been responsible for a small proportion of the rocket fire. The front fired several rockets at the Negev from Gaza earlier in January, including two fired toward Ariel Sharon’s funeral January 13. Israel retaliated January 22 by assassinating a PFLP leader identified as responsible for the rockets, Ahmed Al-Za’anin.
The latest incident began late Thursday, when an unknown group fired a rocket that landed in field outside the Negev town of Netivot. Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon declared Friday morning, as he has done repeatedly over the past year, that Israel considers Hamas responsible for all such attacks. The Israeli military retaliated later on Friday by bombing two terrorist installations, a rocket factory in the northern Gaza Strip and a weapons storage facility in the southern strip, that the army later confirmed were both Hamas facilities.
Hamas responded Saturday by withdrawing its rocket prevention units from the field. Initial Israeli responses interpreted the action as Hamas “giving a green light” to stepped up rocket attacks. But by Saturday night, as there had been no further rocket fire, Israeli sources began suggesting that the Hamas troop withdrawal was intended as a message to Israel to direct its fire toward those responsible, rather than punishing Hamas for actions it has been trying to prevent.
During the month of January some 20 rockets were fired at Israel from Gaza, equal the total for the entire preceding 11 months.
The developments come on the heels of a disturbing January 26 report that Prime Minister Netanyahu has been shaking up the hiring and promoting practices at the Shin Bet internal security service in order to create an agency that produces the intelligence he wants. The report, by Haaretz military analyst Amir Oren, says that as a result of the effort, the Shin Bet now has “three out of its four senior officials coming from a religious background and radiating sympathy for a worldview that opposes diplomatic compromise that would involve the evacuation of settlements.”
Oren claims that the shakeup follows Netanyahu’s frustration that he can’t get the IDF’s Military Intelligence Directorate (or MI) to produce the intelligence he needs to fend off Secretary of State John Kerry and justify an attack on Iran. Military Intelligence, like the rest of the military, insists on strict professionalism both in its assessments and in its personnel decisions, unlike the Shin Bet, which is under the prime minister’s personal supervision. Oren writes:
Pete Seeger, California, 1950s / Public Domain
In the spring of 1998, Pete Seeger headlined a free concert in Central Park celebrating Israel’s 50th birthday, sponsored by the Cantors’ Assembly. The event prompted a critical press release from the Zionist Organization of America, protesting the Cantors’ Assembly’s giving a platform to a harsh critic of Israel.
The evidence for the prosecution was an ad to which Pete had added his name in 1982 or ’83, protesting Israeli actions in Lebanon. They could have come up with worse stuff if they’d known where to look (more on that later). But there was a flip side to Seeger’s record, and it was a lot longer and deeper. His 1950 recording with The Weavers of the Israeli folk tune “Tzena, Tzena” was the first and still the only Israeli song ever to hit the American pop charts, coming in at No. 2. For years afterward, he made a habit of performing and teaching at least one Israeli song at every one of his sing-along concerts. He may have done more than anyone besides Leon Uris to teach Americans to love Israel in its early years.
Well, I decided to write about it in my weekly column, which was self-syndicated in a few dozen local Jewish weeklies. I got Seeger’s home number from the late folk patriarch Art D’Lugoff, called him up, introduced myself and asked him about it. It was a delightful conversation. I even got to put my 4-year-old daughter Emma on the phone—she knew his music well, as I had at her age, and was thrilled to speak with him. Pete was gushing about her when I got back on the phone. He talked briefly about what an inspiration Israel was to American progressives during the cold war years of the 1950s. He explained that “Tzena, Tzena” was the B-side of their “Goodnight, Irene,” which was No. 1 for 17 weeks in 1950, and the deejays discovered that when they turned the record over they had another hit on their hands.
My column went on to poke fun at ZOA president Mort Klein’s habit of publicly attacking “critics” of Israel—I noted the cases of Martin Indyk and Aaron David Miller—whose far longer records of support and love for Israel consistently went unmentioned. The ZOA was not amused.
This is a news flash for anyone who’s waiting to hear the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas declare publicly in Arabic that he’s ready to recognize and make peace with Israel. He said it. You can watch it here.
The background: Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, in a taped interview to be screened this week at a Tel Aviv conference, declared that the Palestinian goal is full peace between the state of Israel and a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders, with the Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem.
Speaking in Arabic (subtitled in English and Hebrew), Abbas said that the transition period for Israeli withdrawal could be as much as three years, but that “those who speak of 10 or 15 years don’t want to withdraw.” He said that Israeli troops would not remain on Palestinian territory, but that NATO troops could be put in their place to secure the borders.
The interview is to be screened at the annual conference of the Institute for National Security Studies, the Tel Aviv think tank formerly known as the Jaffe Center of Tel Aviv University. The interviewer is attorney Gilead Sher, who served as chief of staff and chief policy adviser to onetime prime minister Ehud Barak. The two-day conference opens on Tuesday.
Institute president Amos Yadlin, former IDF chief of military intelligence, addressed a pre-conference press briefing today (English, Hebrew) to present the institute’s annual Strategic Survey. He said that the odds of reaching a peace agreement with the Palestinians in the coming year are not high, but that the risks of avoiding the difficult decisions required for an agreement are greater than the risks of taking those decisions.
If no peace agreement is possible, Yadlin said, Israel should consider taking unilateral steps to withdraw from the West Bank. He said crucial lessons had been learned from the 2005 unilateral Gaza withdrawal, and a unilateral West Bank withdrawal need not repeat the mistakes of Gaza.
One of most striking aspects of today’s news coverage is the stark difference between English and Hebrew language versions of the reporting:
While Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his allies insist that Israel must maintain military control over the Jordan River in order to make sure that hostile forces don’t cross over and turn a Palestinian state into a forward base for attacks on Israel, Israel’s main security professionals continue to argue that Israel can accept other security arrangements that would meet Palestinian objections and still fulfill Israel’s needs. But we don’t often hear them explaining how Israel could maintain its security without control of the river.
Yesterday retired brigadier general Ephraim Sneh spelled it out in an op-ed article on Yediot Ahronot’s Ynet Hebrew news site. I’ve translated it into English, below. He argues that the monitoring and control provided by a full military deployment can be maintained today from afar by new technological developments, and that together with the strong security cooperation that currently exists between Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority, Israel can safely reduce its presence to a minimal level that would meet Palestinian objections.
Sneh was a leader of the Labor Party’s hawkish wing until he quit before the last elections to form his own party, Yisrael Hazaka, which failed to win a Knesset seat. He served in the past as minister of health and minister of transportation as well as two stints as deputy minister of defense. Before entering politics in 1987, he was a career soldier and served as commander of Israeli forces in Lebanon and military governor of the West Bank.
It’s worth noting that another former general, recently retired major general Gadi Shamni, has been arguing recently for a more gradual removal of Israeli troops from the river. In a recent Haaretz opinion essay he wrote that the handover of security control of the river crossings from Israeli to Palestinian security forces will take time, and a firm deadline can’t be set. It sounds on first read like an argument for Netanyahu’s position, but on closer examination it’s not very far from Sneh’s.
Shamni is a former chief of Central Command, as well as military secretary to prime ministers Ariel Sharon and Ehud Barak and most recently Israeli military attaché in Washington.
A New Approach to the Jordan Valley
Technology and Israeli-Palestinian-Jordanian security cooperation make it possible to reduce to a minimum the need for an Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley within the framework of a peace agreement.
By Ephraim Sneh
Hamas fighters testing a Gaza-made M-75 long-range missile, November 2013 / Getty Images
Maariv’s Eli Bardenstein offered a stunningly clear and disturbing report (in Hebrew, my translation below) on Friday that illustrates the vexing complications introduced into the triangular Jerusalem-Cairo-Gaza relationship by political turmoil in all three places. It makes a very useful companion piece to today’s front-page New York Times report by Jodi Rudoren on Israeli jitters over instability on its eastern front.
In both cases, as Bardenstein notes and Rudoren sort of hints, the Netanyahu government is ignoring the intelligence supplied by its own security establishment, which shows jihadi organizations making life difficult for both Hezbollah in the north and Hamas in the south. The jihadis are creating turmoil, launching pinprick attacks on Israel that violate cease-fire agreements between Israel and Hezbollah and Hamas respectively. Hamas and Hezbollah are both besieged — Hamas by the new, anti-Islamist Egyptian military government, Hezbollah by jihadi spillover from the Syrian civil war (as well as political blowback from the Rafiq Hariri murder trial now underway in The Hague) — and are finding it increasingly difficult to enforce their respective cease-fires with Israel. Israel — meaning principally defense minister Moshe Yaalon — chooses to ignore the intelligence, blame Hamas and Hezbollah and launch military responses that only further weaken Hamas and Hezbollah and strengthen the jihadis.
I’ve translated Bardenstein’s piece below, but here’s the gist: Israel is alarmed at the unraveling of the November 2012 Pillar of Defense cease-fire “understandings” and the increasing rocket fire from Gaza — 17 rockets fired in January alone as of Friday (and more since then). It wants Egypt, which acts as mediator between Israel and Hamas, to pressure Hamas to stop the rocket fire. But Egypt has lost influence over Hamas since the military deposed the Muslim Brotherhood government of Mohamed Morsi last July. The military government’s approach is not to work with Hamas as Morsi did but to crack down on it.
Hamas, in turn, complains that the Egyptian crackdown — particularly the mass destruction of smuggling tunnels, which squeezes the Gaza economy — weakens Hamas rule and reduces its ability to control the jihadi organizations that are doing the firing. And both Cairo and Hamas complain that Israel has been making the situation worse by Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon’s insistence on responding to every single rocket launching, no matter how ineffectual, with aerial bombardment.
Benjamin Netanyahu with Likud ministers at weekly cabinet meeting, Sunday, January 12, 2014. From left: Gilad Erdan (communications); Yuval Steinitz (intelligence); Netanyahu; cabinet secretary Avichai Mandelblit; Gideon Saar (interior) / Getty Images
When should the legislature intrude on the executive branch’s authority to conduct foreign policy by seeking to dictate the terms of sensitive negotiations? Good question, but don’t ask Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. His answer seems to depend on who’s doing the negotiating and who’s doing the micromanaging. And he’s not even embarrassed by the .
Netanyahu was said to be angered by a bill that would require prior Knesset approval before his government can enter any negotiations over the future status of Jerusalem or Palestinian refugees. So Maariv’s Zeev Kam reported on Thursday.
Netanyahu reportedly lit into the bill, proposed by Likud hard-liner Miri Regev, at last Sunday’s weekly meeting of Likud-Beiteinu ministers, shortly before the weekly full cabinet meeting. “He appeared particularly angry when the topic came up,” several participants told Kam:
“Nobody should preach to us about Jerusalem,” Netanyahu said when discussing the proposed legislation and Knesset member Regev. Netanyahu went on to emphasize to the ministers that conducting negotiations is the government’s responsibility.
”Private member bills like these damage the government’s functioning,” Netanyahu emphasized.
Sanctions bill sponsor Sen. Robert Menendez addresses AIPAC annual policy conference, Washington Convention Center, March 5, 2013 / Getty Images
The debate over the Menendez-Kirk Iran sanctions bill in the Senate just keeps getting uglier. And now the nastiness is seeping – make that pouring – right into the heart of the Jewish community, as liberals and conservatives trade accusations of bullying, maligning, smearing and even “destroying” opponents.
On January 9, the newly appointed executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, Rabbi Jack Moline, accused two of the most influential national Jewish organizations, AIPAC and the American Jewish Committee, of pressuring senators to support the bill despite the strong objections of President Obama. Moline told JTA that the two agencies were using “strong-arm tactics, essentially threatening people that if they don’t vote a particular way, that somehow that makes them anti-Israel or means the abandonment of the Jewish community.”
On Tuesday Moline dialed the accusation back a step or two. He told me he’d subsequently had a conversation with David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, who assured him that AJC wasn’t applying the sort of pressure he described. Moline said he hadn’t heard directly from AIPAC, but he’s taking Harris’s denial as applying to both agencies, “and I take them at their word.”
“The situation seems to be that citizen-advocates are using the organizations’ names and initials without the encouragement of those organizations,” Moline said. Unfortunately, the calls and emails from rank and file pro-Israel activists speaking in the name of the two organizations appear to have created an impression on Capitol Hill that these “strong-arm tactics” are at the behest of the agencies themselves.
Moline may be a tad too generous here. AIPAC, AJC and other Jewish organizations have a long tradition of lobbying Congress by urging their members and followers to pick up the phone. They can generate thousands of phone calls from Jews in the hinterlands who are deeply concerned for Israel’s safety and aren’t shy about saying so. They don’t tell their members to be rude and bullying when they call. They don’t have to. They’ve been doing this long enough that they know exactly what’s going to happen.
AIPAC’s legislative agenda page on the Iran sanctions bill is even more direct. It offers three “Key Points” for activists to raise in advocacy: America Must Prevent an Iranian Nuclear Weapon Capability; Diplomacy Must Be Backed By the Threat of New Sanctions; and America Must Stand with Israel. It doesn’t come out and tell members to say that if you don’t support the bill you’re not standing with Israel, but that’s easy enough to infer. That’s how the game is played.
In the meanwhile, though, Moline has come under sharp attack on the website of the conservative magazine Commentary. First came Commentary’s senior online editor, the brilliant and passionately partisan Jonathan Tobin. On January 10 he blogged that Moline’s comments were part of a Democratic campaign to stop efforts to slow “the administration’s headlong rush to embrace Iran.” Specifically, Tobin wrote, the president had “assigned his Jewish surrogates the job of smearing mainstream Jewish groups that have been lobbying for the bill.”
Ariel Sharon in Knesset, preparing his speech for opening of summer session, May 7, 2001 / Getty Images
Amid the outpouring of tributes to Ariel Sharon following his death, a few seem particularly noteworthy for their unexpected insights — some into the life and character of Sharon, others into the character of the writers.
Chemi Shalev writes in Haaretz about the first time he met Sharon, serendipitously bumping into him at Southern Command headquarters in Sinai one evening during the Yom Kippur War in 1973. Chemi was a 20-year-old enlisted man. Sharon was already the legendary, notorious General Bulldozer. When Sharon saw young soldier Shalev gaping at him from a distance, he invited him over to share some food, cooked by his personal chef. Chemi was surprised by Sharon’s enormous personal charm, which seems to have contradicted the man’s fearsome reputation. Over the years, Chemi writes, it is Sharon’s gargantuan contradictions that stand out as the defining characteristics of the man. The piece is well worth reading in full.
Another story comes from the late David Twersky, who wrote in the New York Sun at the time of Sharon’s stroke in 2006 about the first time he had met the old general. It was in the early 1990s, about a decade after Sharon’s Lebanon War, in which David had served as a gunner in an artillery unit outside Beirut and come away with a profound disliking for Sharon. On this particular day Sharon was dropping by the Forward’s offices in New York to visit his old friend Seth Lipsky, our founding editor (and later editor of the Sun). David, then the paper’s Washington bureau chief, was summoned to New York to sit in. Like Chemi, David was struck by Sharon’s personal magnetism, and began to find that while he “remained critical of many of his policies,” the “rancor was gone.”
Now, though, with Sharon felled by a stroke, David wrote that he was “beside myself with sadness at the prospect that Mr. Sharon will no longer be leading Israel and full of trepidation over what will come next.” He saw in Sharon a rare ability for decisive leadership that made him “this generation’s David Ben Gurion.” Like BG, Sharon had the courage to stand up to his own comrades when it became necessary by “doing to the settler movement what Ben Gurion had done to the leftist Palmach militia, disbanding it in the interest of the state.” And when Sharon formed his Kadima party in 2005,
The Israeli columnist Nahum Barnea had only half in jest suggested that the new party be named Rashi (after the famous rabbinic commentator on the Bible and Talmud) as an acronym for Rak Sharon Yachol - Only Sharon Can.
Two more items that are particularly telling, both from Israeli settlers in the renewed Jewish quarter of Hebron. The authors are prominent leaders of that subsector of Israelis who benefited more than any other single segment of Israeli society from Sharon’s actions, namely West Bank settlers. One is from a Knesset member who wrote this weekend, after Sharon’s death, to express thanks to God that Sharon had been felled by a stroke before he could carry out any further withdrawals from settlements. The other is from a spokesman for the Hebron community who calls Sharon a “monster” and expresses confidence that he is damned to eternal suffering for his sins.