J.J. Goldberg

An Israeli Progressive Wonders at the Silence of American Jewish Liberals

By J.J. Goldberg

If you’re not familiar with Coteret.com, you should be. It’s a must-read group blog by young Israeli progressives. Most of what they do is translating important news and analysis from the Hebrew press that doesn’t appear anywhere else in English. The blog also posts original musings.

This one is a month old, but worth the read:”Liberal Jews and Israel — A case of split personality disorder.” It’s by Noam Sheizaf, a member of the Coteret collective. He’s looking at the inability of American Jewish liberals to acknowledge and talk about Israel’s flaws. What’s most striking about it is not his analysis of the phenomenon, but simply his description of it as it appears to an Israeli, and his obvious distress over the fact.

Sheizaf opens with a description of a conversation with an American. He observes that with few exceptions, American Jews look on apathetically, or disbelieving, at Israeli actions that would have them leaping to the barricades if they occurred in America — for example, the arrest of a woman for wearing a tallis while praying at the Cotel. He writes:

I’ve became more aware of this issue myself since I started writing this blog. Things I say or write which are well within the public debate in Israel are sometimes viewed as outrageous by American Jewish readers; at the same time, events which would make the same readers furious if they happened in the US – for example, the Israeli municipality which tried to prevent Arabs from dating Jewish girls – are met with indifference.

Naturally, I’m generalizing here. Between millions of Jews you can obviously find all kinds of voices – and this is part of the reason I hesitated before writing this post – but I think one can recognize some sort of mainstream opinion within the Jewish community, which both echoes the official Israeli policies, regardless of the identity of the government in Jerusalem, and at the same time, turns a blind eye on events which might distort the image of Israel which this community holds. And this is something which is hard to understand.


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Fun Facts: 2-Year-Old Accidentally Shoots Self in Texas

By J.J. Goldberg

This is from today’s Houston Chronicle:

2-year-old accidentally shoots himself in Tyler

Associated Press

Feb. 15, 2011, 10:37AM

TYLER - A 2-year-old boy is in critical condition after using a stool to get a gun and accidentally shooting himself in the chest in an East Texas home.

Authorities said the incident happened Saturday night when the boy pulled a case with a loaded small caliber handgun off a wall. Cherokee County sheriff’s investigator Michael Goff says the toddler removed the gun from the case before shooting himself just below the right collarbone.

Goff says the boy was “just a curious 2-year-old.” He is not being identified because of his age. Goff said the child was in critical condition Monday at a Dallas hospital after surgery. An updated condition wasn’t immediately available.

Authorities say the boy’s mother was the only other person home at the time. She is not facing charges.


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As Egypt Erupts, Barak Sows Chaos in IDF Senior Command

By J.J. Goldberg

Small minds might expect that with everything going in Egypt, Israel’s senior defense officials would have spent the last week focused on what happens next along Israel’s long, undefended southern border. But of course, that’s not how things work these days, now that Israel has Ehud Barak, the most decorated soldier in Israel’s history, as minister of defense.

There was a time when people expected Barak to do for the Labor Party what he had done for the army. It turns out he’s doing to the army what he did to the Labor Party — wreathing himself and the institution in a stunning combination of chaos, depression and internecine backstabbing.

The immediate crisis is the choice of the next chief of the military General Staff, the top dog in the army. The incumbent, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, finishes his term on February 14. He was to be succeeded by Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant, the chief of the Southern Command, who was handpicked by Barak last summer.

But something went wrong — something entirely predictable. As of now (Saturday night Feb. 5) the Israel Defense Forces will be without a commander as of February 14.

What happened was that in mid-January, the state attorney general opened an investigation of Galant’s behavior in a real estate deal. Galant is said to have commandeered public land to plant olive trees and build an access road adjacent to his spacious home in Amikam, a gentrified moshav farming village. He is believed to have perjured himself on several occasions when questioned by authorities about the land. (Galant claims he merely got some facts wrong.)

Galant’s appointment had been challenged in the Supreme Court by Yesh Gvul, a peace organization, together with several public figures including Shulamit Aloni and poet Natan Zach. Barak and his boss, Bibi Netanyahu, had ignored the court petition, assuming that it was a nuisance case that would be dismissed after a single hearing. At the end of January, however, the attorney general, Yehuda Weinstein, announced that after reviewing the facts of the case, including a stack of new documents that had just emerged in mid-January, he could not defend Galant’s fitness for the post in court, given the cloud over his ethics.

And so Galant’s nomination was withdrawn, leaving the army in an uproar with no clear chain of command.

Barak initially said he would go ahead with Galant’s installation regardless. That brought an outcry in the press and, more important, in the senior ranks: The military could not function effectively if its top commander had a reputation for dishonesty. The public would question the institution upon which the nation’s survival depends. Equally important, the chain of command might be weakened if messages, orders and reports were second-guessed in the midst of crisis.

A chorus of cabinet ministers and retired generals urged Barak to extend Ashkenazi’s term by 60 days to allow Galant time to defend himself and, if needed, to choose and vet a new chief. Barak refused to extend Ashkenazi and announced instead that the deputy chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Yair Naveh, would be acting chief of staff until a new chief was chosen. And there it stands as of this writing (Saturday night).

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Yair Naveh, Israeli army, Gadi Eisenkot, Gabi Ashkeniazi, Ehud Barak, Benny Gantz, Yoav Galant

Reuters: Spreading Unrest in Arab World Bodes Ill for Israel

By J.J. Goldberg

This is the first bit or reporting I’ve seen on the strategic implications for Israel of all the popular ferment in the Middle East. By Crispian Balmer of Reuters Jerusalem bureau, Analysis: Bad neighborhood risks getting worse for Israel:

Political turmoil in Lebanon has strengthened Israel’s Iranian-backed enemy Hezbollah, while a leak of hundreds of sensitive documents has dented the leadership of its frustrated peace partner, the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.

Attention has now swung down to the south, where its longest-standing Arab ally, Egypt, has been jolted by nationwide anti-government protests.

While the upheaval in Lebanon has caused concern, the fear of serious strife in Egypt has set alarm bells ringing.

The piece quotes former Barak diplomatic aide Gidi Grinstein, now head of the Reut Institute, warning that the prospect of regime change in Egypt is the most serious strategic threat. Pundits are speaking of an emerging democratic-populist-Muslim Brotherhood coalition challenging Mubarak in a coherent way.

Balmer continues:

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Malley & Agha in the N.Y. Review of Books, Channeling Avigdor Liebeman

By J.J. Goldberg

Now I’ve Seen Everything Dept.: Among the items featured as recommended reading in the January 20 edition of the Daily Alert, the electronic news digest of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, is the latest essay by Rob Malley and Hussein Agha in The New York Review of Books.

Why is this out of the ordinary? Well, the Daily Alert is a digest of key news items that demonstrate the implacability of Israel’s enemies, the blamelessness of Israel’s own actions and the weaknesses of the peace process. It’s prepared every morning by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, the deeply conservative think tank headed by former diplomat Dore Gold, and is sent out by e-mail to several hundred thousand readers on behalf of the Conference of Presidents. Malley and Agha, for their part, are Middle East policy experts — Malley an American official with the International Crisis Group and Agha, a Palestinian-British academic — who write periodically about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in The New York Review of Books. They’re frequently critical of the Israeli policy-making echelon, and the sentiment is extremely mutual.

You might say that Malley and Agha are from Venus and Dore Gold is from Mars. Or, put differently, Malley and Agha are from Geneva and Gold is from Jerusalem the United, Eternal and Undivided Capital of the Jewish People. Either way, a Malley-Agha essay is about the last thing you’d expect to find in the Daily Alert.

So why is this Malley-Agha essay, “Who’s Afraid of the Palestinians?,” different from all other Malley-Agha essays? In a word, because they argue here that, given the current state of play in Jerusalem, Ramallah, Washington and the Arab capitals, no peace agreement is likely in the foreseeable future. Which is, you should pardon me, pretty much the same thing Avigdor Lieberman has been saying lately. On top of that, they write at length of the current strategies of the Palestinian leadership, including hoping for U.S. pressure and looking for international recognition, each of which they dismiss as misdirected.

The passages quoted in the Daily Alert capture some of the authors’ pessimism and their dim view of Palestinian strategy. Nor surprisingly, they leave out the parts that put Israel in a bad light.

The main point of the essay is that neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians have a real incentive to take risks right now — Israel because of the security provided by the barrier, Palestinians because of Salam Fayyad’s efforts to build a state and show a the capacity of self-governance. Palestinians overestimated America’s ability to pressure Israel. Israel’s demographic problem — the impending need to choose between a democratic state and a Jewish one — has been deferred for the foreseeable future by the disengagement from Gaza.

The one threat that could still impel Israel to seek a solution is the growing problem of international isolation, or what Israelis call delegitimization. But, they argue, Israelis are more likely to respond to European hostility with resentment and retrenchment rather than by trying to resolve the Palestinian conflict that spurs the hostility.

Here are the passages from the Malley-Agha essay that appear in the Daily Alert as bullet points:

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Israel's Dangerous Musical Chairs: Barak, Bibi, the Flotilla and the Iranian Threat

By J.J. Goldberg

Must reading on Barak’s resignation from Labor: Haaretz military correspondent Amir Oren writes today about the very complicated relationship between Barak’s defection, the retirement of Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi and his replacement by Yoav Galant, and the Turkish flotilla.

Barak defected to save his own skin, of course. Avi Braverman and Buzhi Herzog were about to force a meeting of the Labor Party convention, which possibly would have decided to leave the Netanyahu government and probably would have set a date for a new party leadership primary. That would put a big shadow over Barak’s continued leadership and set the clock ticking on his service as defense minister. As Aluf Benn writes today, Barak very much wants to stay in government because he and Bibi want to keep up the pressure for a military attack on Iran.

IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi was a major obstacle to attacking Iran, because he’s against it. He’s been dismissed without the usual one-year term extension and is to be replaced Feb. 14 by Galant, who is all for the attack. This far, no surprises.

Meir Dagan, the just-departed head of the Mossad, was another obstacle to war. He’s against attacking Iran for the same reason Ashkenazi is against it - it would be enormously costly to Israel in terms of home front damage, Israeli civilian deaths, international condemnation and possibly worse if Iran retaliates with terror attacks against Western targets, which will get Westerners even madder at Israel. None of that is worth risking if the bomb be stopped or delayed without war. That’s why Dagan said last week, on departing the office, that Iran can’t get the bomb until 2015 because of successful covert work and sanctions. His point was that there are other ways besides war that work as well or better (war would only create a couple of years delay, which is what the covert action did) to stop the Iran bomb.

Dagan’s comment infuriated Bibi - who publicly dismissed it as intelligence speculation. And looks as though Bibi’s people planted a pretty vicious Fox News blog note alleging that Dagan had sabotaged Israeli policy for the sake of some personal grandstanding. You could say a lot about Dagan but not that.

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Murders, Martyrs, First Ladies and a Mob Boss: Famous Blood Libels in History

By J.J. Goldberg

1144: 12-year-old William of Norwich, England, found dead. A priest accuses local Jews, but king’s sheriff dismisses charges, leading to uprising, canonization of William by local bishop. At coronation of King Richard II, 1189, mob turns on Jews; massacres follow in London, York.

1255: 8-year-old Hugh of Lincoln, England, found mutilated. 19 Jews executed.

1475: 2-year-old Simon of Trent, Italy, found dead. 15 local Jews burned at stake. Simon canonized 1588 by Pope Sixtus V; rescinded by Paul VI, 1965.

1491: 4-year-old Christopher of Toledo, Spain, “the Holy Child of La Guardia,” found dead; eight local Jews and Conversos executed by Inquisition. Christopher is canonized 1805 by Pope Pius VII.

1690: 6-year-old Gavriil Belostoksky of Zverki, Poland, found dead. Shutko, a local Jewish rent-collector, accused of draining blood for matzo. Gavriil canonized 1820 by Russian Orthodox Church, reaffirmed by Belarus state TV, 1997.

1840 February: Catholic priest found murdered in Damascus, Syria; 13 Jewish community leaders arrested, tortured on ritual murder charges. Worldwide protest campaign organized by Sir Moses Montefiore, Rothschild son-in-law and president of Board of Deputies of British Jews, ends in their release in September. (Incident includes first-ever mass action by American Jews for overseas aid, as N.Y. rally is held at B’nai Jeshurun synagogue Aug. 17. Rally follows months of debate over propriety of collective Jewish action. Protesters demand State Department issue a statement, unaware it had done so Aug. 14 at request of British ambassador.)

1903: 14-year-old Mikhail Rybachenko found murdered near Kishinev, Bessarabia (now Moldova). Newspaper accusation of ritual murder sparks 3-day pogrom, 49 Jews killed by mobs.

1910: Jews of Shiraz, Iran, accused of ritually killing Muslim girl. Mobs pillage Jewish quarter, 12 Jews killed.

1911: 11-year-old Andrei Yushchinsky found murdered in Kiev, Ukraine. Jewish nightwatchman Mendel Beilis arrested; chief police investigator who questions indictment is fired, arrested for dereliction of duty. Beilis trial ends in acquittal 1913.

1928: 4-year-old Barbara Griffiths disappears in Massena, N.Y. State police interrogate Rabbi Berel Brenglass on suspicion of ritual murder. Barbara is found wandering in woods the next day.

1980 November: Iraq accuses Israel of complicity in bungled Iranian air raid on Osirak nuclear reactor. Deputy Defense Minister Mordechai Zippori calls accusation “blood libel.”

1982 Sept. 19: Israeli Cabinet issues a statement on Sabra-Shatila massacres, terms accusations of Israeli responsibililty “blood libel.” A year later, Israeli state judicial commission finds then-defense minister Ariel Sharon bears “indirect responsibility.”

1987: Simon & Schuster publishes “Blood libel: The Inside Story of General Ariel Sharon’s History-Making Suit Against Time Magazine,” by journalist/Sharon sidekick Uri Dan.

1990 Sept. 14: N.Y. Times columnist A.M. Rosenthal accuses CNN pundit Pat Buchanan of “blood libel” for claiming that the “only two groups that are beating the drums for war” in Iraq are “the Israeli Defense Ministry and its amen corner in the United States.” Oct. 22, Jacob Weisberg counters in The New Republic that Buchanan’s “implied” charge of dual loyalty is “far from the fanatical hatred of Jews connoted by the term blood libel.”

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Suha Arafat, Sarah Palin, Pat Buchanan, Mendel Beilis, Kishinev Pogrom, Blood Libel, Alan Dershowitz, A.M.Rosenthal

Disaffection Row: Pro-Israel Journalists Giving Up on Defending Israel

By J.J. Goldberg

Now that we’ve all had a couple of days to enjoy the prospect of a sunny 2011, it’s time to get back to the worrying. In that spirit, here’s a thought to start us off: Some of Israel’s staunchest supporters in the American media are beginning to wonder openly how much longer they’ll be able to support the Jewish state.

Shmuel Rosner, the Jerusalem Post blogger and former Haaretz Washington correspondent, offered some startling names, referring readers for more details to a thought-provoking rundown of critics and defenders posted on TheAtlanticWire.com by Max Fisher (no, not that Max Fisher). Included on Fisher’s list were some eye-catching names. One was Jeffrey Goldberg, whose December 27 post on TheAtlantic.com was titled “What If Israel Ceases To Be a Democracy?” Another was Thomas Friedman, whose December 12 New York Times column, “Reality Check,” included the warning to Israelis and Palestinians alike that America needs to “stop being their crack dealers.”

The big fish, though, was New Yorker editor David Remnick, who complained in an interview published in Hebrew in the Yediot Ahronot Friday supplement of December 24 (the juicy portion was translated back into English by Didi Remez at Coteret.com) that he and others like him look at the unending occupation and “can’t take anymore.”

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Shmuel Rosner, Jonathan Tobin, Ron Radosh, Jeffrey Goldberg, Israeli democracy, David Remnick, Thomas Friledman

A Haredi Essayist on Finding Beauty Where You Least Expected It

By J.J. Goldberg

Rabbi Avi Shafran is the public affairs director of Agudath Israel of America, the Haredi advocacy and social service organization. On the side he writes a weekly column that goes out by email and appears in various publications and websites. I get it in my mailbox and I almost always open it up to see where he’s going this week. Sometimes it’s a predictable polemic in defense of Orthodoxy and Orthodox Jews; sometimes it’s a not-so-predictable comment on current events. And every so often it is an observation about the world and humanity and the soul that can take your breath away.

His latest column is an example of the third category. It’s an observation about the majestic beauty of a waterfall he went to see that can be reached only by driving through the gritty downtown of Paterson, N.J., and what it taught him about human relations.

We’re not big vacationers, both by temperament and economics. Most trips we take, boruch Hashem, are for family simchos and such. But we try to take two or three days off each summer for a car trip – in recent years, in search of waterfalls. We enjoy the sounds and sight of cascading water, are rejuvenated by the grandeur of the Creator’s handiwork and often find that we actually learn something – beyond geology – from the experiences.

We’ve found some wondrous falls in upstate New York and Pennsylvania. But a waterfall we almost missed, en route to another one more distant, was the “Great Falls,” a part of the Passaic River. They are said to be the second-highest falls on the east coast (second only to Niagara). More striking, though, than the mighty torrent of water the falls send thundering over a rocky ledge is their location: downtown Paterson.

One drives through grimy streets looking for them, almost certain that some mistake has been made, that there must be another Paterson in New Jersey, or that it’s all a joke and the “falls” are only effluent from some industrial sewage pipe. And after managing to find the sign and entering a rocky, rudimentary parking lot, things don’t look much more promising. After a moment’s walk, though, one is transported suddenly into another world, one of astounding power and beauty.

His lesson is that you can find beauty in places you least expect it, including in people who you’re inclined to dismiss because of what they’re like on the outside. The column is written for his fellow Orthodox Jews, and my guess is he’s referring at least partly to non-Orthodox Jews, but the lesson is pretty universal.

Something more, though, was also made sharper by the Paterson falls: How often does it happen that we find certain other people… well, tiresome… grating… unpleasant? For some of us, ahavas Yisrael [love of fellow Jews], despite all the homage we may pay it, can be one of the most challenging mitzvos we face.

Klal Yisrael [the Jewish people], after all, is easy to love; Reb Yisrael [Jew Sixpack], oftentimes, less so.

Yet each of our fellows, no matter how superficially unimpressive or even disagreeable, holds a spark of holiness. Well-hidden though it may be, somewhere, in its own place, it glimmers.


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Rebellion in Shas: The Party's Left Wing Rises from Slumber

By J.J. Goldberg

Shas, the Sephardic Orthodox Israeli political party founded by Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, is experiencing what looks increasingly like an internal power struggle. The rebels represent something that most people didn’t even know existed: the party’s progressive wing.

Shas was launched in 1984 by Yosef and his protégé, Aryeh Deri. The platform included strict Orthodoxy coupled with Sephardic ethic pride, along with a progressive economic agenda, described in the party’s platform as “social democratic,” aimed at the party’s mostly working class base. It also had a foreign policy based on Yosef’s endorsement of trading land for peace. In 1999, however, Deri was sentenced to three years in prison for taking bribes. In his place as party chief (and interior minister) Yosef appointed the hawkish, deeply conservative Eli Yishai, who has steered the party ever further to the right in the past decade. Yishai is now commonly referred to as the most right-wing member of the Netanyahu cabinet.

Yosef, now 90, has been more hesitant about territorial compromise in recent years, but ordered Yishai to accept last spring’s settlement construction freeze despite Yishai’s objections. He has also balanced the hawkish Yishai against the more dovish and economically progressive Ariel Attias, housing minister and party No. 2, while visibly appearing to lean toward Yishai. Yosef’s image has suffered from his verbal outbursts against Palestinians, giving him a reputation as an opponent of the peace process despite his support for it and deepening the alienation between Shas and the left.

Yishai is now under siege, badly weakened by the scandal that erupted after the Carmel forest fires exposed the neglect of the country’s fire-fighting apparatus, which is under his ministry. Yishai claims he is being made a scapegoat, a victim of anti-Haredi bigotry. But that’s only part of his trouble. Reports have been rife for months that Deri, having completed the seven-year ban from public life that followed his release from prison in 2003, is now angling to return to the party leadership. He doesn’t deny the reports. Increasingly in recent days, the unrest within the party ranks is being linked to Deri.

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Abe Foxman Takes on a New Threat: Jewish Paranoia

By J.J. Goldberg

That’s right: Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, has written a forceful essay attacking what he sees as a tendency among Jews to see enemies everywhere and overlook signs of friendship, and thus to risk missing opportunities for peace.

Foxman frames his thesis around the Carmel fire and the outside help that Israel sought and received. Some Israelis found it humiliating to depend on the kindness of others, given the country’s image of self-reliance, Foxman writes:

Now Israel had to admit that it wasn’t capable of dealing with the blaze alone.

More than that, for some in Israel there is a reluctance to admit that Israel is not isolated, that not everyone is against Israel. The willingness of nations and peoples to rush to Israel’s side, including the Turks and the Palestinians, challenged this assumption.

Foxman maintains his familar stace that anti-Israel sentiment is intensifying in various parts of the world. He sounds an unfamiliar, nuanced tone, though. Some of the anti-Israel rhetoric (that is, some but not all) is expressed “in ways that even suggest a heavy dose of anti-Semitism within it.”

The picture, however, is more complicated, and the response of many nations to Israel’s plea for help this week is the tip of the iceberg. It is obvious that not only does Israel have a special relationship with the United States, but it has excellent bilateral relations with states throughout the globe, including some that routinely vote against Israel at the United Nations.

That goes for the Arab world, too, in ways that are too often ignored:

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Joint Ban by 300 Israeli Rabbis on Renting Homes to Arabs Draws Several Press Releases in Protest

By J.J. Goldberg

The conflict between the Jewish state and the democratic state is growing apace. The rabbis’ letter forbidding Jews to rent homes to non-Jews (meaning, mostly, Arabs) is attracting a steadily growing list of signatories. As of Thursday night it had about 300 rabbis signed on, according to a report on Israel National News, the English website of the settlers’ Arutz Sheva (Channel 7) radio.

Of the total, 47 are said to be chief rabbis of Israeli communities or municipalities, which is to say, public servants whose salaries are paid by the Israeli taxpayer. The letter declares violators to be subject to niddui, a mild version of excommunication in which, among other things, the miscreant may pray in a Jewish congregation but may not have the honor of being called to the Torah.

The joint statement follows and expands a ban issued in Safed in the Galilee in October by that city’s chief rabbi, Shmuel Eliyahu. He has spoken repeatedly against the growing number of Israeli Arab students enrolling in the local community college and seeking housing in the city. His initial statement had the backing of 18 other rabbis, mostly from Safed.

So far it’s being treated like another one of those unpleasant incidents where someone speaks out, opponents complain and everyone forgets. But this is a rebellion by a major segment of Israel’s religious leadership, working from what has become a very mainstream school of Jewish religious thought within Israel. Shame and moral condemnation seem to have no effect, because they believe theirs is the correct reading of God’s word.

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As Forest Burns, Fire Gear Is AWOL: Israel Gives 'Low Priority to Anything That Doesn't Shoot'

By J.J. Goldberg

The fire in the Carmel is horrible, and the deaths are painful and deeply felt. But the tragedy that played out wasn’t a twist of fate or an act of God. It was an act of persistent, long-term, almost willful government negligence. Israel has almost no firefighting capacity—pitifully few firefighters working with a tiny stock of aging and dilapidated equipment. I’ve got some comparative statistics below on Israel’s fire-fighting preparedness compared to other countries.

The point is that the government has been confronted over and over with the problem and refused to address it. It’s an old Israeli habit, once charmingly rakish, that’s becoming increasingly self-destructive: improvising, making due, dismissing contingency planning as something for sissies.The widely respected journalist-commentator Ron Ben-Yishai, quoted below, says the government gives low priority to “anything that doesn’t shoot.”

Here’s a glaring example: The fire began Thursday as a localized blaze in a garbage dump just outside the Druze village of Isfiya. It quickly spread out of control, in large measure because Israel doesn’t have a single piece of firefighting aircraft, a key tool in fighting modern forest fires. A couple of these planes - big tankers that dump thousands of gallons onto a fire - could have controlled the blaze before it spread out of control if they had been deployed in the first hours. Instead, Israel had to ask other countries for aircraft, and they didn’t arrive until the second day. By that time the entire Carmel was ablaze. Kibbutz Bet Oren had burned to the ground.

According to Yediot Ahronot, which had excellent next-day coverage of the outbreak, the government has been asked repeatedly to authorize the purchase of two planes but has repeatedly turned down the request. The fire service arranged several years for a Canadian company to bring a plane to Israel for a demonstration run, but the government (under Ariel Sharon at the time) wouldn’t bite. Not long after that, two used planes were tracked down that could have been purchased for less than $5 million total. Still no dice.

Journalist Ron Ben-Yishai, in a column on the Ynet website, compares the disaster to Hurricane Katrina:

The first indication of America’s undermined status as an economic and political power was not the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or the mortgage crisis. It was Hurricane Katrina that exposed the U.S. Administration’s helplessness in all areas, ranging from the collapse of New Orleans dams, which the local government failed to maintain, to the outrageous performance of the federal emergency agency, which prompted that deaths of hundreds and caused many more to lose their homes.

This served as further evidence for a rule identified by historians a while ago: The moment a regime neglects the national, physical and human infrastructure and allows them to crumble, the state’s or empire’s collapse as a functioning body able to provide physical security and the vital needs of citizens begins. …

The State of Israel is at the onset of this slippery slope. It suffers from a grave water shortage because of the delayed construction of desalination plants, and the roads are jammed while lethal car accidents abound because of the absence of decent public transportation infrastructure. Yet the gravest issue is the neglect of rescue and firefighting services, which suffer chronic under-investment in equipment and manpower. …

Ben-Yishai compares the fire damage to Israel’s past (and perhaps future, God forbid) experience with home-front damage from missile strikes, and argues that the government isn’t willing to look the issue in the face:

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Hey, Kids: It's Time for Goldberg's Great Hanukkah Concert 2010!

By J.J. Goldberg

We begin with Melvin and the Chipmunks singing their own Hanukkah song:

Followed by the all-celebrity edition of “The Eight Nights of Hanukkah (My Bubby Gave to Me…)”

Now, listen up: The hottest Hanukkah song this year is “Candlelight,” performed by the Yeshiva University a capella group The Maccabeats (with apologies to Taio Cruz and his very popular “Dynamite,” which is now topping the charts in UK, Canada and elsewhere):

Let’s continue with more of the Maccabeats, here doing a rockin’ medley of more traditional Hanukkah songs:

And the newest star on the Hanukkah Horizon is the very hilarious Gladys Finkelstein (a.k.a. Brian Robinson), here doing her version of Tom Lehrer’s “Hanukkah in Santa Monica.” (For Tom Lehrer himself singing his scandalous “Christmas Carol,” click here.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Y.U. a capella Maccabeats, Tom Lehrer, Kenny Ellis "Ocho Kandelikas", Adam Sandler, Brandon Harris Walker

Wikileaks Back Israel's Iran Claims. Sunni Arabs Share the Fear. So Why Don't They Work Together? Well...

By J.J. Goldberg

A news analysis by Yaakov Katz in today’s Jerusalem Post makes the very sensible point that the Wikileaks super-dump evidently vindicates Israel’s arguments that the Iranian nuclear project is everybody’s problem, not just Israel’s.

Progressives and isolationists have been claiming more or less since the Iraq invasion in 2003 that the constant brouhaha over an Iranian threat is just Israel and its neocon friends trying to reprise the Iraq mess by pushing for an attack on Iran that would help nobody but Israel, while leaving the rest of the world in an unwanted mess. The Wikileaks documents indicate that Israel’s fear of Iran is widely shared and that whatever the consequences of a possible military strike, it has wider support than you might think.

Katz writes:

For years now, top Israeli political and defense leaders have warned the world that a nuclear Iran is not just a threat to the Jewish state but is a threat to the entire region.

“If only we could say publicly what we hear behind closed doors,” Israeli officials would comment, following off-record talks they held with Arab leaders throughout the Middle East.

Well, now they can. According to one cable published by WikiLeaks on Sunday, Saudi King Abdullah “frequently exhorted the US to attack Iran to put an end to its nuclear weapons program” and to cut off the head of the snake.

According to another cable, King Hamad of Bahrain, a country with a majority Shi’ite population, urged in a meeting with former CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus that action be taken to terminate Iran’s nuclear program. …

Jordan is also cited at some length as eager to see the Iranian nukes stopped. Katz continues:

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Songs of Thanksgiving With Psalms 92 & 136, Groucho, Noshville Katz & Lots More!

By J.J. Goldberg

Yes, it’s time for another holiday concert, this time in celebration of Thanksgiving. I offer the two classic American Thanksgiving songs, “We Gather Together” and “Over the River and Through the Woods.” Also, the two familiar Hebrew classic (to my mind) songs of thanksgiving, “Tov LeHodot” from Psalm 92 and “Hodu Lashem” from Psalm 136. Also, Debbie Friedman, Mickey Katz, jazz great Slim Gaillard, They Might Be Giants, the Four Lads, Allen Sherman and the little-known Lovin’ Cohens doing an ode to delicious, overabundant food, “Noshville Katz.” We end with Groucho Marx acting out his thoughts on Thanks.

“We Gather Together” is performed by Celtic Woman, a group of Irish women who sing (wonderfully) a broad repertoire in Irish traditional mode. The group was put together in 2004 by David Downes, who was one of the musical directors of Riverdance. Here is their story, and here is their website.

I guess the Hebrew equivalent is “Tov Lehodot Lashem” (Psalm 92: “It is good to give thanks to the Lord”), sung here by a very credibly rockin’ New Zealand band, Simcha (here’s their website). The familiar tune is Reb Shlomo Carlebach’s. (Or, if you like, try this version, sung in doo-wop by Varsity Jews, a University of Toronto a capella group.)

The other classic American Thanksgiving song, of course, is “Over the River and Through the Woods.” This is a kids’ version. I found two other versions that are real gems — This one is performed by Danny Kaye and the Andrews Sisters], while this one features Alvin and the Chipmunks — but they’re both sung as Christmas songs. Great fun to listen to but wrong for the holiday at hand.

And the other classic Jewish song of thanksgiving, “Hodu Lashem Ki Tov” (Psalm 136: “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, for His mercy endures forever”) performed here by Ken Burgess, a ’60s-era British rocker who is now a religious Jew living in Israel. (Here’s his story.) (Your other choice is an absolutely ethereal version, set to a more familiar (to me, at least) melody, performed in pure mountain country style by the Bezalel School of International Dance and Pageantry, which is a Christian operation in Maryville, Tennessee. The singer is one Batya Segal.)

No respectable Thanksgiving concert that calls itself Jewish would be complete without Debbie Friedman’s vegetarian hymn to the holiday, “Happy Thanksgiving, hurray, hurray, hurray.” This is why the holiday’s other name, so it’s said, is the Turkeys’ Yom HaShoah.

Turkey being the holiday’s heart and soul (and kishkes and stuffing), one who has not heard the Classic Song of Turkey has not fulfilled the holiday’s commandments. So here it is: “Istanbul (Was Constantinople),” performed by They Might Be Giants with accompanying visuals by Warner Brothers’ Tiny Toons. I’m pretty sure the accordion is played by the Forward’s own art director, Kurt Hoffman. Also highly, highly recommended: the great 1953 version by the Four Lads — it’s one of my favorite tracks of all time (plus the words are easier to follow).

Now we have arrived at the true heart of the holidays, lots and lots of food. Here’s the immortal Mickey Katz singing his ode to the delicatessen, “Sixteen Tons.”

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Thanksgiving, Slim Gaillard, Shlomo Carlebach, Psalm 92, Psalm 136, Allen Sherman, Mickey Katz, Groucho Marx, Debbie Friedman

Uproar as Haredi Lawmaker Urges Yeshiva Boys to Join Army, Get Jobs

By J.J. Goldberg

We’ve been talking a lot lately about the rising proportion of ultra-Orthodox or Haredi Jews in the Israeli population, and the various challenges it poses to Israeli society. Most dramatic are the declining proportion of 18-year-olds who will be available for military service, since the great majority of Haredi men claim an exemption as full-time yeshiva students, and the economic problems created by all those adult yeshiva students.

Well, there are some dramatic new developments in the past few days that haven’t gotten much play over here. The biggest news is the open revolt of a Haredi member of Knesset, Rabbi Haim Amsallem of Shas, who has caused a furor among Haredi leaders by calling openly for a sharp reduction in yeshiva deferments. He wants army deferments limited to outstanding students who are headed for the active rabbinate. Everyone else should go into the army and then go to work. He’s said it before in Haredi forums, but he caused an explosion November 5 when he laid out his views in a controversial Maariv interview, hinting that he’s thinking of quitting Shas and forming a new religious party that works for moderation and coexistence. Party leaders are demanding that he quit the Knesset and let Shas reassign his seat, but he says he won’t, even if he’s told to do so by the party’s spiritual patron, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.

Meanwhile, in a sign of the mounting concern in the army over the growing numbers of young men going to yeshiva instead of the army, the head of the Israel Defense Forces manpower division, Major General Avi Zamir, called a press briefing November 18 to report the latest numbers. As reported in Maariv, Zamir said that by 2020, just 10 years from now, fully 60% of Israelis (he’s apparently referring to men) will not go into the army or won’t finish their three-year compulsory service. Most of the increase is a result of the burgeoning Haredi population, he said.

And in a closely related story, Haaretz reported that the IDF Logistics Department has admitted it has frozen the number of one-year deferments granted to draftees to spend a pre-army gap year in certain traditional programs, mainly volunteer service in underprivileged neighborhoods, pre-army training academies and the Nahal fighting-and-farming corps that prepares units to join or form kibbutzim. The deferments are being cut back because of the army’s growing worries over troop strength, mainly because of yeshiva deferments.

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So Glenn Beck Calls George Soros a Nazi Collaborator? Marty Peretz Said It First

By J.J. Goldberg

The Glenn Beck-George Soros story gets stranger by the day.

If you haven’t been following it: Glenn Beck devoted three evenings on his Fox News program last week, November 9, 10 and 11, to a three-part, three-hour documentary about George Soros. It’s titled “The Puppetmaster.” It purports to prove that Soros is the mastermind of a far-reaching plot to destroy the American economy and bring down the government. It’s a pretty shocking display of ignorance, innuendo, outright lies and not-too-subtle anti-Semitism. But as I’ve tried to piece together my take on it, I keep finding new and more surprising twists.

Right now I’m going to look at Beck’s inference that Soros’s teenage survival in Nazi-occupied Hungary made him a sort of Nazi collaborator, and I’ll compare Beck’s presentation of the thesis with Marty Peretz’s version of same from 2007. Next chance I get, hopefully tomorrow, I will look at the actual guts of Soros’s supposed plan, as it appears in Glenn Beck’s fevered imagination, and I’ll try to show how Beck’s description of Soros’s M.O. actually sounds less like Soros and more like Rupert Murdoch and the Koch brothers.

Beck’s basic thesis is that virtually all of the negative changes in American society in recent decades can be traced back to the machinations of George Soros. It’s all part of his grand scheme to bring down America as a world power and have it replaced by one-world government. Soros, he says,

has tens of billions of dollars all flowing in, pulling strings. His tentacles are everywhere.

The part that’s gotten the most attention is a reference, repeated several times, to Soros’s childhood in Nazi-occupied Budapest, when Soros’s father hid him and his siblings with Christian families as their “godchildren.” As Soros describes in his own 2003 authorized biography, he went out at times with his godfather-protector to deliver Nazi orders to Jewish residents and — once, apparently — to inventory some property confiscated from Jews. Here’s how Beck tells it:

So when George Soros was 14, his father basically bribed a government official to take his son in and let him pretend to be a Christian. His father was just trying to keep him alive. He even had to go around confiscating property of Jewish people.

Now, imagine you are Jewish and you have to go and confiscate the property of your fellow Jews. And you are pretending to not be a Jew and if anybody finds out, you’re dead. He actually had to endure watching people send off to their eventual murders, watching people gathering their stuff, sending them off knowing that they were going to go to their death.

That’s in the third segment of the series, “The Making of the Puppetmaster.” (Here’s the transcript offered on the Fox News website. Here’s the video.)

Beck also talked about the Budapest episode, albeit in a slightly different, less sympathetic tone, in the series’ first segment, “The Puppetmaster.” The transcript to Part 1 is here, the video here. But the transcript and video are only partial. What’s missing, what doesn’t appear anywhere on the Fox or Beck websites, is perhaps the most damaging and most distorted part of the whole series. The missing clip was captured by the progressive website Media Matters. I’ll show it to you after the jump.

As Beck tells it, Soros

used to go around with this anti-Semite and deliver papers to the Jews and confiscate their property and then ship them off. And George Soros was part of it. He would help confiscate the stuff. It was frightening. Here’s a Jewish boy helping send the Jews to the death camps.

When he had to go over and take the lands from the people, his fellow Jewish friends and neighbors who were being sent to the gas chambers, I can’t imagine what that would do to a teenager, or anybody, to an adult. Well what did it do to George Soros?

In an interview with Steve Croft, Soros was asked if he felt guilt at all about taking the property from the Jews as a teenager. He responded — no. He also said, quote, I don’t deny the Jews their national existence but I don’t want to be a part of it.

The quote about “national existence,” incidentally, is not from the 1998 interview with Steve Croft on “60 Minutes” but from a 1995 interview with Connie Bruck in The New Yorker. And it came in a completely different context — in the course of a discussion about how Soros views universalism and particularism in his own Jewish commitment. But more on that later.

The Anti-Defamation League issued a statement calling the accusation — specifically the intent to “hold a young boy responsible for what was going on around him during the Holocaust as part of a larger effort to denigrate the man” — “horrific” and “repugnant,” along with “inappropriate,” “offensive” and “over the top.” The head of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants, Elan Steinberg, called the description — particularly the made-up part about “helping send the Jews to the death camps” — “a particularly monstrous lie.”

Strangely, Soros isn’t the first to slime Soros in this fashion. Back in February 2007, Soros was called “a young cog in the Hitlerite wheel” by none other than Marty Peretz, the editor and publisher of The New Republic, in an over-the-top entry in his blog, The Spine. Apparently, that wasn’t offensive. It’s not clear why not.

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Rite of Returns: Jews Who Ran for Congress — Winners & Losers

By J.J. Goldberg

O.K., so how bad was it for the Jews? Not as bad as for Democrats in general. A few Jewish lawmakers were defeated, a smaller number of new ones were elected. A quick look at who’s in and who’s out offers some intriguing insights about the current state of American Jewry. As Yogi Berra once said, you can observe a lot just by watching.

One of the interesting things to watch as you peruse the results is how complicated it has become to know whom to count as Jewish. Time was, you had Sol Bloom from the Lower East Side and Manny Celler from Brooklyn and everybody knew where everybody stood. Now, as you’ll note if you read on, everything is complicated.

The biggest deal, of course, is that Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the only Jewish Republican in either house of Congress, is expected to become House majority leader. I think that’s the highest elected position any Jew has held in Washington. (Does anybody know something different?)

Another big deal is the unseating of Democratic Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, a true liberal hero (and brother of a rabbi), independent maverick, co-sponsor with John McCain of the ill-fated McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform and the only senator to vote against the Patriot Act.

With Feingold’s defeat, Wisconsin loses the distinction of being one of the two states with two Jewish senators (the other is California). Milwaukee Bucks owner Herb Kohl now must soldier on alone and defend the honor of our ancient tribe. The whole state has about 28,000 Jews, by the way, barely half a percent of the population.

However, Connecticut will replace Wisconsin among the ranks of two-Jewish-senator states January 1 with the swearing-in of senator-elect Dick Blumenthal, longtime state attorney general. He now joins the previous state attorney general, Joe Lieberman, as a member of the world’s greatest deliberative body.

Also of note: Cantor apparently is no longer the only elected Jewish Republican on Capitol Hill. Nan Hayworth, newly elected from New York’s 19th congressional district, got a shout-out in an AIPAC email blast that congratulated winners and especially saluted the three newly elected Jews, one of whom is Hayworth.

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10 Republicans Who Are About To Be Congress' Key Foreign Policy Players

By J.J. Goldberg

There’s an interesting piece at ForeignPolicy.com listing 10 Republicans who can be expected to play a major role in helping or frustrating President Obama’s foreign policy and security goals over the next two years. It’s based on the assumption that the Republicans will take over the House of Representatives and their members will take over committee chairmanships. Assuming Republicans don’t take the Senate, they will still be in a much stronger position to influence outcomes and frustrate administration policies they don’t like.

Of the 10, three are deeply committed to Israel and would become major allies to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his efforts to ward off White House pressure for compromise: Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, who would become House majority leader and get to decide what bills do and don’t come to the floor for a vote; Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, who would chair the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, “the GOP’s de facto leader on a host of foreign-policy issues” and a longtime ally of Zionist Organization of America president Mort Klein.

Two others on the Foreign Policy list are expected to be pivotal Capitol Hill allies for Obama: Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine, who is likely to replace retiring Sen. Kit Bond of Missouri as lead Republican on Select Committee on Intelligence (Orrin Hatch, who is line for the job, is expected to turn it down because of other responsibilities).

The others on the list:

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: war on terror, Thad Cochran, foreign aid, Richard Lugar, Republicans, Olympia Snowe, Kay Granger, Jon Kyl, John McCain, Jim DeMint, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Eric Cantor, Ed Royce, Congress



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