J.J. Goldberg

Top U.S. General: We Pay a Price for Backing Israel

By J.J. Goldberg

Getty Images
General James Mattis during Senate confirmation hearings, 2010.

Marine Corps General James Mattis, who retired May 22 as chief of the U.S. Central Command, in charge of U.S. forces in the Middle East, said in a speech at the prestigious Aspen Security Forum in Colorado last Saturday (July 20) that America needs to work “with a sense of urgency” to achieve a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, because resentment of U.S. support for Israel hurts America militarily throughout the region.

He said the “current situation is unsustainable” and that America must act “with a sense of urgency” toward a two-state solution, because the chances “are starting to ebb because of the settlements and where they’re at.” If it fails, he said, the result will be “apartheid.” And then this bombshell:

I paid a military-security price every day as the commander of CentCom because the Americans were seen as biased in support of Israel.

Mattis’ predecessor as chief of CentCom, General David Petraeus, made much the same point in a briefing paper he submitted to the Senate Armed Services Committee in March 2010, shortly before he handed CentCom over to Mattis. The passage on Israel (on Page 12) caused an explosive reaction (here is what the ADL had to say), though his actual testimony was far more equivocal than his written report. Commentary had a good rundown of the flap a few days later with both the written and spoken remarks in full. Petraeus tried to clear up the mess—some called it backtracking to cover his butt—in an ABC interview a week later.

Here’s a video of Mattis’ talk in Aspen (66 minutes in all). His comments on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict start at 41:22, and he returns to the subject in response to an audience question at 47:28.

Here’s the full text of Mattis’ Aspen comments on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:

Read more


How Israel Sold EU on Banning Half of Hezbollah

By J.J. Goldberg

Getty Images
Remains of Israeli victims of Hezbollah terror attack in Bulgaria are returned home, July 20, 2012

The European Union’s decision to slap the terrorist label on Hezbollah’s military wing, but not on its political wing, has been getting decidedly mixed reviews from Israel and the Jewish community. The American Jewish Committee said it “welcomes” the move as a “significant step forward in recognizing the true nature of Hezbollah,” even though AJC shares the U.S.-Canadian-Dutch view that Hezbollah is actually “a single organization.”

On the other hand, the Anti-Defamation League called it “a positive political statement, but a flawed counter-terrorism strategy,” since it “missed” the “high-value counter-terrorism target” of Hezbollah financing. B’nai Brith Canada went even further, saying the EU move gives “false legitimacy to Hezbollah’s supposedly non-violent wings,” which will “weaken international efforts to combat terror,” strengthen Iran and “cost more innocent lives.”

Yori Yanover wrote in the Jewish Press, citing a Reuters report, that the double-identity idea, “like most of the fun things coming out of the EU, is the brainchild of its foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.”

Awkwardly enough, it now appears that differentiating the military and political wings for separate treatment was actually proposed to the EU by Israel’s negotiators. So reports Eli Bardenstein, the usually well-informed diplomatic correspondent of the right-leaning Israeli daily Maariv, in a detailed backgrounder (in Hebrew) on the Israeli campaign to secure the European ban. Launched by then-foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, the year-long campaign was the work of a task force that was led by the Foreign Ministry and included Israel’s National Security Council and main intelligence agencies. The split-identity proposal, Bardenstein writes, was devised as a way to ease France’s fears of losing influence in Lebanon’s byzantine politics, which it feared would strengthen Hezbollah and reinforce Syria’s Assad regime.

The S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace published an English-language summary (PDF) of Bardenstein’s analysis. Here are the main points:

Read more


Kerry's 'Naïve' Peace Bid: Who Got the Last Laugh?

By J.J. Goldberg

Getty Images
Secretary of State Kerry greets Arab League secretary-general Nabil al-Arabi, Amman, July 17.

Well, surprise, surprise. After months of hearing from all the wise pundits from left to right that Secretary of State Kerry was beyond his depth in Israeli-Palestinian peace-making, that he was “naïve and ham-handed” (מגושם in the original), “dumb” and “clueless,” it turns out they all got it wrong. Of course, they’re still a long way from a peace agreement. They haven’t even launched peace negotiations. But they’ve agreed to try, and that’s more than anyone thought possible just a week ago. It looks like Kerry gets the last laugh, at least for now.

How did everyone get it so wrong? Four main reasons, I think. First, a major epidemic of cynicism, reinforced by the fashionably jaded, world-weary pose so beloved of journalists. Second, wishful thinking by ideologues who oppose the idea of two states for two people and cling to the idea that it can’t happen. Third, a deep distrust of the two leaders, Netanyahu and Abbas, and of the political systems they lead.

Fourth, and perhaps most important, months and months of no news. It’s an old truism that if you want to bring two sides toward painful compromise, you have to keep the deal under wraps until it’s all done—otherwise each side can be accused of giving away the store and getting nothing in return until skeptics on both sides have nibbled it to pieces. But past rounds have been so leaky that everyone on the outside got used to hearing about every step as it happened. Consequently, the lack of incremental progress reports this time looked like a lack of progress. So when the deal was unwrapped, it took everyone by surprise.

But the image of Kerry as a clueless naïf blundering his way through the thicket isn’t the only myth that’s been exploded in the last two days. Here are a few others:

Read more


Jews on 1st? Baseball and the Quest for Identity

By J.J. Goldberg

Wikimedia Commons
Paul Goldschmidt, Jason Kipnis

This year’s Major League Baseball All Stars game had two arguably Jewish players on the roster (out of 78 players total): second-baseman Jason Kipnis of Cleveland (American League) and first-baseman Paul Goldschmidt of Arizona (National League). Both have Jewish fathers and Christian mothers (same as the two arguably Jewish players on last year’s All Star roster, Ian Kinsler and Ryan Braun).

Two out of 78 comes to 2.5%, slightly above the Jewish percentage in the overall population. So what, you ask? We’ll get to that.

As luck would have it, those two happened to be the guys who made the game’s final plays for their respective leagues. Goldschmidt got the last hit for the losing National League, a two-out double in the bottom of the ninth inning. In the next play, Kipnis wrapped up a 3-0 win for the American League by catching a pop-up from Pedro Alvarez of Pittsburgh.

Does it matter, if their mothers aren’t Jewish and they don’t practice Judaism? I’d say it does. Braun (“the Hebrew Hammer”), Kinsler and Kipnis all consider themselves proud Jews (don’t know enough about Goldschmidt). They willingly put themselves forward as role models for Jewish kids looking for heroes and, all too frequently, struggling with issues of masculinity and Jewish identity. We should count ourselves blessed to live in a time when people are yearning to get counted in, not out.

So here’s my question: what’s with all the Jewish first basemen?

Read more


Trayvon Martin and the 55% Tragedy

By J.J. Goldberg

getty images

By now most of us have heard the big numbers involved in gun violence in this country. Given the anguished cries of protest following the acquittal of George Zimmerman, it’s time we started paying attention to some of the smaller numbers.

In 2010 there were 31,672 deaths from firearms in the United States, according to Centers for Disease Control figures cited in a Pew Research Center report this past May. Just under two-thirds (19,392) were suicides, and just over one-third (11,078) were homicides. No surprise so far, right?

Here’s a shocking fact you may not know: Of those 11,078 gun homicide victims, 55% were black, although blacks comprise about 13% of the nation’s population. Whites were 25% of the homicide victims, although they are 65% of the population. Hispanics were 17% of the victims, and 16% of the population. Relative to their share of the population, black Americans are about 11 times more likely to be shot to death than white Americans.

There’s something even more shocking: Fully 94% of black victims were killed by blacks, while 86% of white victims were killed by whites. That’s according to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics figures cited in a Wall Street Journal article last August. Of the black victims, 85% were men, mostly between ages 18 and 40.

Put differently, some 6,092 black people were shot to death in 2010, including 5,178 men and 914 women. Of those victims, 5,726 were killed by other blacks and 366 by whites, Hispanics or Asians. At the same time, 2,769 white people were shot to death that year, of whom 2,381 were killed by other whites and 388 by non-whites.

What do those numbers teach us? First, whatever the precise circumstances under which Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin — and we will probably never know exactly what happened, which is why “reasonable doubt” was the necessary verdict — it was rare. The claim by protesters across the country since the verdict that the shooting of young Martin was the typical black experience in America is statistically untrue.

On the other hand, so is the widespread white fear of victimization by young black men that leads to the suspicion and profiling experienced by so many black Americans. Killing of whites by blacks is as rare as killing of blacks by whites in absolute numbers. Proportional to their total population numbers, it’s even more rare: the killing of a black person by a white person, as rare as it is, is about five times more likely than the reverse. Either way, though, racial killings are a tiny proportion of the slaughter.

There is an epidemic of murder in this country. It’s killing young black men at a horrifying rate. Americans, including black Americans, have hardened their hearts to that terrible reality. We’re all glued to our television sets, taking sides in a symbolic drama that’s supposed to prove who is the greater victim.


Revolt Grows Against 'Racist' Chief Rabbi Bids

By J.J. Goldberg

Wikimedia Commons
Shmuel Eliyahu

The race for Sephardic chief rabbi of Israel keeps getting uglier. The lead contender, Safed’s municipal Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, is the subject of a legal investigation by state attorney general Yehuda Weinstein. Weinstein’s action comes in response to a formal complaint by Labor Party lawmaker Eitan Cabel over Eliyahu’s 2010 ban on sale or rent of homes to Arabs, as well as certain statements about gays that may have broken laws on incitement.

Now Eliyahu’s chief opponent, Rabbi Avraham Yosef, may be headed for his own legal troubles. Maariv reports that, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni has asked Weinstein to examine possible legal responses to a variety of Yosef’s controversial statements and rulings. (For a rundown of statements by Eliyahu and Yosef, see my blog post from last week, here.) Yosef is the eldest son of former Sephardic chief rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual mentor of the opposition Shas Party.

Six organizations, including the Movement for Quality Government in Israel and several women’s groups, have written to Weinstein to request that he summon Yosef for questioning and bar his candidacy for chief rabbi, Maariv reports. The paper quotes unnamed legal authorities saying that the request means Weinstein will be barred from defending Yosef if his case is appealed to the Supreme Court.

Read more


Accused Racists Leading Field in Chief Rabbi Race

By J.J. Goldberg

Wikimedia Commons
Rabbi Avraham Yosef (left), Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu

The race for chief rabbi of Israel has been getting ugly since the collapse of a proposed deal between Shas and Jewish Home to elect their respective favorites. The deal would have amended the Chief Rabbinate laws to permit a second term for the incumbent Sephardic chief rabbi, a Shas favorite, and eliminated the age limit to permit the election of a favorite of the hardline, pro-settler of Jewish Home. The deal collapsed over liberal support for a more moderate Ashkenazi contender, as well as opposition to anything that benefits Shas.

The leading candidate for Sephardic chief rabbi is now Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, chief rabbi of Safed and son of the late Mordechai Eliyahu, former chief rabbi and longtime spiritual mentor of the National Religious Party. The younger Eliyahu is currently the subject of furious behind-the-scenes politicking by liberals who want to stop his candidacy, led by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Labor Party lawmaker Eitan Cabel. The reason: a long record of extreme racism, including his notorious 2010 dictum forbidding the sale or rental of homes to Arabs.

Livni, whose Justice Ministry would be in charge of Chief Rabbi Eliyahu (since the Sephardic chief rabbi is the head of the rabbinical court system, which is under the Justice Ministry), met with Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein last month to look for legal ways to block Eliyahu. Weinstein was dubious about the legal grounds, according to Nahum Barnea in today’s Yediot Ahronot. Barnea quoted Livni as insisting: “This is intolerable. After all, we’re talking about the position of chief rabbi. What will his election do to Israel’s image abroad? He mustn’t be elected.”

Livni wanted to base legal action on an indictment issued against Eliyahu in 2002 on charges of racism after he called for the expulsion of the Arab population of Safed. Weinstein pointed out that the state attorney’s office dropped the charges in 2006 after Eliyahu agreed to apologize, which would undermine the legal grounds for blocking him now.

On Wednesday, however (presumably after Barnea had filed his Friday Supplement column), Haaretz reported that Weinstein had agreed to conduct a legal inquiry if Eliyahu’s name is formally put in nomination.

The Haaretz story linked above includes some of Eliyahu’s most controversial quotes. The Israel Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism has put together a longer list of Eliyahu’s most objectionable public statements.

Barnea points out, however, that stopping Eliyahu could be a mixed blessing. His main competition, Barnea reports, is Rabbi Avraham Yosef, a son of the former Sephardic chief rabbi and current Shas party mentor Ovadia Yosef. Though less prominent in the press, Barnea says, Yosef could be considered even more racist—and misogynistic and anti-democratic, to boot—than Eliyahu. In part this is a reflection of their ideological backgrounds: Eliyahu comes from the religious Zionist movement and recognizes the legitimacy of the state and its institutions, while Yosef emerges from a Haredi worldview that’s much more ambivalent on the question. It’s said, though, that Avraham Yosef is considered something of an extremist even within his own family.

To make his case, Barnea put together a list of parallel statements by the two for comparison. Here’s my translation:

Read more


Egypt: U.S. Strategists' Fail, Turkey's Nightmare

By J.J. Goldberg

Getty Images
Erdogan: ‘Uh-oh’

Looking at Egypt’s latest earthquake from the sober distance of a few solid hours, two important takeaways, each nicely captured in an eye-catching headline. One frames a fresh column by Bloomberg Businessweek deputy editor Romesh Ratnesar: “Revolt in Egypt Marks the End of America’s Illusions About Arab Democracy.”

The other sits atop a column by the canny Bulgarian journalist Victor Kotsev in the Hong Kong-based Asia Times: “Egyptian nightmare for Erdogan.”

Erdogan, of course, is Recep Tayyip Erdogan (AIR-doo-wan), prime minister of Turkey since 2003 as head of the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, which fancies itself the leading edge of a new wave of moderate political Islam. Kotsev writes:

While the Turkish government spent much of the last couple of years branding itself as a paradigm for Egypt and other Arab Spring countries, the reverse is now taking place: Egypt is becoming the nightmare scenario for Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

It’s a nightmare in several senses. For one thing, Turkey has spent vast sums of money and political capital trying to tout itself and Egypt as leaders of the new wave. The victory of the Muslim Brotherhood last year in Egypt, the Arab world’s most popular country, was Erdogan’s chance to show that his brand of democratic Islamism had graduated from test-case to movement. Now, as Wall Street Journal reporter-blogger Joe Parkinson wrote today,

Analysts said that the prospect of the fall of Egypt’s democratically-elected Islamist government, could represent a serious blow to Turkey’s aspirations of regional leadership.

“The developments in Egypt are unfortunate, but along with the situation in Syria, it appears to mark the end of whatever dreams the Turkish government previously had of playing a leading role to a series of friendly Islamist governments in the region,” said Soli Ozel, professor of International Relations at Istanbul’s Kadir Hass University.

And not just dreams of regional leadership. Turkey has been rocked by major street protests of its own for the past five weeks. The violent phase seems to have ended—with a brand-new court victory for the protesters, it’s worth noting, annulling the parkland development project that brought them into the street—the mere fact that the protests could topple his fellow Islamist to the south has to be making Erdogan a tad nervous. And on top of that, the coup de grace was delivered by the army, the institution that’s been Erdogan’s greatest bane since the beginning. Kotsev:

True, the danger of a military coup in Turkey at the moment is close to zero, if only because Erdogan has locked up an entire army college (some 330 officers) on charges of plotting against him. But the parallels between the two countries run far beyond the superficial. For the record, so too did Egyptian still-President Mohammed Morsi try to purge the army last year, although he only removed a few top generals

Most importantly, both countries are experimenting with moderate political Islam, and the experiments have produced mixed result as far as genuine democracy is concerned.

As for America’s broken dreams, they also began a decade ago, when President Bush decided to adopt the strategy of exporting democracy as the way to tame the Middle East and “defeat the terrorists.” This is where it’s gotten us. Here’s Ratnesar in Bloomberg Businessweek:

Read more


Minority Inequality Falls, Income Inequality Rises

By J.J. Goldberg

Wikimedia Commons
Shapers of a Nation

Some interesting new ideas today about inequality in America.

First, Washington Post columnist Harold Meyerson offers an important insight into the different kinds of inequality that exist and the differing responses. Over the past half-century, he writes, public pressure for black, women’s and gay rights has brought down barriers confronting those excluded because of their racial and sexual identities.

Changes in the law have followed the same pattern: First, a handful of generally radical activists brought attention to the existence of a legal double standard; then, a mass movement grew in support of eliminating discriminatory laws and practices; only after this did government respond with legal remedies.

It hasn’t been even. The Supreme Court’s assault on the Voting Rights Act, state attacks on abortion and other backlash measures have set back fights for equality. Still, the general direction of society has been toward equality.

But, Meyerson writes, the opposite has been true for economic equality. After nearly a half-century of government activism to reduce inequality, beginning with Franklin Roosevelt, the last 30 years have seen a steady, radical rise in inequality, due in large measure to government policies like deregulating the financial industry and undercutting workers’ bargaining power. The trend not only reverses the legacies of Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson, but also “makes a mockery of Thomas Jefferson’s vision of equality, which went beyond mere equality of creation” and looked to a “nation of yeoman farmers” to prevent “inequalities of wealth and power.”

He might also have mentioned Abraham Lincoln, whose freeing of the slaves served, as Andrew Zimmerman writes in today’s New York Times, as an inspiration to European radicals and helped fuel the socialist and workers’ rights movements that emerged in the decades after Lincoln.

More on economic inequality: two fascinating new studies from the Economic Policy Institute, not easy reading but well worth the slog:

Read more


Top U.S. General: Climate Is No. 1 Security Threat

By J.J. Goldberg

Getty Images
Adm. Samuel Locklear, Chief of U.S. Pacific Command

In the latest climate news: heat waves and wildfires in the West, record flooding in the Northeast. But first—get this—top British and American military brass warn that climate change constitutes one of the most serious security threats (that’s the British view—the American says it’s the most serious) facing the two nations in the decades ahead.

The Brit is Rear Admiral Neil Morisetti, who recently took over as the British foreign ministry’s top climate official. He says climate change is as serious a threat as terrorism or cyber-attacks, and that “governments could not afford to wait until they had all the information they might like. ‘If you wait for 100% certainty on the battlefield, you’ll be in a pretty sticky state,’ he said. The increased threat posed by climate change arises because droughts, storms and floods are exacerbating water, food, population and security tensions in conflict-prone regions.”

The American is Navy Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III, commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific. He says that changing climate is the most serious threat on the horizon to U.S. security in the Pacific—more serious than “hostile actions by North Korea, escalating tensions between China and Japan, and a spike in computer attacks traced to China.” Worth a read.

About that heat wave: Harvard University climatologist Martin Tingley talks to National Geographic about his study, published in Nature in April, that found that the years 2005, 2007, 2010 and 2011 were warmer than any year going back 600 years, to 1400.

getty images

Tingley says it’s impossible to blame anthropogenic (man-made) climate change directly for the triple-digit heatwave currently crippling the American West. What he does say, intriguingly, is that based on “the meteorological charts, it looks to be a blocking event. That happens when there’s a particular configuration of the jet stream that’s quite stable. So there’s a big high-pressure ridge on the West Coast and a low-pressure trough in the East Coast. That’s why it’s quite rainy here [in Cambridge, Massachusetts] and very hot on the West Coast.”

Alert readers will recall that I’ve written several times recently about the role of climate change in generating those jet stream-related “blocking events.”

Read more


Bibi: Peace Essential, But Won't End Israel-Bashing

By J.J. Goldberg

Wikimedia Commons
Perhaps …

Haaretz reporter Barak Ravid writes that Secretary of State Kerry is arriving in Israel today amid “no signs” that he’s “nearing a breakthrough” toward peace talks. The funny thing is, it’s in the middle of an article that reports clear signs of a breakthrough. Specifically, he reports on a “senior Likud minister” telling him Netanyahu is ready to withdraw from more than 90% of the West Bank “if Israel’s security concerns are met.”

Those security concerns: demilitarization of the Palestinian state (which was accepted long ago) and a long-term Israeli military presence on the Jordan River — though not necessarily the whole Jordan Valley (a big Bibi concession) and not necessarily under Israeli sovereignty (another big Bibi concession).

An even bigger sign of progress came later on Thursday: a public declaration by Netanyahu, in a high-profile speech (at the annual Theodor Herzl memorial ceremony) that peace with the Palestinians is a must — even though it won’t stop defamation of Israel. Ending the international bad-mouthing and “delegitimization” of Israel is constantly thrown up by the right, with active cooperation from the center and center-left — as a test of whether a future peace is safe enough to justify Israeli withdrawal. Saying that the two — peace agreement and civil dialogue — aren’t the same and aren’t even necessarily interdependent is a big step toward a realistic opening negotiating position.

Read more


Poll: Israelis Ask US Jews' Views. Headline: Not!

By J.J. Goldberg

Israelity Blog
Broken telephone…

Here’s a kind of wonderfully dopey news item that appeared in the Jerusalem Post last week and then was reposted at The Tablet. That is, the news itself was perfectly legitimate, but the reporting and headlines—that is, the part that will stick in the mind of your average reader—was something else.

The news: Israelis were polled on the question of whether or not Israel’s leaders should take into account the views of American Jews on the peace process. The responses broke down roughly in thirds: 31.9% said “not at all,” 33.6% said “to a small extent” and 31% said “to a great extent” (that last was divided into 21.6% “to a great extent” and 9.4% “to a very great extent). If I remember my 4th Grade arithmetic, that comes to roughly two-thirds (64.6%) saying “yes” and one-third (31.9%) saying “no.” Logically, then, the headline and lead paragraph should inform us that Israelis, by a two-to-one margin, want their government to take the views of American Jews into account to a greater or lesser extent. Make sense?

You’d think. In fact, the June 18 headline in the Jerusalem Post headline read: “32% of Israelis believe US Jews should stay out of peace process.” The lead paragraph read:

Most Israelis think the government should totally or mostly disregard US Jewry’s positions on the peace process and religious affairs, according to a poll released Monday.

Tablet was even better. Its June 21 headline read: “Israelis to U.S. Jews: Stay Out of Peace Process.”

Read more


Is Mahmoud Abbas Ready to Resume Peace Talks?

By J.J. Goldberg

Getty Images
John Kerry (left) and Mahmoud Abbas

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is said to be willing to return to direct peace negotiations with Israel, reports Arab affairs correspondent Ehud Yaari of Israel’s Channel 2 TV News, who is probably Israel’s best informed and most respected reporter on the topic. Yaari claims that’s “what he [Abbas] is explaining in the corridors in Ramallah,” the Palestinian Authority capital.

The Times of Israel reports that a Palestinian Authority spokesman is denying Yaari’s report—but the accompanying quote seems more like a refusal to confirm rather than an outright denial (“’Please refer to official Palestinian sources and not the off-the-record game,’ an aide to Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said.”)

Abbas will explain his intentions and discuss the terms of the negotiations with Secretary of State John Kerry when he returns to the region on Thursday. According to Yaari, Abbas intends to return to the table for a limited period to test the intentions of Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s intentions and see if Netanyahu is serious about reaching an agreement. If Abbas concludes that Netanyahu is not serious, Yaari says, he will go back to the United Nations and say that the Palestinian Authority “cannot function under the circumstances.”

Here’s the original Ehud Yaari report (in Hebrew - the link will take you to Mako News)

Read more


Foxman: Foes of '2 States' Hurt Israel's Credibility

By J.J. Goldberg

ADL
Abe Foxman

As Washington and Jerusalem jockey over terms for renewing Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, Anti-Defamation League director Abe Foxman insists that his organization will continue to support Israel. But he warns that Israelis make the job harder and hurt their own cause by allowing hardline opponents of Palestinian statehood to speak for them.

He singled out Israel’s economy minister Naftali Bennett and deputy defense minister Danny Danon. Both have spoken out forcefully in recent weeks against the principle of a two-state peace agreement, contradicting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s repeated statements of support for the two-state approach.

“We say we support Israel, but you have to be credible,” Foxman said by telephone from Jerusalem on Sunday. “And with Bennett and Danon, you’re not credible.”

Foxman was describing what he said was the approach of mainstream Jewish advocacy organizations in the complicated crossfire between the State Department, the various factions within the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority as Secretary of State John Kerry seeks a formula to restart peace negotiations.

In a June 3 speech to the American Jewish Committee, Kerry appealed for American Jews to speak out in support of his effort, which focuses in part on winning Israeli concessions to woo that Palestinians back to the table. The weeks since then have seen a steadily intensifying debate among Israelis and their supporters, highlighted by remarks by Danon on June 6 and Bennett on June 17 dismissing the possibility of a two-state peace agreement.

On the other side, Israeli army chief of Central Command Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon, the senior officer in charge of the West Bank, told a conservative Jerusalem think tank on June 18 that failure to restart negotiations could lead to a breakdown in Israeli-Palestinian security coordination and an eruption of unrest on the West Bank.

Read more


Putin: Jews Ruined Russia – But Now We're Pals, Eh?

By J.J. Goldberg

Getty Images
Commissars Vladimir Lenin (left) and Leon Trotsky (saluting)

If you’ve been following Vladimir Putin’s image troubles over the Schneerson Library, the priceless Chabad literary trove that the Bolsheviks seized, Russia held and Crown Heights wants, you may have heard about his weird remarks last Thursday (June 13) when he handed over a batch of the treasure to the new Chabad-run museum in Moscow: “The decision to nationalize this library was made by the first Soviet government, whose composition was 80-85 percent Jewish.” He added that those Jews were blinded by “false ideological considerations,” from which we have thankfully recovered.

His point, apparently, was to explain whose fault it was that this Jewish treasure ended up in Soviet vaults. What’s scary is that he thinks he’s stating an obvious truth that nobody would object to. His appearance was meant as a friendly gesture. Why would anybody be offended if he reminded them that it was the Jews who ruined Russia? That was then. Now we’re all friends, right?

You might be tempted to think his remarks have just enough ring of truth to sound plausible. After all, weren’t the Jews in Russia back then fiercely opposed to the oppressive, pogromist tsarist regime? (Well, yeah.) Weren’t they the ones who brought all those radical ideas about socialism and trade unions to America? (Uh, sort of.) On the other hand, you might have been thinking that he was spouting some nasty conspiracy theories from the annals of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Isn’t this Jewish-reds-take-over-Mother-Russia precisely what the Protocols say? (Bingo.)

Well, it’s easy enough to check: the names of the members of the first Soviet government are quite readily available, and the individual biographies are easy enough to check. But you needn’t go the trouble: Yori Yanover over at the Jewish Press has done the job for you. He’s gone through the 16 names on the first Council of People’s Commissars under the Bolsheviks, and found precisely one Jew among them, Leon Trotsky. I trust Yori—we frequently disagree on issues, but he’s an excellent reporter (and an exceptionally fine writer). Still, I went and checked all the biographies myself, and he’s right. The proportion of Jewish members of the first Soviet government was not 85% or even 80% but 6.25%.

Read more


Did Shooter of Abortion Doctor Aim To Kill Jews?

By J.J. Goldberg

Getty Images
James Charles Kopp in court, 2002

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday denied a request by anti-abortion militant James Charles Kopp to review his conviction in the 1998 killing of Buffalo obstetrician Barnett Slepian.

Kopp is serving a life sentence in federal prison in Pennsylvania on a 2003 New York state conviction for second degree murder, as well a 2007 federal conviction for violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act.

He claims his rights were violated by improper representation, as well as by a judge’s refusal to let him give testimony about his view of abortion. This was his second unsuccessful bid for Supreme Court review of his case.

Slepian was killed on Friday night, October 23, 1998, shortly after returning home from synagogue where he was saying Kaddish for his late father. Kopp admitted shooting him through the kitchen window from nearby woods with a high-power sniper rifle.

Canadian police consider Kopp a suspect in a series of five similar shootings of abortion providers in their homes in southern Canada and upstate New York between 1994 and 1998. Those shootings became known as the Remembrance Day shootings because they all took place within a few days of November 11, marked by Canadian anti-abortion activists as Remembrance Day for the Unborn. Slepian, the last victim, was the only fatality.

A striking aspect of the case, though seldom discussed, is the fact that four of the five victims were Jewish, and the name of fifth is sometimes described by observers as sounding Jewish (apparently based on off-the-record speculation by Canadian law enforcement officials).

Read more


How CIA-FBI Tech Fiasco Spawned the NSA Scandal

By J.J. Goldberg

Getty Images

Of all the startling disclosures to emerge from the unfolding NSA data-collection scandal, perhaps the most shocking is this: As the Washington Post reported on June 8, the material collected from Internet company servers is electronically “pushed” to classified FBI computers in Quantico, Virginia, and then “shared with the NSA or other authorized intelligence agencies.”

Wow. Who knew the FBI had computers that could communicate with other agencies?

The last time the topic came up, back in 2007, things didn’t work that way. That’s when we learned that the FBI and CIA had incompatible computer systems that couldn’t interface to share information or even communicate. It caused a flurry of tut-tutting and then disappeared from view.

The story of the computer glitch was contained in a pair of documents released several months apart, scrubbed versions of secret reports by the two agencies’ inspector-generals’ offices, examining the intelligence failures that led up to the September 11 attacks. The FBI report was completed in November 2004 and released in June 2006; the CIA report was completed in June 2005 and released in August 2007.

The computer disconnect was part of a larger problem described in similar terms in both reports: a deep-rooted inability of the CIA and FBI to share information. The result was that they missed clues that would have lit red lights all over Washington, long before the attacks, if somebody had managed to put two and two together. One expert, former CIA staffer Robert Baer, writing in Time magazine in 2007 about the CIA disclosures, called the communication breakdown “the smoking gun” that let the attackers slip through.

Partly the failure was a reflection of radically different organizational cultures. Things that seemed important to one agency didn’t interest the other. As one observer put it, the CIA looked for intelligence, while the FBI gathered evidence. Moreover, the CIA tracked suspects operating overseas, but dropped them when they entered the United States and became the FBI’s problem—without always telling the FBI.

Read more


Yair Lapid Feuds With Allies on Arab Peace Bid

By J.J. Goldberg

Wikimedia Commons
Likud’s Tzipi Hotovely, Yesh Atid’s Ofer Shelah

Three weeks after Israeli finance minister Yair Lapid stunned his liberal base by staking out a hardline stance on peace issues, his disappointed lieutenants are coming out in open rebellion.

Lapid, the journalist-turned-politician who scored big in January elections as the champion of the center-left, told New York Times correspondent Jodi Rudoren in an interview published May 19 that he opposed freezing settlement construction, wanted Jerusalem entirely under Israeli sovereignty and—feinting to the right of Bibi Netanyahu—doubted that Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas was a partner for peace.

The first sign of trouble came 12 days later, in a May 31 Yediot Ahronot interview with science minister Yaakov Peri, the former Shin Bet chief who was Lapid’s first pick for his party slate last October. A longtime dove, Peri said he had been “saddened” that Yesh Atid hadn’t raised the peace process in its fall campaign, saying it was an electoral strategy recommended by Washington consultant Mark Mellman. Acknowledging that he didn’t agree with Lapid on the peace process, Peri called Abbas a “partner for talks” and endorsed a two-state peace pact based on “a return to the 1967 borders, with minor adjustments and retaining three settlement blocs.” He said he would “be making my voice heard soon on this matter.”

Last week the gloves came off. Another Lapid ally, fellow journalist Ofer Shelah, Yesh Atid’s Knesset whip, declared at a high-profile June 11 conference in Jerusalem that “the occupation is corrupting Israeli society, the Israel Defense Forces, Israeli justice, Israeli media, Israeli psyche and Israeli discourse.” He said Israel was growing increasingly isolated, facing a serious threat of international trade boycotts and “approaching the status of South Africa.”

Shelah was responding to an argument made moments earlier at the same conference by deputy transportation minister Tzipi Hotovely, a Likud hardliner. She claimed that the “entire coalition agrees that the settlements are not an obstacle to peace,” recalling Lapid’s New York Times interviews. Both lawmakers were participating in a panel discussion on the Arab Peace Initiative, sponsored by the Molad Center for Renewal of Israeli Democracy, together with the Likud and Labor student clubs at Hebrew University.

Read more


In Syria, 2 Clashing Goals: End Killing or Stop Iran

By J.J. Goldberg

Getty Images
Syrian rebels guard Islamist rally, Aleppo, March 2013

Now that the White House has officially acknowledged the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons, the question is no longer whether we get involved in the Syrian civil war, but how. This represents a victory for the smallish, outspoken group of liberal interventionists who have been arguing for an American military role, while trying to shake off the stigma of their de facto alliance with neoconservatives a decade ago in supporting President Bush’s war in Iraq. President Obama’s nomination last week of Susan Rice as National Security Adviser and Samantha Power as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations seemed to signal that we’d be moving in this direction, given their records as liberal interventionists, but nobody expected it to happen so fast.

Liberal interventionists have been insisting for months that, as The New York Times’ Bill Keller and The Washington Post’s Richard Cohen argued recently, memories of Iraq shouldn’t deter America from acting in Syria, because they’re not the same thing. The scale of humanitarian disaster in Syria is genuine, immediate and overwhelming. On the contrary, the proper precedents are the shameful tragedies of our delayed intervention in Bosnia, as The New Republic’s Leon Wieseltier maintains, and our abject failure to act in Rwanda, as Princeton University political scientist (and former Obama State Department aide) Anne-Marie Slaughter forcefully insists. Indeed, the Brookings Institution’s Michael O’Hanlon writes that the lesson for Syria from the Bosnia experience is what went right after we did intervene.

Conservative interventionists like Elliott Abrams and, well, a host of others have been calling for months for action in Syria as a way to weaken Iran and Hezbollah. Hebrew University Middle East scholar [Moshe Maoz], perhaps Israel’s most respected Syria watcher — and an outspoken dove on the Palestinian issue—makes both arguments in a new op-ed essay in Haaretz: that the humanitarian disaster and the growing prospect of an Assad-Hezbollah-Iran victory in the civil war should stir Washington and NATO to a firm, Bosnia-style intervention. Israel has everything to gain from such an intervention, he writes, and while it can’t be part of the action, it can and “must use its good ties with the U.S. to persuade it to give strategic military support to the rebels in Syria.” As for fears that a rebel victory would install a jihadist or Al Qaeda-style regime in Damascus, he writes:

Read more


How Bibi's Right Flank Maneuvers To Box Him In

By J.J. Goldberg

DannyDanon.com/Wikimedia Commons
Likud Young Turks: Danny Danon, Yariv Levin

The guessing game continues: Will he or won’t he? Will Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agree to open peace negotiations with the Palestinians on the basis of the Arab Peace Initiative — meaning, in effect, agreeing to start from the pre-1967 armistice lines as the basis for negotiating future borders?

Netanyahu is under pressure. He very much wants to sit down to negotiate with Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas — or, at least, to be seen as very much wanting to. He hasn’t accepted the Arab League plan, but he hasn’t explicitly rejected it. Most of those around him suspect that he’s leaning toward accepting some watered down version as he sees the odds of a binational state growing and the opening for a two-state solution slipping away — not to mention the international legitimacy he needs in the face of Iran.

He was seriously embarrassed last week when his deputy defense minister, rising Likud star Danny Danon, told The Times of Israel in a bombshell interview that neither the ruling Likud party nor the government as a whole would ratify a pact based on two states for two peoples. Danon said the Likud was “legally” opposed to the principle of two states for two peoples, because of formal resolutions adopted by the party about a decade ago and never rescinded. Indeed, Danon said,

there was never a government discussion, resolution or vote about the two-state solution. If you will bring it to a vote in the government — nobody will bring it to a vote, it’s not smart to do it — but if you bring it to a vote, you will see the majority of Likud ministers, along with the Jewish Home [party], will be against it.”

It gets worse. Coalition whip Yariv Levin of Likud — he’s the guy in charge of rounding up Knesset votes whenever a bill comes to the floor — announced Wednesday that he would be assuming co-chairmanship of a new Lobby for the Land of Israel caucus within the Knesset to oppose any territorial concessions in the West Bank. The caucus is to be rolled out at a “celebratory” meeting of coalition hawks gathering in Tel Aviv tomorrow (June 11) to flex muscles against Netanyahu’s reputed peace plans.

Initial caucus membership is 35 lawmakers (out of 120 total), including two Yesh Atid lawmakers, Dov Lipman and Pnina Tamnu-Shata (other Yesh Atid members have joined a rival two-states caucus, initial membership 40). The Land of Israel caucus has outside support from several cabinet ministers who aren’t allowed to join caucuses, reportedly including defense minister Moshe Yaalon of Likud and Jewish Home’s economics minister Naftali Bennett and housing minister Uri Ariel. If I’m not mistaken, that comes to a majority of the 68-member coalition.

Coming to Bibi’s defense on the diplomatic front, former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, currently chair of the Knesset foreign affairs and defense committee, acknowledged today that a construction freeze is in effect in the Jewish neighborhoods of east Jerusalem across the pre-1967 Green Line, according to Galei Tzahal Radio.

Read more


Would you like to receive updates about new stories?






















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.