J.J. Goldberg

'911' Call From Kidnapped Youth Ignored as Prank

By J.J. Goldberg

Israel’s police emergency line received a desperate call from one of the three youths kidnapped near Kibbutz Kfar Etzion Thursday night, but dismissed it as a prank call and failed to report it to the military. Only four and a half hours later, when a relative of one of the boys showed up at a police station to report a missing person, did police officials alert the military, triggering an all-hands search.

As a result, four and a half hours were lost in a search and rescue operation in which every additional hour lengthens the odds of success. The emergency call came in at 10:25 p.m. The relative, variously reported as either a father or a brother, went to the police at 3:00 a.m.

The emergency call was rumored on social networks as early as Saturday, but was only cleared for publication by the military censor on Sunday. National police commissioner Yohanan Danino told a press conference that the delay in sounding the alarm would be investigated, but cautioned that the urgent priority right now was not to cast blame but to find the kidnapped youths.

Danino himself had just returned from New York, where he was to have attended an international police conference. His failure to return to Israel until Sunday afternoon, almost three days after the kidnapping, has touched off a scandal of its own that seems likely to bring his downfall.

According to press reports, a police operator on the 100 line, Israel’s equivalent of 911, received the call at 10:25 and heard a male voice whispering “They’re kidnapping us” and repeating it twice. (Some reports quote the call as “They’ve kidnapped me” or “we’ve been kidnapped.”) The call continued for another two minutes during which shouting and jostling could be heard before the line went dead.

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Taking Different Lessons From Same Threat

By J.J. Goldberg

Yeshiva students pray for safe return of three kidnapped youths

With the terrorist kidnapping of three teenagers dominating the news cycle and nearly every private conversation for the past two days, Israelis have had little attention to spare for America’s national agony in Iraq.

It’s hard to think of a time when the two nations’ fates were so closely linked, yet their concerns were so utterly disconnected. It seems like neither public has time for the other’s troubles.

The similarities of their situations go beyond their struggles with Islamist terrorists. In both countries, it seems, the initial horror of the events themselves — the fall of Mosul, the disappearance of the three yeshiva students — quickly gave way to anger at the perpetrators and their enablers.

And at that moment, when thoughts turned to the enablers, each country’s political sides began to turn on each other.

In America, of course, it’s those who blame Barack Obama for pulling out of Iraq before the mess there was fixed versus those who blame George W. Bush for creating the mess by going into Iraq in the first place.

In Israel, it’s those who blame Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas for opening the door to Hamas — and by none-too-subtle implication, the supporters of the Oslo peace process that created an openly armed Palestinian presence on Israeli-controlled soil — versus those who accuse the right, and especially Benjamin Netanyahu, of freezing forward motion and threatening the tentative stability that’s been won in the past few years.

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Did Eric Cantor Lose Because He's Jewish? You Betcha.

By J.J. Goldberg

Did Eric Cantor lose because of his Judaism? Everybody’s been tiptoeing around the question for the last two days, so let’s just come out and say it: Of course he did. That and redistricting.

The Virginia Republican leadership accidentally did him in by trying to build him a safer district. They took away some of the purple zones in Richmond and its suburbs and giving him some solid red countryside further north.

What the GOP’s redistricting mavens forgot to factor in — what’s eluded pretty much the entire chattering class wrestling with this earthquake — is that the prairie fire that’s turned so much of middle America red is as much about Christianity as anything else.

And if it’s about Christianity, then it’s also about not-Jewish. How does that factor in? Most talk of Jews in politics begins and ends with Israel and anti-Semitism. If it’s not one of those two, we’re done. Hence the endless repetition of the line that Dave Wasserman of Cook Political Report gave to the New York Times: “You can’t ignore the elephant in the room.” No, you can’t. But nobody knew what to make of the elephant. (Actually, it’s more about the elephant that’s suddenly out of the room, isn’t it?) Even Wasserman didn’t mention it in his Cook coverage. Yes, Cantor’s Jewishness mattered. Now can we please talk about something else?

I’ll have more to say about redistricting issue in another post. Suffice it for now to note that redistricting is frequently unkind to incumbents, often in unexpected ways.

Right now. the main point is that one can be pro-Christian without being anti-Jewish. Practically speaking, Jews feel threatened by a political movement that seeks to put religion — the majority religion, which isn’t ours — at the center of the nation’s public life. It’s exclusionary. It arguably violates the Constitution, which says (Article VI) that there may not be any “religious test” for public office. The Christian right is all about judging candidates for office by their religion — by which they mean the values that the candidates bring to the table. Judging candidates by their values sounds like it ought to be center-stage in politics. But how do you do that without applying a religious test? Christian conservatives say the clause bars legislation that would apply such a test, not the personal views of the voters.

It’s not that they don’t like Jews. I’d bet that 90% of the 36,000 zealots who turned out to vote for David Brat on Tuesday (vs. 29,000 for Cantor) don’t have an anti-Semitic bone in their body. It’s just that they love Jesus. They want more religious values guiding and governing our public life. And by religious values they mean Christian values. That’s David Brat’s main calling card.

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Stop Palestinian Aid Over Hamas? Not So Fast

By J.J. Goldberg

Israel appears to be sending mixed signals to Washington on U.S. aid to the new Palestinian unity government. On one hand, the Netanyahu government wants everyone to know it’s furious over the new “reconciliation government” that Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas has formed with the reviled terrorist organization Hamas. Officials from Prime Minister Netanyahu to Washington ambassador Ron Dermer have been declaring that the unity pact means “there can’t be business as usual.”

On the other hand, it’s not clear Israel that wants Washington to respond by cutting its financial aid to the Palestinian Authority. Jerusalem depends heavily on the PA security forces’ cooperation in fighting terrorism in the West Bank, and loss of funding could freeze their salaries and keep them home. In the longer run, the aid underwrites billions of dollars in PA governmental services from health to mail delivery and garbage collection that would fall on the Israeli taxpayer if the authority were to collapse under U.S. and international pressure.

Israelis who have met members of Congress in recent days say they’re hearing expressions of confusion over Israel’s mixed messages — that the new PA government is essentially a terror-backed group but that aid should not be cut.

Pro-Israel lawmakers and Jewish groups have been reciting a line that seems to represent a demand for ending aid, namely: “U.S. law is clear — no funds can be provided to a Palestinian government in which Hamas participates or has undue influence.” Those words appear in a pop-up on AIPAC’s website. A nearly identical phrase appears in a speech by Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Robert Menendez that’s touted on the American Jewish Committee website and elsewhere.

But that’s not the whole law. Deeper on the AIPAC website is a set of “key points” that states the entire relevant law:

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Israel's Bitter Splits Boil Over in Open

By J.J. Goldberg

Getty Images
Brothers? Naftali Bennett (left) and Yair Lapid in happier times.

Israel gave the world an unusually raw look at its internal divisions this week when the annual Herzliya Security Conference, traditionally the top showcase for the country’s defense doctrines, turned into an extended food fight.

By the end of Day 2 of the three-day gabfest, angry exchanges of retorts and threats had broken out on the main stage among ministers in the Israeli cabinet and between leading Israeli and American defense experts.

More subtle, but arguably more significant, were dueling assessments of the threats facing Israel — on one side, a united front of government spokesmen, and on the other, the uniformed generals who had been asked to present their professional assessments. Government spokesmen presented the Iranian threat as pressing and mortal, while the generals presented it as part of a larger and clearly manageable range of challenges in the region.

Government spokesmen presented the Palestinian Authority as an ongoing threat with no peace solution in sight, particularly given Hamas’s unalterable commitment to attacking Israel. The generals said Hamas had been effectively deterred from attacking Israel — “they’ve learned the price of attacking us,” chief of staff Benny Gantz said laconically — and made no mention whatever of the Palestinian Authority or the peace process.

“They’re soldiers. They didn’t want to stick their necks out by giving their views,” legal scholar and former education minister (and conference staffer) Amnon Rubinstein told me.

The exchange among the ministers drew the most media attention. In a Sunday evening session featuring the heads of Israel’s main political parties, finance minister Yair Lapid and justice minister Tzipi Livni both threatened to quit the government if it decided to begin annexing West Bank territory, as demanded by economics minister Naftali Bennett, who was sandwiched between them. Also appearing was opposition leader Yitzhak Herzog of Labor, who mocked Lapid and Livni for remaining in a government that was building settlement units they oppose, and told Lapid he “should have thought about peace before you dragged your ‘brother’ Bennett into the coalition.”

Lapid also blamed Israel — presumably meaning Prime Minister Netanyahu — for the current “unprecedented crisis” in Israeli-U.S. relations. And he demanded that the government present a map of its desired borders and begin staged withdrawals accompanied by negotiations. That drew a sarcastic retort in Knesset the next day from Netanyahu, who called Lapid “naïve” and “inexperienced.”

The American-Israeli confrontation came earlier in the program and caused some gasps in the audience. It came during a panel discussion on “regional and global threats” featuring American and Israeli defense experts.

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Knesset Big Sees 'Plot' in President Race Scandals

By J.J. Goldberg

Getty Images
Clockwise from left: Reuven Rivlin, Silvan Shalom, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer

The speaker of Israel’s Knesset dropped a bombshell Saturday night into the country’s closely watched presidential race, saying he suspected political sabotage behind the sudden eruption of scandals that destroyed two of the lead candidates in the past three weeks. And the stepson of one of the tarred candidates is using the furor to reopen one of the unsolved mysteries of the Iran-contra scandal.

The Knesset speaker, Yuli Edelstein of Likud, told a Channel 10 talk show host Nadav Perry that he didn’t have information to name names, but believed there was a “guiding hand” behind the sudden scandal eruptions. Asked if he suspected another candidate was responsible, he first said, “No, I think the still, small voice [of God] came down and made the allegations.” Then he turned serious and said, “Look, I’m not so naïve as to believe that people serve in the public arena for 30 years, serve in most senior positions, deputy prime minister, foreign minister, finance minister, interior minister, and suddenly in the space of three weeks all these charges drop on them.”

The Knesset is scheduled to vote by secret ballot on Tuesday to choose a successor to figurehead president Shimon Peres. There were six declared candidates. The front-runner by most accounts is Reuven “Rubi” Rivlin, 74, a former Knesset speaker widely admired and respected for his charm, gentlemanly manner and vaunted devotion to his principles, including civil rights for all Israelis, democratic process and — his signal cause throughout his career — the Greater Land of Israel.

Since May 21, Rivlin’s two leading rivals have been forced to quit the race after allegations of criminal activity suddenly emerged. One, Silvan Shalom of Likud, 55, former foreign and finance minister and one of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s closest allies, quit the race May 21 after trying for two months to fight an anonymous charge of sexual harassment dating back to 1999. The other, Binyamin “Fuad” Ben-Eliezer of Labor, 78, a retired brigadier general, onetime military governor of the West Bank and Gaza and former defense minister, quit the race today (Saturday) after a charge of bribery emerged on Thursday, leading to his interrogation by police on Friday.

Ben-Eliezer, born in Iraq and a Knesset member since 1984, is popular among Sephardic Jews as well as Israeli Arabs. Shalom, born in Tunisia and a Knesset member since 1992, has long stood in Netanyahu’s shadow and occasionally clashed with him. Rivlin was strongly opposed by Netanyahu because of his occasional barbs over Netanyahu’s alleged cutting corners. He’s also opposed by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman because, as Lieberman told journalist Nahum Barnea last week, of Rivlin’s support as speaker for Israeli Arab Knesset members when they’ve been accused of disloyalty. He’s also feared by many on the left because of his uncompromising devotion to settlements and opposition to territorial compromise with the Palestinians.

Edelstein is expected to meet Sunday morning with the leader of the opposition, Labor Party chief Yitzhak Herzog (whose own father Chaim Herzog was Israel’s sixth president) to discuss the possibility of postponing the Knesset vote in order to clear up some of the scandal. Ben-Eliezer told reporters he had full documentation for the money that paid for his Jaffa apartment, which is alleged to have come from a disgraced businessman.

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Why Shavuot Is Zeppo Marx of Festivals

By J.J. Goldberg

This column, which I wrote for the festival of Shavuot in May 2010, is one of my favorites. Today being Shavuot, I thought I’d rerun it.

Of all the major Jewish holidays, the least familiar to the general, synagogue-avoiding Jewish public is the festival of Shavuot. In fact, its obscurity is so striking that discussions of the holiday commonly start by noting its obscurity, as I did. As a result, it’s probably best known for being little-known, if you follow me. Basically, Shavuot is to Jewish holidays what Zeppo is to the Marx Brothers.

It deserves better, but we’ll get to that.

The usual explanation for Shavuot’s low profile is that it lacks pageantry. It used to be a real contender — the Bible ranks it up there with Passover and Sukkot as one of the three pilgrimage festivals, mega-holidays when work was forbidden and sacrifices were brought to the Temple in Jerusalem. Sadly, though, Shavuot didn’t fare as well as the others in the transition from ancient kingdom to modern Diaspora. Passover became the big family get-together of the year. Sukkot had those little straw shacks with the hanging fruit and Chinese lanterns. And what did Shavuot end up with? All-night Torah study and a piece of cheesecake.

The pomp deficit is only a symptom, however, of Shavuot’s larger problem: its dour message. Passover celebrates the Exodus from slavery to freedom. You don’t need an advanced degree to get on board with that. Sukkot isn’t quite as transparent, but it’s not too hard to see the lean-to as a symbol of the fragility and impermanence of life, especially when you’re wandering in the desert. Also, it’s like eating in a playhouse. It’s fun.

Shavuot, on the other hand, commemorates the Giving of the Law at Mount Sinai. This is the day we celebrate the handing out of the rulebook, with its bounty of Thou Shalts and Thou Shalt Nots. Yay.

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Tell It on the Mountain: A Shavuot Holiday Concert

By J.J. Goldberg

The festival of Shavuot begins tonight. You all know what that means: time for a little holiday music. Herewith a mix of Peter Paul & Mary, Shlomo Carlebach, Shoshana Damari, Bob Dylan, some Ladino sacred cancon, some 1950s doo-wop and lots more, including a snippet of Mel Brooks.

The holiday comes seven weeks after Passover (hence the name Shavuot, or “Weeks”) and traditionally marks the day that the children of Israel, newly freed from Egyptian bondage, stood before Mount Sinai as a free people and received the Book of the Law, the Torah. In a way, it’s the birthday of the Jews as a nation of laws. So it has a special association with books and learning. In the Reform movement it’s the day of confirmation, or graduation from religious school.

It’s also Chag HaBikkurim, the Festival of First Fruits, celebrating the spring harvest. In the culture of modern Israel, especially in the kibbutz movement, the holiday is associated with songs about the land and the harvest.

I’m also throwing in a few songs about journeys in the desert. That’s a theme that’s more associated with Sukkot than Shavuot, but I like these songs.

First, to get us in the mood, here’s Peter, Paul and Mary singing the old spiritual, “Go Tell It on the Mountain.”

Now for a treat: We happen to have some live footage of the climactic moment when Moses received the Tablets of the Law and presented them to the people. Just kidding. Actually, this is Mel Brooks’ imagining of that moment, from his 1981 movie “History of the World, part I.” That’s Mel in the role and robe of Moses.

Here’s Avraham Fried with a marvelous Hasidishe version of “Torah Tziva Lanu Moshe” (“Moses commanded the Torah to us”). If you’re pining for the more familiar children’s ditty, click here.

It’s no secret that some of us aren’t satisfied with the traditional answers and continue to wonder where the book actually comes from. Here are The Monotones from 1958, asking that very question: “I Wonder Who Wrote the Book (of Love)”:

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After Brussels Bust, France Nabs 'Jihad Recruiters'

By J.J. Goldberg

20 Minutes
Mehdi Nemmouche

French police have arrested four people suspected of recruiting would-be jihadist fighters in Paris and southern France, apparently for training and combat in the Syrian civil war, the British edition of the International Business Times reported today.

The arrests were announced by French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve. They come a day after the announcement on Sunday that French police had arrested a suspect in the May 24 terrorist shootings at the Jewish Museum of Brussels in Belgium.

The suspect in the Brussels attack, a French-born Muslim named Mehdi Nemmouche, is alleged to have received training and combat experience in Syria with a militant anti-Assad insurgent force, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS.

Nemmouche’s arrest has touched off fears among European, American and Israeli security officials that the Syrian civil war might be breeding a new generation of young Islamist radicals with Western roots — and Western citizenship — who could return home prepared to carry out new terrorist attacks. Intelligence sources told Haaretz military analyst Amos Harel that an estimated 1,200 European and North American Muslims are fighting with militant groups in Syria at any given time.

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Right Wing Gadfly Group Has Day in Knesset

By J.J. Goldberg

Wikimedia Commons
Ayelet Shaked, Nissim Ze’ev

Im Tirtzu, the right-wing Israeli truth squad best known for bashing the New Israel Fund, allowed itself a victory lap this week after taking credit for an “emergency” gathering in the Knesset on “delegitimization of Israel.”

Unfortunately, as with so much else the organization touches, the facts of the case are a bit murky. Im Tirtzu claimed in a press release afterward (full text appears below) that it had participated in a meeting of the Knesset Caucus on the Struggle Against De-legitimization of the State of Israel. The meeting’s topic, it said, was “organizations claiming to be Zionist, but which actually espouse BDS philosophies,” alluding to Im Tirtzu’s conspiratorial view of the New Israel Fund. The meeting had been convened, the release said, “as a result of Im Tirtzu’s campaign” to link the New Israel Fund with the BDS movement.

But a news report on the pro-settler news site Arutz Sheva-Israel National News said the caucus had convened “for an emergency discussion on the topic of anti-Israel boycotts in the wake of the rise of the extreme right in Europe.” The report cited Im Tirtzu leader Matan Peleg as one of a string of speakers, most of whom focused their remarks on European antisemitism, the shooting attack at the Brussels Jewish Museum and what’s been described as a link between the shooting and anti-Israel incitement.

The delegitimization caucus is one of 132 such groupings of Knesset members registered with the speaker’s office to advance specific causes. They range from promotion of Israeli-Arab peace to annexation of the West Bank, higher education, autism awareness, Israeli Arab economic development and a one-member “Tuesdays without meat” caucus.

The May 27 meeting reportedly drew several dozen attendees, including a half-dozen guest speakers, all but one of them right-wing specialists in left-wing perfidy, as well as seven Knesset members. The seven included four from the settler-backed HaBayit HaYehudi-Jewish Home party, two from Yisrael Beiteinu and one, caucus chairman Nissim Ze’ev, from Shas.

According to several reports, including a detailed account at the Haredi website Kooker, Ze’ev opened the meeting with a declaration that “delegitimization leads to anti-Semitism and antisemitism leads to terrorism.” He called for “dealing with” sources of funding for organizations that promote delegitimization and “exposing their true face,” as there are some that “pose as Zionist organizations.”

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House Forbids Pentagon Girding for Climate Woes

By J.J. Goldberg

Migrants fleeing African drought turned back by police as they try to rush the gate to Spanish North African coastal enclave of Melilla, March 22, 2014. / Getty Images

In case you missed it: The U.S. House of Representatives voted last Thursday to bar the Pentagon from spending any money to study or prepare for the impact of climate change on military operations.

The ban came in an amendment to the Defense Authorization Bill, the annual measure that provides the Defense Department its budget. It passed by a mostly party-line margin of 231 to 192, with four Democrats — all red-state Southerners — voting yes and three Republicans — a New Yorker and two from New Jersey — voting no.

The amendment, authored by GOP Representative David McKinley of West Virginia, reads as follows:

None of the funds authorized to be appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act may be used to implement the U.S. Global Change Research Program National Climate Assessment, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report, the United Nation’s Agenda 21 sustainable development plan, or the May 2013 Technical Update of the Social Cost of Carbon for Regulatory Impact Analysis Under Executive Order 12866.

Fox News quoted a McKinley spokesman saying that “Rather than blindly accepting drastic climate change policies, we ought to be debating their effectiveness and their impact.”

The amendment came just 11 days after a Pentagon think tank, the Center for Naval Analyses, released a 68-page report (PDF; web version and analysis here) titled “National Security and the Threat of Climate Change.” It points to likely threats, some already here and others anticipated, that call for planning and preparation by the military. Among them are rising sea levels undermining coastal military bases with salt water seepage; droughts and extreme weather causing instability, unrest and massive population movements in failed states; and tinder-box conditions in the Arctic as nations scramble for resources unlocked by melted ice.

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Top Israeli, Saudi Ex-Spy Chiefs in Rare Dialogue

By J.J. Goldberg

Israeli and Saudi ex-spy chiefs Amos Yadlin (left), Prince Turki al-Faisal (center) dialogue in Brussels, May 26. Moderator David Ignatius at right. / German Marshall Fund-YouTube screen grab

One of the most influential members of the Saudi royal family, former intelligence chief Prince Turki al-Faisal, sat down today with former Israeli military intelligence chief Amos Yadlin for an unprecedented one-on-one public dialogue at a think tank in Belgium. Such direct, public contact between high-ranking Saudis and Israelis is virtually unknown.

It was a mostly amiable, hour-long conversation, marked by more agreement than disagreement as they discussed Iran, Syria, Islamic radicalism and the regional arms race (watch the full video below). On their main topic, Israeli-Arab peace efforts and the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative (text), Turki offered what could be the most explicit public Saudi declaration to date of Saudi willingness to make peace and end the conflict, repeatedly insisting the Arab states have “crossed the Rubicon” and “don’t want to fight Israel anymore.”

The closest they came to acrimony was when Yadlin, noting that three-fourths of Israelis had never heard of the 2002 peace plan, asked the prince to come to Jerusalem and address the Knesset. Turki replied that it was the Israeli leadership’s job to “explain to their people what the Arab Peace Initiative is” and urged Israel to agree to enter discussions based on it. So here’s how the Israeli press led its coverage of the event:

Saudi royal snubs invite to Jerusalem by Israeli ex-intel boss” (Jerusalem Post); “Saudi royal turns down ex-IDF intel chief’s invite to the Knesset” (Times of Israel); “Saudi prince declines invite to Jerusalem by Israeli ex-intel chief” (Haaretz). The Hebrew press had no mention of it.

Turki, the youngest son of the late King Faisal, was Saudi intelligence chief from 1977 to 2001. He later served as Saudi ambassador to London and then Washington. Yadlin, a retired major general, was chief of the IDF intelligence directorate from 2006 to 2010. He previously served as deputy commander of the Israeli air force, commander of the military staff colleges and Israeli military attache in Washington.

Both men currently head their respective countries’ main national security think tanks.

The dialogue was hosted by the Brussels-based German Marshall Fund and moderated by Washington Post columnist David Ignatius.

Amos Yadlin-Turki al-Faisal dialogue, Brussels, May 26, Part 1:

*

Amos Yadlin-Turki al-Faisal dialogue, Brussels, May 26, Part 2:

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Bibi Blames Brussels Terror on Rage at Israel

By J.J. Goldberg

Getty Images
Makeshift memorial outside Brussels Jewish Museum following shootings, May 25.

Benjamin Netanyahu may have said more than he meant to on Saturday night when he reacted to the triple-murder that afternoon (which later became a quadruple murder) at the Jewish Museum in Brussels.

“This act of murder is the result of constant incitement against Jews and their state,” Netanyahu said in a statement released by his office.

This is something new. For years Israeli leaders and their Diaspora allies have been telling us that attacks on Diaspora Jews have nothing to do with Israel — that they’re just the latest eruption of old-fashioned anti-Semitism, no different from what we’ve known for millennia except for improved technology.

We’ve also been told that Jews in the Diaspora shouldn’t try to influence Israel’s defense and foreign policy decisions, since it’s only Israelis who bear the consequences of those decisions.

It appears that neither of those is true. There have been multiple incidents of violence directed against Jews and Jewish institutions in Europe in recent years. Most of the anti-personal assaults have been the work of local Muslims, or in a few cases (like the 2012 Burgas bus bombing in Bulgaria), apparently the work of foreign terrorist organizations. In most cases where a motive was known, it was rage over the fate of the Palestinians. That’s been the case in a number of American attacks, too, including the Seattle Jewish federation, the Brooklyn Bridge, the El Al desk at Los Angeles International Airport, the 86th floor observation deck of the Empire State Building and others.

The discussion of the Brussels attack as “similar to Toulouse” suggests, as Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer writes, that authorities suspect this too was the work of local Muslims.

As of this writing we don’t know the identity of the perpetrator, of course — nor of the perpetrators of the assault on two Jews leaving synagogue in Paris this weekend. But far-right anti-Semites in contemporary Europe don’t seem prone to acts of terrorism and murder. In that the European far right today is different (so far, at least) from the far right in America. In this country, by my own count, terrorist attacks against Jews (we tend to label them “hate crimes”) over the last few decades have been roughly evenly divided between radical rightists and radicalized Muslims. In Europe it’s mostly been the work of young Muslim men.

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On Bob Dylan's Birthday, 4 Israeli Artists Reminisce

By J.J. Goldberg

In honor of Bob Dylan’s 73rd birthday on Saturday (May 24), Maariv asked four Israeli singer-songwriters — Eran Tzur, Sun Tailor, Dan Toren and Uzi Ramirez — to write about the “defining moment” in Dylan’s influence on them personally “as musicians, artists and listeners.” Each brief contribution is accompanied by a musical clip that the artist chose to accompany his words (yes, they’re all “he”).

The article is here (Hebrew only). I’ve translated some excerpts, which I’m posting along with the clips they picked and links to a few selected clips by the contributors themselves. (The above photo, by the way, was taken by his ex-wife Sara in Jerusalem, where they were celebrating their son’s bar mitzvah at the Kotel. It appears on the inner sleeve of his Infidels album.)

Maariv’s Ohad Ezrati, introducing and describing the project, writes:

Besides his being one of the great musicians of all time, Dylan has established himself as a symbol of freedom and equality, of independent creativity and thinking outside established frameworks.

Eran Tzur

Hear Eran Tzur sing his “Hu veHi” (“He and She”).

In the summer of 1998 I was headed out for a long vacation on tropical island in southern Thailand and I took along Dylan’s new album Time Out of Mind, which had come out a year earlier.

I’d been on a long timeout from Dylan, and this captured me all over again. I remember trying to write under his influence. I came up with a song, “Blues for the North,” that follows the blues chord pattern of his “Highlands,” which closes the album.

Bob Dylan sings “Highlands”:

Sun Tailor (Arnon Naor)

(Hear Sun Tailor sing his hits “Fay” and “I’ll Make My Way Home.”

“You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go.” The first time I heard it was on a train from Cambridge to London. I fell in love with it. It put words to what I was feeling then, in real time.

Dylan speaks of a love that comes to him after years of disappointment and longing, and he’s deep within a beautiful tale and yet finds himself thinking about the heartbreak that’s coming soon.

It’s amazing how it’s possible to write a song about love in the present that suddenly becomes a song of mourning for the future, and make it all sound so right and real.

Sun Tailor sings Dylan’s “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go”:

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Diaspora Uneasy With Israeli 'Jewish Democracy'

By J.J. Goldberg

JPPI
Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky and legal scholar Ruth Gavison release new report on world Jewry and Israeli democracy.

The Jerusalem think tank set up by the Jewish Agency in 2002, the Jewish People Policy Institute, appears to have dropped a bombshell into the middle of Israel’s political hothouse with a new report (PDF) it released May 21 on Diaspora attitudes toward Israeli democracy.

The report, titled “Jewish and Democratic: Perspectives from World Jewry,” is based on a six-month series of discussions and seminars involving several hundred community leaders, rabbis, academics and writers around the world. The discussions — about 40 of them, most lasting a day or two — are distilled into an 80-page summary with another 78 pages of appendices.

The process was set in motion when Prime Minister Netanyahu asked Justice Minister Tzipi Livni last year to draft a bill defining Israel’s identity as a Jewish homeland that would pass constitutional muster. Livni asked legal scholar Ruth Gavison to come up with a reading of what the idea of a homeland of the Jewish people worldwide actually means to Jewish people worldwide. Gavison, in turn, asked JPPI.

And here we are.

Like most JPPI publications, it’s a carefully constructed work, filled with on-one-hand-on-the-other-hand formulations to illustrate the broad range of agreement and disagreement. Still, the report says the agreements were greater than the disagreements, and what the community leaders had to say won’t make Israel’s leaders very happy.

JPPI offers a one-page summary here. Haaretz reporter Judy Maltz offers a more detailed summary here. And the report’s co-author, JPPI fellow Shmuel Rosner, does his usual excellent job of capturing the essence in his Jewish Journal column here.

But the bottom line is this: the consensus among the people they spoke to — admittedly a highly selective sampling of elites — is that most Diaspora community leaders believe Israel should be both Jewish and democratic, that one should not be given precedence over the other. To the extent that the two poles are in tension, the consensus is that it’s a healthy tension that benefits the society. Only the extreme right and extreme left, the report’s authors say, favor privileging one value over the other. Unfortunately, there’s also consensus that both values are seen as embattled, on the defensive in Israel, and it’s making it harder for Diaspora Jews to relate to Israel.

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India's New Chief Sees Israel as Ally on Terror

By J.J. Goldberg

Israeli leaders are celebrating the upset victory in Indian elections of the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, whose leader, the reputedly anti-Muslim Narendra Modi, wants closer ties with Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu emphasized economic ties on Sunday when he told his cabinet about his Friday phone conversation with the Indian prime minister-elect. The Israeli leader called Modi to congratulate him. Reports in both the Times of Israel and India’s Economic Times quoted Netanyahu telling the cabinet that Modi wants “to deepen and develop economic ties with the state of Israel.” The Times of Israel reported in detail on massive Israeli investment in the economy of India’s Gujarat state in the 13 years since Modi became its chief minister.

But in-depth analyses in two conservative dailies, Israel’s Maariv and the New York-based International Business Times, both describe a deeper reason for the two leaders’ shared enthusiasm: a belief on both sides that they share a common enemy in radical Islamist terrorism.

India’s 1.3 billion population, though roughly 154 times the size of Israel’s 8.2 million, bears a striking demographic similarity. It’s about 80% Hindu. Its 176 million Muslims, the world’s second-largest Muslim community after Indonesia’s, make up about 14.4% of the population. Christians make up just under 3%. Israel is 75% Jewish, 16% Muslim and just under 3% Christian.

British rule in India ended in 1947 with the partition of the country into two states, majority-Hindu India and majority-Muslim Pakistan. The partition was accompanied by massive bloodshed and has left ongoing bitterness.

Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party is commonly described as Hindu-nationalist, favoring a stronger identification of the Indian state and nation with the majority Hindu religious tradition, from which India gets its name. The party opposes the strictly secularist ideology of founder Mahatma Gandhi’s Congress Party which ruled India for 61 of its 67 years of independence. BJP includes openly anti-Muslim elements, and Modi himself has a checkered past in Hindu-Muslim relations. His Gujarat state was wracked by deadly anti-Muslim rioting that left more than 1,000 dead in 2002, shortly after he became chief minister. His alleged role in the rioting led to his being banned from the United States until recently.

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Meet Pesach II: Unearthly Beauty of Second Chances

By J.J. Goldberg

If you missed the holiday yesterday, take a moment to give it a second look. Yesterday was, after all, the Jewish festival of second chances. If you haven’t heard of it before, take a moment to catch up.

The formal name of the day is Pesach Sheni, or “Second Passover.” It’s decreed in the Bible (Numbers 9:4-13) as a make-up date, one month after Passover itself, for those who were unable to offer the Passover sacrifice because they’d been on a long journey or, alternatively, ritually defiled by contact with a corpse.

If that doesn’t speak to you, try this: This year, the Pesach Sheni festival of second chances offered us a second chance to look at a short essay of unearthly beauty by Jonathan Mark, posted on his Jewish Week blog in 2010 and reposted yesterday at a reader’s request. Think of this as a second chance to take advantage of yesterday’s second chance to learn of the wonders of the Festival of Second Chances. You won’t be sorry.

But before you click away, there’s something else in the holiday that’s quite remarkable and worthy of a second look. According to the biblical account, Second Passover wasn’t God’s idea. Moses asked for it at the request of “some men who were unclean by reason of [contact with] a corpse,” leaving them unfit to offer sacrifice on the appointed day. The scripture doesn’t say who those men were, but the later commentators suggest (after a fascinating debate — more on that later) that they were the crew assigned to carrying the bones of Joseph back to the holy land. Jonathan Mark likes that theory. After all, nobody ever knew more about second chances than the guy who was sold into slavery and ended up running the empire.

But, you might ask, what’s the deal with carrying Joseph’s bones back to Canaan? The short answer is that Joseph asked his brothers to swear it would happen some day (Gen. 50:24-25), Moses kept the promise (Ex. 13:19) and Joshua saw to their burial in Shechem (Josh. 24:32), back where the trouble all started (Gen. 37:12-28). The longer and more adventurous approach is to take a peek at a book called “Joseph’s Bones: Understanding the Struggle Between God and Mankind in the Bible” (Amazon or free PDF download).

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New Crop of IDF Chiefs Is Flock of Hardline Doves

By J.J. Goldberg

The Israeli military has sent what amounts to a barely disguised message to the political leadership and the troops in the latest round of senior command promotions, announced April 25.

With the Israeli-Palestinian peace process frozen, settler militancy on the rise and right-wing religious nationalists increasingly making their presence felt at the junior command level, the appointments make clear that the General Staff, led by chief of staff Benny Gantz, is doubling down on its basic strategic outlook: cooperation with the Palestinian leadership, enforcement of the soldiers’ code of ethics, deterrence on the northern front — and zero tolerance for Palestinian terrorism. Call them the hardline doves.

The three most charged appointments are the promotion of Brigadier General Herzl “Herzi” Halevi, the IDF’s so-called “philosopher-general,” until recently commander of the Galilee Division, to major general and chief of military intelligence; the appointment of the outgoing intelligence chief, Major General Aviv Kochavi, as chief of Northern Command; and the striking decision to retain the left-leaning chief of Central Command, Major General Nitzan Alon, in his current post overseeing the West Bank.

Alon’s retention at the head of Central Command, which covers the West Bank, sends a clear signal of the army’s impatience with growing settler radicalism and the spread of so-called price tag attacks. Alon is regarded by settler leaders as an undisguised liberal; it’s frequently noted that his wife Mor has been a supporter of the women’s human-rights group Machsom Watch, which is viewed on the right as subversive.

Alon spent much of his career in the elite Sayeret Matkal commando unit before taking a series of positions in intelligence and field command, mostly in the West Bank. Shortly before assuming his current position as chief of Central Command in December 2011, Alon infuriated settler leaders by calling price-tag actions “Jewish terrorism” in a New York Times interview. He also warned against cutting U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority, then under congressional consideration because of the Palestinian application for United Nations recognition. He said cutting aid would destabilize Palestinian security forces, which he described as crucial to stability in the area. Under his command the army has clashed repeatedly with West Bank settlers, and he himself has been physically attacked by settlers and had protest demonstrations mounted outside his home.

Aviv Kochavi’s move from military intelligence to Northern Command, in charge of the Lebanon and Syria fronts, sends a more complicated message.

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A Portrait of Israelis in 2014, By the Numbers

By J.J. Goldberg

Alex Levac

Yediot Ahronot published a survey of Israeli Jewish adults on May 5, aimed at showing where the nation stood on its 66th birthday and where the younger generation was headed. Broken down by generation — over 50, 35 to 49 and under 35 — it shows a population that’s growing steadily more religious, more politically right-wing and more pessimistic about where the country is headed and their own generation’s economic prospects.

The telephone survey was conducted by pollster Rafi Smith April 24-28 in a representative sample of 500 Israeli Jewish adults. Margin of error 4.5%

For the sake of brevity, we’ll call the three generations O for over 50, M for middle (35-49) and Y for younger, aged 18 to 34. CA stands for combined national average.

Is Israel headed in the right direction?

Yes/No: O = 33/46, M = 29/54, Y = 24/63. CA = 29/54.

Are your generation’s economic prospects better or worse than your parent’s generation? Better/Worse: O = 65/27, M = 53/40, Y = 45/45.

How would you describe your political worldview? Right/Center/Left:

O = 47/25/28, M = 50/21/29, Y = 58/20/22. CA = 51/22/27.

How would you define yourself religiously? (Religious = Orthodox + Haredi)

Religious/Traditional/Secular: O = 15/31/54, M = 19/25/56, Y = 30/21/49.

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Watch, Hear: Ben-Gurion Declaring Independence

By J.J. Goldberg

Here’s the live broadcast, as it happened. You can watch the accompanying images or follow along in English — the official translation is below.

Footnote: The British were to leave Eretz Israel/Palestine on Saturday, May 15. The Jewish Agency decided to declare independence at 4 p.m. Friday afternoon, before the Sabbath. A declaration was written, parchment was prepared, but there was no agreement on what to call the new state — Israel, Judea, Zion — until moments before deadline. That left no time for the calligrapher to inscribe the scroll. Accordingly, BG read from a typescript and the Assembly signed a blank parchment with the text tacked on, later filled in by a calligrapher.

Noteworthy, too, that while the English translation speaks of “Placing our trust in the Almighty,” the Hebrew original says “With trust in the Rock of Israel (צור ישראל — Tzur Yisrael).” This language was agreed to after some debate, as a term that allowed both religious and secular / believers and atheists to interpret it as they wished. I don’t know how the English mistranslation happened.

Click “Read more” to follow along in English while you listen:

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