J.J. Goldberg

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.

Read more


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.

Read more


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.

Read more


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)”:

Read more


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.

Read more


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.”

Read more


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.

Read more


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:

Read more


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.

Read more


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”:

Read more


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.

Read more


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.

Read more


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).

Read more


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.

Read more


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.

Read more


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:

Read more


Blackballing J Street: Who Voted How

By J.J. Goldberg

One of the most interesting and curious aspects of the J Street membership vote in the Conference of Presidents is the fact that it was conducted by secret ballot. Thus an institution that presumes to be one of the most broadly representative bodies in the American Jewish community takes one of its most fraught and hotly discussed decisions in years and the delegates don’t let their presumed constituents know what they’ve done in their names.

In fact, though, not everyone kept their votes secret. Some members made their views public, either by discussing it with the press, informing J Street or speaking up during the brief debate before the voting at the meeting.

The official result of the vote was 17 organizations in favor of admission, 22 against, 3 abstentions and 8 members absent, for a total of 50. That’s the number of member organizations listed on the Presidents Conference website. (Actually there were 17 “yes” votes cast by 18 organizations, because two members, the Jewish Labor Committee and the Workmen’s Circle, share a vote for historic reasons. Consequently, there must have been 7 absentees, not 8.)

I think I’ve identified all 17 of the “yes” votes, 14 of the 22 “no” votes, 2 abstentions and 5 absentees. I’m left with 11 whose actions are unknown. Of the unknowns, 5 are known to have been present at the vote, which means they either voted “no” or abstained (again, all the “yes” votes are accounted for). The other 6 weren’t known to my sources; 2 of them were absent, and the other 4 voted “no” or abstained. The bottom line is that 7 organizations voted against J Street’s membership but haven’t acknowledged it. The beauty of the system is that it allows them to keep their actions from the public, their members and their donors.

Among them are several of the wealthiest and most influential organizations in Jewish life, including AIPAC, the American Jewish Committee and B’nai B’rith International.

Note that nobody who voted to admit J Street kept their vote secret. The only members who have chosen to hide their actions were those who voted “no” or abstained.

Would J Street have been admitted to the conference if member-organizations were required to cast their votes openly, before the eyes of the public and their own members? Hard to say, but worth thinking about…

Here’s the list, as near as I can determine (updated late Saturday night) (apologies in advance if there are any mistakes — let me know of errors and I’ll correct them at once):

Read more


Watch: Obama Kills at Correspondents Dinner

By J.J. Goldberg

Getty Images
At the White House Correspondents Dinner.

President Obama was in rare form at the annual White House Correspondents Dinner on Saturday, delivering zingers at House Republican leaders, Fox News, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and his own Obamacare troubles. His best line of the evening, the pundits seem to agree, was this one aimed at House Speaker John Boehner:

I’m feeling sorry — believe it or not — for the speaker of the House as well. These days, the House Republicans actually give John Boehner a harder time than they give me, which means orange really is the new black.

But the most outrageous lines came from comedian Joel McHale, the star of NBC’s Community and host of E Network’s The Soup. The workover he gave Christie must have set some sort of record. He opened his act by promising to keep it “amusing and over quickly, just like Chris Christie’s presidential bid.” Later, he asked, “Governor, do you want bridge jokes or size jokes? I could go half and half — I know you like a combo platter.” Then he did an incredible parody of Christie’s Bridgegate response, saying his joke was inappropriate but while it was written by his staff he took full responsibility and would appoint an independent investigation headed by himself to find out whose fault it was. But why read my summary? Watch it below.

New York magazine’s Caroline Bankoff put together a pretty good roundup of the evening, including useful statistics on how many jokes each were aimed at CNN, Fox and MSNBC and who was the most ragged-on politician of the evening (Christie). And Fox has a full transcript of Obama’s remarks, which shows either that they’re masochists deep down or that they want to use it to get their base riled up, perhaps hoping to emulate the ADL’s success in taking down Nation of Islam leader Khalid Abdul Muhammad in 1993 by running his anti-Semitic ravings as a full-page ad.

Here are the videos of Obama’s and McHale’s routines, in full:

Read more


The J Street Vote: Updates and Corrections

By J.J. Goldberg

Here are some corrections and updates to my earlier post on who voted how in the Conference of Presidents vote on J Street’s application for membership.

1.) I’ve learned from several sources that Mercaz USA, the Conservative movement’s Zionist arm, in fact voted “No,” breaking with the denomination’s other wings.

2.) On the other hand, I was wrong about Women of Reform Judaism being absent. I’d been told nobody had made it because of their leadership mission in Israel this week. In fact they had a representative there who voted “Yes.”

3.) I’ve been told that Jewish Federations of North America and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee abstained (not confirmed).

Again, the votes on J Street’s application were 17 “Yes,” 22 “No,” 3 “Abstain” and (apparently) 7 absent.

My current tally shows all 17 Yes votes accounted for (18 organizations listed, as Jewish Labor Committee and Workmen’s Circle share a single vote). 14 of 22 No votes accounted for. 2 of 3 abstentions accounted for.

Of the remainder, 5 were present but their votes are unknown; they either voted No or abstained. For 6 others, no information is available. 2 of this last group must have been absent; the other 4 either voted No or abstained. Again, out of this combined group of 11 unknowns, one abstained and two were absent. All the rest (8) voted No.

Here, then, is the rollcall according to my current information:

Read more


Judge: First Amendment for Christians Only

By J.J. Goldberg

Getty Images
Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore and his Ten Commandments memorial, 2003.

Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, known for his defiance of federal church-state separation laws, is under fire for arguing in a speech that the First Amendment only protects religions that worship “the God of the Holy Scriptures,” by which he appeared to mean Christianity.

The amendment’s mention of “religion,” Moore said, was meant to denote “the duty we owe to the Creator and the manner of discharging it,” quoting James Madison. (Ironically, the quote is from a 1785 Madison memorandum in favor of church-state separation.)

Moore continued: “Buddha didn’t create us, Mohammed didn’t create us, it was the God of the Holy Scriptures on which this nation was founded.”

Moore’s remark came during a January 17 address to the Pastors for Life Luncheon in Jackson, Mississippi. His appearance gained little attention at the time, beyond local coverage in Jackson that focused mainly on his lengthy attacks on same-sex marriage. On May 2, however, a video of his remarks was posted on the news site RawStory.com.

The report brought an immediate protest from CAIR, the Council on American-Islamic Relations. CAIR called on Alabama’s governor and attorney general to “repudiate” Moore’s statement and “reaffirm the constitutional rights of all that state’s citizens.”

In the speech Moore also attacked abortion and same-sex marriage, drawing criticism from the gay rights news site TheNewCivilRightsMovement.com.

‘Christianity Only’: Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore at Pastors for Life Luncheon, Jackson, Miss., January 17, 2014:

Moore came to national attention in 2003 when, as the state’s chief justice, he defied a federal court order to remove a statue of the Ten Commandments that he had put in the lobby of the Alabama Judicial Building. That led to his removal from office that November by the state’s judicial disciplinary body, the Alabama Court of the Judiciary. He was reelected chief justice in 2012, following two unsuccessful bids for the Republican gubernatorial nomination.

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.