Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Did Abbas really say he's ready to call its quits?

Let Palestinians challenge their leadership

Can it be that we won't have Mahmoud Abbas to "kick around" much longer? Abbas is fed up - with Israel, with Hamas, and with the Obama administration for not delivering Binyamin Netanyahu prostrate.

Abbas reportedly told President Barack Obama that he would not be a candidate in the next Palestinian elections he's called for on January 24 unless Israel capitulated to his demands. He supposedly told aides: "Let the Palestinian people go to elections. If it wants to elect Hamas, let it. If it wants to elect Fatah, let it. What will be is what will be, that's not my business any more."

In an interview with Israel Army Radio yesterday, Saeb Erekat, Abbas's negotiator, replied "No comment" when asked if it was true that his boss, currently on a junket to Casablanca, had told Obama he was considering quitting.

Abbas has certainly done little to extricate himself from an admittedly difficult set of circumstances. Egged on by the White House - which has now apparently reversed course - he refused to negotiate with Israel absent a settlement freeze everywhere over the Green Line. The freeze has always been a red herring. Were a peace deal agreed upon, settlements on the Palestinian side of the divide would anyway be uprooted - so how much difference does it make if a settler family in a place destined not to be incorporated into Israel refurbishes its guest room?

Abbas also insists that negotiations pick up from the point where he rejected Ehud Olmert's final, unprecedentedly generous offer. That is not the way of give-and-take. He should have thought harder before walking away from the best offer the Palestinians ever got from an Israeli prime minister.

Even if negotiations resumed, Abbas's intransigence would obstruct progress.

He insists on an Israeli pullback to the hard-to-defend 1949 Armistice Lines. He says that after a Palestinian state is founded, millions of Palestinians, descendants of the 700,000 original 1948 refugees, should have a right to return to Israel proper. He would insist on creating a militarized state with the power, for example, to invite Iran to set up military bases just a few miles from Tel Aviv. And he has refused to acknowledge the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state.

Fatah's General Assembly held in Bethlehem during the summer heard Abbas promise that Fatah would liberate Palestine and "purge" Jerusalem of its "settlers."

If Abbas has been a disappointment to Israel, he must be an even bigger frustration to his own people. The Palestinian polity is today more fragmented than at any time since Yasser Arafat went to his Maker. Chances are slim that presidential and parliamentary elections will actually be held in both the West Bank and Gaza. If they are conducted in the West Bank only, they are likely to harden divisions and only cultivate a deeper sense of disenchantment about the Palestinian future.

It is simply undeniable: Neither Fatah's crooked, dead hand nor Hamas's firm grasp of belligerent medievalism is going to lay the groundwork for a viable Palestinian state.

WHAT TO do? One way forward is to let the Palestinian Authority die a natural death and encourage its replacement with a completely new, apolitical and technocratic provisional Palestinian government.

Its task, with Europeans playing a trusteeship role, would be political institution-building, socialization toward tolerance, the development of transparent government, and day-to-day administration of Palestinian affairs.

Such a provisional government would also assume the PLO's legal standing as representing the Palestinians. But the idea would work only if the Palestinians - perhaps via a referendum in both the West Bank and Gaza - were given the chance to embrace a new beginning... and did so.

A recent New York Times dispatch from Gaza revealed just how fed up modernizing Palestinian elites are with both Fatah and Hamas - while pointing out that they had no mechanism for effecting change.

A referendum that proposes to replace the Fatah-dominated PA and Gaza's Hamas government with an apolitical provisional regime could at least offer Palestinians a means to choose between more Fatah and Hamas, or something far better.

If Abbas is really fed up and ready to go, his departure could presage a revolutionary opportunity.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Looking behind the troubles on the Temple Mount

The 'Third Templars'

It's a dilemma for mainstream Israelis: How to resist capitulating to Arab violence on the Temple Mount - driven by irrational fears of Zionist plots against it - while not encouraging marginal Jewish groups who feverishly yearn to make the Arabs' worst nightmares come true?

Israel's "Third Templars" don't seem to care about the consequences of stoking an apocalyptic religious war with Islamic civilization - 56 countries, 1.57 billion faithful, most of them currently on the sidelines of the Arab-Israel conflict.

Jewish tradition holds that the Mount, site of Solomon's Temple (and the Ark of the Covenant) and later the Temple built by the returnees from the Babylonian exile, retains an intrinsic holiness. Disagreements among Torah authorities over which, if any, sections of the Temple plateau may be traversed without treading on the sacred ground of the Holy of Holies date back centuries.

To this day, most ultra-Orthodox Jews avoid the area. And yet for those who consider themselves part of the Jewish collective regardless of denominational or political persuasion, the Mount embodies the civilizational core of our shared past.

In 638, Arab invaders defeated the Christian Byzantines (inheritors of the Roman Empire) for control of this land. Within 50 years they had constructed the Dome of the Rock to enshrine the holy stone Muslims believe to be the place where Abraham prepared to sacrifice… Ishmael. Subsequently, the Aksa Mosque was constructed on the southern end of the plateau.

AFTER ISRAEL captured the area from Jordan in 1967, Moshe Dayan decided to be magnanimous in victory and continue the authority of the Muslim religious trust, or Wakf, to administer the site. Jews, previously barred by Muslims from reaching the holy places, were allowed to ascend the Mount during visiting hours. In keeping with Jewish tradition and in cognizance of Muslim sensibilities, they were, however, prohibited from conducting religious services.

This seemed the perfect compromise, enabling Muslims to worship at the shrines, as was their custom, and Jews (as well as tourists of all faiths) to visit the site for silent meditation and inspiration. The Orthodox establishment of the day, running the gamut from haredi to Zionist, opposed going up to the Mount.

Now a diverse group of mostly post-Zionist settler rabbis, messianic followers of the late Lubavitcher rebbe and practicing "Third Templars" - abetted by a smattering of ultra-right-wing Knesset members - have banded together to force the "hand of God." Ostensibly, they are calling upon the Jewish masses to ascend the Mount and assert a Jewish presence there; we suspect that what many of them really want is to "disappear" the Muslim shrines, put up a Jewish temple and recommence animal sacrifices.

Therein our dilemma: Step back from the Temple Mount, and Arab intimidation wins. Assert Jewish rights, and risk heartening a band of Jewish extremists high on a toxic potion of piety and politics. That even a "moderate" Palestinian leader like Mahmoud Abbas does not accept the Temple Mount as sacred to Jews further complicates the predicament.

ONE POSSIBLE approach is for the government to explicitly remind the Wakf that its administrative role on the Mount derives from the authority vested in it by the Jewish state. Successive governments have abdicated their fiduciary responsibilities by failing to monitor Wakf treatment of Jewish visitors and, most troublingly, looking the other way as the Muslim trust carried out unauthorized excavations.

In parallel, we want to clearly hear Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu denounce as folly the actions of those agitating for a Third Temple built on the ashes of the Muslim shrines. He should disabuse anyone who imagines that the antics of these "Third Templars" have support on the sane Right.

Given the Palestinians' endemic intransigence and quick resort to violence - including, it should be stressed, via malevolent inflation of tensions on the Mount - it is easy to be dismissive of all their grievances over Jerusalem. But sometimes, more sensitivity could be applied. The Palestinians are not always wrong to complain that municipal authorities are placing unreasonable demands on them in seeking building permits while facilitating scatter-site Jewish housing (with no security value) in densely populated Arab neighborhoods.

In the final analysis, Israeli sovereignty is best manifested by providing the same level of municipal services to all taxpaying Jerusalemites - and by insisting on the same adherence to the law from all.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Today is the anniversary of the Jordan-Israel peace treaty

15 years of peace

It's not exactly the peace Yitzhak Rabin, King Hussein and Bill Clinton envisioned when Jordan and Israel signed their treaty on October 26, 1994 at what is today the Arava Border Crossing connecting Akaba and Eilat.

And yet this unsatisfactory peace trumps what preceded it.

Tellingly, what Israelis like about the treaty is precisely what irks Jordanians: It did not address the Palestinian issue, and it was a pure exchange of peace for peace. Israel forfeited no strategic assets; no communities were uprooted.

The treaty did momentarily seem to hold out the possibility of a deeper peace - not just between our two states, but between our two peoples. At the signing ceremony, the military bands of the two countries played in concert. Opposing generals shook hands.

But the treaty reflected the wishes of the monarch, not his subjects, despite Hussein's assertion: "I know it is supported by the overwhelming majority of our people." Actually, most Jordanians are of Palestinians origin - anywhere between 55 to 70 percent of Jordan's seven million people.

Both Fatah and Hamas called for a general strike to protest the treaty signing, while Muslim fundamentalists in Jordan gathered in their thousands to protest the "sellout."

Paradoxically, it was the September 1993 Oslo Accords which Rabin and Yasser Arafat signed that paved the way for Hussein to make peace with Israel. But unlike Anwar Sadat, who emphasized the Palestinian Arab issue during every step of the peace-making process, Hussein said nary a word about the Palestinians at the Arava ceremony.

Still, the Palestinian issue hangs over the Jordanian-Israeli relationship.

In 1974, Hussein was forced by the Arab League to step aside and accept the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. Later, to hedge his bets, he also established relations with Hamas.

IN JUSTIFYING the treaty at home, Hussein told his parliament that it would enable Jordan to tackle poverty and unemployment. It didn't.

Nevertheless, thanks to the accord, Jordan receives hundreds of millions of dollars in annual aid from Washington, and it can export goods with some Israeli content duty-free to the US.

Yet the peace has not dramatically improved life for the average Jordanian. Per-capita income stands at $5,100, which in world rankings sandwiches the Hashemite Kingdom between Egypt and Syria, though well ahead of the West Bank. Officially, unemployment stands at 12.6%; it's probably closer to 30%. Poverty is palpable, particularly outside Amman. Jordan is also terribly water-deprived.

Author Benjamin Balint recently returned from a visit to Jordan and says his fellow Israelis sometimes lose sight of how much events in this country resonate among Jordanians. There is an almost "quivering sensitivity" - for example, to delusionary stories about Jews threatening Muslim holy sites on the Temple Mount.

Indeed, during Arab-orchestrated violence earlier this month, Israel's ambassador in Jordan, Yaakov Rosen, was summoned to the Foreign Ministry and handed a letter of protest. King Abdullah II - who assumed the throne in 1999 - warned Israel of "disastrous repercussions" if it crossed a "red line" on Jerusalem. He demanded that Israel "stop all unilateral actions that threaten holy sites in Jerusalem and the identity of the holy city," warning that "such actions threaten to destabilize Israel's relationship with Jordan, inflame the Islamic world and jeopardize efforts to relaunch peace negotiations."

Under our treaty, the Hashemite Kingdom enjoys a "special role" regarding the Muslim shrines in Jerusalem. So expect yesterday's renewed Palestinian violence in "defense" of the Aksa Mosque to raise hackles in Amman.

OPPOSITION to Israel-Jordan normalization is driven not only by tendentious Arab satellite news coverage, but also by Jordan's semi-tolerated Islamist opposition, which includes the parliamentary Islamic Action Front bloc and the Muslim Brotherhood. Anti-normalization campaigners maintain a blacklist of Jordanian companies, journalists, academics and cultural figures that have contact with Israel. Jordanians who appear on the same dais as Israelis are invariably either government officials or forced to take chances because of their dependence on European or American largesse.

Because of internal pressures, Jordan needs momentum in the stalled negotiating process between Israel and the Palestinians, perhaps more than the parties themselves. Unfortunately, by being tone deaf to reasonable Israeli concerns, and oblivious to Palestinian intransigence, Amman has abdicated a more constructive role in bringing the parties closer together. It needn't be so.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Why what J Street Stands for is far from what most Israelis want

Miles from Main Street

The decision by Israel's ambassador to Washington, Michael Oren, to decline an invitation to J Street's first policy conference next week has drawn criticism from the organization's senior adviser Colette Avital, a former Knesset deputy speaker. In an op-ed published Thursday in The Jerusalem Post, Avital argued that J Street is a positive force because it provides a constructive framework for Jews uncomfortable with Israeli policies.

Certainly, for Jews or Israelis who, confronted with Iran's pursuit of atomic weapons oppose setting "artificial deadlines" and "harsher sanctions," J Street can be a comfortable political home.

J Street's stance on a two-state solution is, on the face of it, in harmony with the Israeli consensus. On closer examination, however, the group argues that "unmediated negotiations," meaning face-to-face talks between the parties, ought to give way to "strong and active American leadership" - inside-the-Beltway talk for imposing a solution on the parties.

That sort of thinking grossly overestimates Washington's ability to fundamentally alter the political values of Palestinian society, which remain unreconciled either to the legitimacy of a Jewish state or our civilizational origins in this region. Under these circumstances, imposing peace on Palestinians and Israelis would leave the former no more ready for coexistence.

To compensate for coercing Israel into concessions no Israeli government would willingly accede to, we can imagine Washington finding it necessary to become a guarantor of Palestinian compliance to an imposed peace. Yet consider the example of Haiti, located 1,000 km. off Florida's coast. Despite military interventions, decades of diplomacy and millions in aid, Washington has been unable to "fix" that tiny, broken polity.

As the US struggles to extricate itself from Iraq and come up with a plan for Afghanistan, J Street is indeed the address for anyone who wants Washington to provide "strong and active American leadership" on the Palestinian-Israeli front.

J STREET says it firmly supports Israel's right to self-defense. Yet it can supply no scenario in which a military response that is "disproportionate" and "escalatory" makes good sense.

But as an October 19 analysis by New York TimesJerusalem bureau chief Ethan Bronner pointed out, for all Israel's many diplomatic headaches, the IDF's tough approach to West Bank suicide bombers during the second intifada, and to aggression from Hizbullah-dominated Lebanon in 2006, as well as Hamas-controlled Gaza in late 2008, has made the country safer and quieter than ever.

Israeli parents pray for the day when their children can go directly from high school to university without spending years in the army. Still, for friends of Israel who think our security dilemmas mirror those of the Benelux countries, J Street is the right address.

NO ONE owns the patent on what it means to be "pro-Israel." And Diaspora criticism of this country dates back to Nahum Goldmann's disapproval of David Ben-Gurion and Golda Meir in the 1950s and '60s. In the '70s, the Breira group was founded in Goldmann's image. In the '80s, it was succeeded by the New Jewish Agenda. In time, Americans for Peace Now and the Israel Policy Forum emerged.

What primarily distinguishes J Street from these groups is that it can legally raise money and give it away to candidates who share its idea of pro-Israelism. Thus a politician seeking a House seat who opposes our partial blockade of Gaza, opposes sanctions on Iran, demands an Israeli withdrawal to the 1949 Armistice Lines, won't insist Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state and won't demand they renounce the "right of return" could be eligible for some of the $600,000 in J Street PAC money.

J Street has been criticized for taking contributions from Arab sources. In fact, these monies are a fraction of its known budget. Nevertheless, would it not make more sense for Jewish doves to encourage Arab donors to promote a viable peace movement among the Palestinians?

Maybe, instead of staying away from the J Street event - though we do not criticize him for doing so - Oren could have exploited a golden opportunity to detail the extent of the chasm between J Street and Main Street. He might have challenged the organization to embrace Zionism as its ethos, and reassured those uncomfortable with Israeli policies that "stifling" constructive Diaspora criticism has been passé since the days of Nahum Goldmann.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


No more Pollards

Whatever the truth, the FBI's arrest of Stewart David Nozette in Washington Monday on charges of spying for Israel is bad news. It will provide fodder for enemies of this country and cause them to hope that the energies of the pro-Israel community will be diverted, dissipated or delegitimized. It will bolster anti-Zionist extremists across the political spectrum who promulgate the canard that Jewish Americans are guilty of dual loyalty. And though there is no evidence whatsoever that Israeli intelligence had any connection to Nozette, the arrest will reinforce the slander about Israeli spying in the US.

NOZETTE, BY all accounts, is an odd genius. He holds a PhD in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It was his expertise - radar that can penetrate through earth and rocks - that helped establish the presence of water on the south pole of the moon.

The 52-year-old Maryland resident has a stunning resume, having worked for the US Energy Department's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Goddard Space Flight Center, and even the White House.

Nozette had high security clearance, gaining him access to top-secret material.

After he left full-time government service, he became a paid consultant to a defense/aerospace company in Israel - some speculate Israel Aircraft Industries - between 1998 and 2008, accruing over $225,000 in fees.

Was it this work that aroused suspicions in the American counterintelligence community? Did they suspect that Nozette was divulging secrets about the technology US spy satellites utilized to "see" sensitive security locations in Israel - or, perhaps, with whom the US was sharing this data?

In reality, there is no evidence that Nozette crossed the line in his consultancy work by giving the Israeli firm data that was top-secret.

Left unsaid amid the barrage of news coverage concerning the arrest is the simple truth that the US does spy on Israel and - who knows - maybe withholds information it is morally bound to share.

At any rate, in January of this year, Nozette left the US carrying computer disks, content unknown, that American counterespionage apparently believes were turned over to someone while he was abroad.

Perhaps because the FBI didn't have proof of any of its suspicions - let alone hard evidence that would stand up in court - the decision was made to entrap him.

Or was the case ignited by a weird comment Nozette was reported by a colleague to have made, that he would travel to Israel or some another country and "tell them everything he knows" were he ever arrested - presumably for a crime having nothing to do with espionage?

Whatever the impetus, on September 3, Nozette received a phone call from an FBI man identifying himself as an Israeli secret agent. It seems incredible, but within days, Nozette - long retired from the US government - was duped into delivering envelopes containing supposedly sensitive materials about American intelligence capabilities.

NOZETTE IS said to be Jewish. It's plain, however, that neither ideology nor ethnicity served as a catalyst for his alleged treason.

"Don't expect me to do this for free," he told the FBI agent posing as a Mossad operative.

At another point he said, "I thought I was working for you already," referring to the the payments he had previously received for his consultancy work.

In the words of Channing D. Phillips, acting US attorney for the District of Columbia: "This case reflects our firm resolve to hold accountable any individual who betrays the public trust by compromising our national security for his or her own personal gain."

SOME WILL see this case as part of an ongoing vendetta by US counterespionage against Israel - contributing to an overzealousness that has seen some of its cases thrown out of court. The feud purportedly stems from a conviction in Washington that an Israeli "super mole" infiltrated the US government and that until Jerusalem admits this and makes amends, the witch-hunts will go on.

But Israel's position since the 1984 Pollard affair is that it does not spy on the United States.

The Nozette case only reinforces the need to adhere strictly to this promise and not to let anything undermine the special relationship between our two countries.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Some bad guys get blown up in Iran

Ambush in Baluchistan

Iran's ruling clique is blaming the US and Britain for having a hand in the assassination of an Iranian Revolutionary Guard (IRG) deputy commander, his provincial deputy and up to 40 others in two coordinated bomb attacks Sunday.

Although Persian Shi'ites dominate Iran, they comprise only 51 percent of the population. Among the persecuted minorities battling the mullahs are the Baluchis in the border region with Afghanistan and Pakistan. The IRG officers had travelled there to parlay with tribal elders when they were ambushed by Jundullah, an Islamist, Sunni, Baluchi outfit.

Discounting statements from the US State Department, British Foreign Office and the president of Pakistan denouncing the attack, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani promised retaliation. But it is the threat from the Guard's top commander, Mohammad Ali Jafari, that deserves special attention. He claimed to have proof of Jundullah's "direct ties" to America, Britain and "unfortunately" Pakistan. Jafari: "There will have to be retaliatory measures to punish them."

As proof of US complicity, the Iranian media is pointing to a May 2007 London Sunday Telegraph report which asserted that the CIA was clandestinely backing Jundullah, and to a May 2008 ABC News story that US intelligence officers frequently advised Jundullah leaders.

Plainly, the realm where espionage, ethno-nationalism, narco-terrorism and Islamist ardor meld is frustratingly murky. For all we know, Jundullah may indeed have links with al-Qaida, the Pakistani Taliban, and even Western intelligence - just as Iran claims.

WHAT MATTERS most at this stage is that Sunday's attack has drawn needed attention to the Revolutionary Guards - also known as the Pasdaran. Founded in 1979 to protect the revolution, some of its charter members had received training in Palestine Liberation Organization camps in Lebanon.

Over the years, the IRG metastasized from a Praetorian Guard to an evil empire in its own right. Today, in addition to keeping Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Ahmadinejad in power, the Guards fields a shadow army, air force and navy.

It used the civilian vigilantes of its Basij subsidiary to crush opposition protests to the rigged June presidential elections. It is responsible for Iran's nuclear facilities, controls its strategic missiles, trains Hizbullah and Hamas, and conducts espionage out of Iran's diplomatic missions worldwide. That's not all.

The IRG has accumulated control of 30 percent of Iran's economy with interests in import/export, engineering and manufacturing. And as if that were not enough, it has also cornered the black market on alcohol, gasoline and tobacco.

The Guards is not just the glue that holds the regime together; it is its nucleus. Abbas Milani of Stanford University theorizes that the Guards' power may now exceed that of the supreme leader.

YESTERDAY in Vienna, Russia, France, the US and the International Atomic Energy Agency began technical talks with Iranian experts on how to implement Teheran's proposal for shipping uranium to Russia and France for conversion to reactor fuel. In keeping with the mullahs' duplicity, Iran hinted it was rethinking its offer. But Mohamed ElBaradei, the IAEA chief who has been flacking for Teheran, came out of the session to tell reporters that things had gotten off to a smashing start.

There will be another - technical - session today. A meeting in Geneva is also scheduled for later this month between Iran and the US, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany. Whether Iran will allow the IAEA to conduct an inspection at the Qom plant on November 25, as promised, is anyone's guess. What is perfectly clear is that Iran continues, successfully, to play for time while much of the civilized world dawdles.

WHAT SHOULD inform the international community as it tries to negotiate with Iran is that its "government" is in reality a sophisticated criminal syndicate. For Iran's essential character is reflected not only in the theocratic visage of Khamenei and the mad-hatter mug of Ahmadinejad but, more revealingly, in the shadowy role of the Guards.

The sobering reality of what lies at the core of the regime ought to impel the civilized world, led by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Barack Obama, to act with all deliberate speed to stop the Iranian bomb. Not only for Israel, but also because this twisted regime is a menace to its people, its neighbors, the region, and beyond.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Israel's big post-weekend story...

In cold blood

You might think ordinary Israelis began their work week on Sunday focused on the UN Human Rights Council's lopsided endorsement of the unfair Goldstone Report; or perhaps the continuing absence of a Turkish ambassador in our country; or even what the attack on senior officers of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, not far from the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, might mean.

But what actually grabbed most folks' attention was the slaughter - and we do not use the word carelessly - of three generations of the Oshrenko family, grandparents, parents and children, in Rishon Lezion early Saturday. The six victims have been named as Ludmilla and Edward Oshrenko, both 56, Dimitri and Tatyana Oshrenko, 32 and 28, three-year-old Revital and three-month-old Natanel. News of the killings was so appalling that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu used the weekly cabinet meeting to express the pain and horror all Israelis feel.

Criminologists will reassure us that crime is not galloping out of control, merely trotting apace with previous years and comparable to other advanced societies. Indeed, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics, there were 171 murders in Israel (population 7.4 million) during 2008 - though police have officially labeled only 122 of these as definitely murders. By comparison, the New York City (population 8.3 million) updated murder figure for 2008 is 516. London (7.5 million) averages around 170 homicides annually.

Rishon, with a population of over 200,000, has been solidifying a bad reputation for weekend violence largely traceable to its expansive entertainment and bar district. Last month, for example, Vodja Milnik allegedly stabbed IDF Sgt. Uri Chen to death during a brawl. Readers of The Jerusalem Post have become resigned to the reality that our Sunday edition is often loaded with news about weekend hooliganism in various localities, including the capital.

There are no obvious commonalities between the usual weekend mayhem our society seems to have reconciled itself to - stabbings, shootings, youthful brawling, teenage binge-drinking, and nuisance loitering - and the Oshrenko case. Still, if we are to be brutally frank, we can acknowledge that not a small amount of the weekend violence involves youths whose families stem from the former Soviet Union and who have remained cut off, even here in Israel, from their Jewish heritage.

There is a limit to what we know or are allowed at this juncture to say about the Oshrenko tragedy. There is speculation that this nadir of brutality - people say the country has never experienced anything like it - is traceable to "the Caucasus mafia."

We know that the Oshrenko family, who reportedly owned several thriving businesses, among them a delicatessen located on the block where they lived modestly, did nothing to attract unfavorable attention from their neighbors.

THE murders are, mercifully, a horrible aberration. But a good way to honor the memory of the family is to reinvigorate efforts to make Israel a less violent society. Naturally, that requires better policing, capable prosecutors and wise judges; yet something more is called for.

No one expects 21st-century Israel to be a Herzlian utopia where citizens spend their Friday nights either around the traditional Shabbat table (though, happily, many do) or around campfires engaged in earnest ideological discussion about the fine points of Zionist ideology.

But surely it would not be overreaching to strive for a middle ground between a country that is a caricature of its founders' ideals and one that is oblivious to them altogether. Put another way, if young people are inculcated with good - dare we say Zionist - values, we ought to have nothing to fear if they want to spend part of their Friday nights clubbing. The key, however, is to impart Zionism, civility and, by example, ethical norms.

In mourning the Oshrenkos, we would do well not to berate ourselves as a uniquely violent society (because we're not); nor, at the other extreme, to imagine that there is absolutely nothing to be learned because this crime is unique. Instead, let us urge the institutions that shape societal values - the Rabbinate, the media and entertainment industry, schools and families - to transmit messages of inclusion, on the one hand, and zero tolerance of violence on the other.

Friday, October 16, 2009

How to understand the Turkish Break with Israel and the West

Who lost Turkey?

Could Israel have done anything to avoid the apparent rupture of its relationship with Turkey? Could we have made it inconceivable for the Turks to air, on state television, a serial portraying the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as a struggle between sociopathic Zionists and wholesome Palestinians?

No doubt, had Israel responded to the violent Palestinian "resistance" not with an Operation Cast Lead but with Gandhi-like passivity, with a declaration that so long as there were women and children in Gaza, our army would not shoot back - had Israel, instead of imposing a "siege," responded to Hamas's takeover of Gaza by supplying concrete for an airstrip that would accommodate Iranian cargo planes - Israeli and Turkish jets might now, we suppose, be conducting joint maneuvers.

But let us go further.

If tomorrow, Israel withdrew to the 1949 Armistice Lines, redivided Jerusalem, abandoned Judea and Samaria, strategic settlement blocs, the Jordan Valley - the whole kit and caboodle - in the name of "ending the occupation;" if we came down from the Golan Heights, accepted the influx of millions of Palestinians "returning" to our newly truncated, 15 km.-wide state; agreed not to contest the extradition of the IDF General Staff to The Hague to face trumped-up war crimes charges; and if the Jews held their tongues as their state was dismantled while Palestinian factions fought it out for supremacy - comity would likely reign in Turkish-Israel relations. We can even imagine the UN General Assembly deferring discussion of "the Question of Palestine."

Plainly, what is inhibiting this nirvana is Israel's stiff-necked insistence on the same right to self-defense other sovereign states enjoy.

THE TRUTH: Turkey's turn against Israel is best understood in the context of its evolutionary transformation from the secular, nationalist and Western-oriented ethos of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk to the dogmatic, radical, pan-Islamic and Middle Eastern attitudes of its current rulers. This is most clearly reflected in Turkey's apparent decision not to actively pursue membership in the European Union because it has given up trying to reconcile what it wants for itself with what the West wants for it.

On Wednesday, Olli Rehn, the EU official in charge of enlarging the community, sharply criticized the Islamist government in Ankara for imposing punishing taxes on media outlets critical of the regime. But today's Turkey feels the EU needs it more than it needs the Europeans.

As for the military, which has historically served a homeostatic function whenever Turkish governments strayed from Ataturk's path, it has been politically neutered and made subservient to the regime.

IT IS senseless for Israelis to ask ourselves what we did to cause Arab, Persian and now Turkish rulers to ascribe the most villainous of intentions to us - for example, conspiring to demolish Muslim shrines on the Temple Mount, or relishing the systematic murder of Arab children. While not wishing to disregard the damage caused by this or that Israeli policy of commission or omission, in the final analysis, Israel did not lose Turkey any more than it lost Iran or the "moderate" Palestinians.

The Palestinian national movement, for all its self-destructive obduracy, appeared under Mahmoud Abbas and Salaam Fayad to be glacially inching toward grudging acceptance of a two-state solution. But it has been outmaneuvered by Hamas. Any move Abbas now makes in the direction of moderation - agreeing to temporarily shelve the reprehensible Goldstone Report for instance - gets pounced upon as perfidy. This environment has led even a sensible man like Fayad to hold cabinet deliberations on whether Israeli soldiers are stealing the organs of Palestinian youths. This week, he referred to a Palestine born of territorial compromise as a potential "Mickey Mouse state."

THE overriding explanation for what is happening in Turkey and among the Palestinians (and happened decades ago in Iran) is that these polities could not make peace with modernity. Instead, to varying degrees, they turned to radical Islam, which promised an end to ethnic and national rivalries and the promotion of socioeconomic equality.

These fragmented societies succumbed to the opiate of radical Islam because it provides absolute answers about right and wrong and uplifting distinctions between believers and infidels.

But it also ensures never-ending estrangement from those who have chosen another path.

Since this predicament stems from within Muslim civilization, so, too, must any solution.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


See a war crime in the making? Report it

What if you looked out of your window and noticed a group of men on a nearby roof training what appeared to be shoulder-held anti-aircraft launchers at jetliners approaching the airport? Or what if you had good reason to suspect that the new upstairs neighbors had transformed their apartment into a makeshift explosives laboratory?

Plainly, you would call the police - out of a sense of both obligation and self-preservation.

Likewise, the same moral, legal and commonsense rules would prevail if you were to stumble upon a group of heavily armed men fleeing down a flight of basement steps in your hospital, or sneaking crates marked "Danger Explosives" into your local mosque.

So here is a revolutionary idea: Apply these same principles in southern Lebanon and the Gaza Strip.

INTERNATIONAL humanitarian law obligates parties to an armed conflict, including non-state actors, to take every feasible precaution to protect civilian populations against attack. Clearly, the overriding obligation is not to place military targets among civilians. The intentional use of civilians to render certain areas immune from attack is illegal under international law. For instance, taking over a family's house and transforming it into an arms cache is a form of human shielding, and illegal.

It is true that international law permits retaliating against homes, places of worship, hospitals, schools and cultural monuments which are illegally being used by terrorists. But there ought to be a better way.

Why not encourage - perhaps somehow even obligate - the denizens of southern Lebanon and Gaza to conduct themselves as if they lived in Liverpool or Chicago or Barcelona? When you see a war crime in the making, report it.

The need for some fresh thinking on this score is made urgent not just by the patently inequitable Goldstone Report, but by the deaths late Monday of Said Nasser Abdel Issa and his son (along with three others, according to Arab media reports) when the arms cache in their home blew up.

The incident took place in the village of Tayr Filsay, on the southern bank of the Litani River, about 10 km. from the Israeli border. Hizbullah identified Issa as one of its "brothers," so, in this instance, the homeowner was party to the placement of the explosives. Israeli authorities know there are hundreds of weapons stores in other homes, mosques and commercial properties throughout southern Lebanon.

The explosion came on the heels of the explosion on July 14 of the Hizbullah arms depot in Khirbat Salim, which ignited a fireball seen miles away. Both incidents illustrate that Hizbullah, which controls southern Lebanon and is a powerbroker in Lebanese politics, continues to flagrantly violate UN Security Council Resolution 1701, the basis of the cease-fire being observed by Israel.

OF COURSE, Shi'ites in southern Lebanon and Palestinians in Gaza sympathize with the respective goals of Hizbullah and Hamas. But even those who may oppose using UN facilities, school, hospitals, ambulances and private homes to stage their "resistance" against Israel can't simply pick up the phone and call the cops - without reaching the bad guys themselves.

That is why the civilized world needs to set up a mechanism, something akin to an Interpol hotline, which could handle tips in anonymity and, perhaps, even offer a witness protection scheme. It makes no difference if the affected civilians sympathize with the goals of those who have commandeered their dwellings, or if they have been cowed into collaborating. Standing by with folded arms while your neighbors smuggle weapons into a tunnel below the village square is wrong.

Islamist extremists employ attacks against enemy civilians while shielding themselves among their own people - a sort of 21st-century poison gas. This leads to retaliatory attacks - as in Afghanistan, Iraq, and here in our region - costing the lives of innocent noncombatants.

One way the civilized world can preserve its values as it confronts "militants" who have no compunction about flying airliners into skyscrapers or sending suicide bombers to blow up buses is to reduce the chance that civilians will be injured in retaliatory strikes. And the best way to do that is by encouraging the local population to start taking some responsibility for its own safety.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


Ankara must decide

Who would have thought - Turkey and Armenia agreeing to normalize political relations. Armenia's president planning to attend a football match in Turkey. And George Papandreou, the new Greek prime minister, making Turkey the destination of his first trip abroad.

These are encouraging examples of how age-old animosities are being relegated to the dustbin of history.

Too bad, then, that Ankara appears to be simultaneously doing everything it can to junk its relationship with the Jewish state.

On Sunday, in an unprecedented slap in the face, Turkey cancelled joint military exercises that were to have included pilots from Israel and NATO. At first, the Turkish Foreign Ministry lamely denied politics was involved. Then Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu admitted on CNN that only when the "situation in Gaza" is improved could "a new atmosphere in Turkish-Israeli relations" be established.

Analysts in Jerusalem suspect the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is using the unfortunate civilian deaths during Operation Cast Lead as a pretext for distancing Turkey from Israel - diplomatically, strategically and economically.

ORDINARY Israelis find it hard to believe that faced with similar provocations - its population pounded by 8,000 rockets, murderous cross-border incursions, the kidnapping of one of its soldiers, the refusal of the enemy to abide by a cease-fire - the Turkish military would have refrained from taking action to stop the rocket fire and reestablish its deterrence out of fear that in defending its own citizens the lives of enemy civilians would be jeopardized.

Indeed, it is debatable whether more Palestinians died at the hands of Israel in the Gaza conflict than Muslim Kurds died in Ankara's repeated bombardments of northern Iraq (though Turkey insists that the only Kurdish loses were to livestock).

Political scientist Efraim Inbar is convinced that Erdogan's Islamic AKP party places greater value on Turkey's ties with the Muslim world than on its political and cultural links to the West. Or does Turkey expect to jettison its relationship with Israel, cozy up to Iran and Hamas, and yet maintain strong ties with Washington and Brussels?

ISRAEL'S relationship with Turkey has always had its ups and downs. Turkey voted against the 1947 UN Partition Resolution to create two states - Jewish and Arab - in Palestine, but it quickly established diplomatic relations with Israel. In the 1970s, weathering an economic crisis, it began building bridges to the Arab world. By the 1980s, thousands of Turks were working throughout the Middle East. The Iran-Iraq War cemented ties between Turkey and the Arabs when Saudi Arabia began supplying oil to Ankara.

Even during periods when the Turkish military was in power, relations with Israel were sometimes sacrificed to persuade the masses that the government had Islamic bona fides. In 1975, Turkey recognized the PLO though the group was then publicly committed to Israel's destruction. In 1979, Turkey refused to participate in the Eurovision Song Contest because it was being held in Jerusalem. Following the Knesset's passage, in 1980, of the Basic Law affirming united Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Ankara closed its consulate in our capital. Turkey even condemned Israel's 1981 raid on Saddam Hussein's nuclear reactor.

Now, with the AKP in power, relations have deteriorated more systematically. In August 2008, Turkey broke ranks with the West by welcoming Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Just before the outbreak of the Gaza war, Erdogan became angry at what he felt was his shabby treatment by Ehud Olmert while Turkey was mediating between Jerusalem and Damascus - a factor in his vituperative outbursts against Israel during the conflict.

OTTOMAN Turkey sought to hold on to its empire by using pan-Islam to legitimize its rule over the Arabs. But Mustafa Kemal Ataturk founded modern Turkey as Western-oriented, secular and nationalist. Islam was disestablished. The Turkish army performed a watchdog function to protect these ideals. And Israelis knew that no matter what abuse Turkish politicians might heap on Israel, our two militaries continued to cooperate at the strategic level. Is that, too, now over?

Turkey is an irreplaceable ally. Israelis want our two countries to enjoy cordial relations despite everything that's happened. The onus is now on Ankara to make plain that it, too, wants the relationship to continue. It would thereby also be signaling that Turkey wants to be a bridge between Islam and the West - instead of yet another barrier.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Barack Obama's Nobel Prize -- An Israeli Perspective

Eyes on the prize

Barack Obama went to bed Thursday night under attack for "flip-flopping" on Afghanistan-Pakistan, his centerpiece health care reform plan ever further from congressional approval, and having failed to deliver the 2016 Olympic Games to Chicago. As he drifted off, news reached Washington of yet another spate of deadly car-bombings in Iraq.

On Friday, he awoke to a bolt from the blue: the news that he had won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize, beating out 204 other nominees, whose identities remain secret.

With fitting modesty, the president said he did not view the prize "as recognition of my own accomplishments, but rather as an affirmation of American leadership."

The committee said it selected Obama "for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy" and for his "vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons." We imagine the committee was particularly struck by the president's April 5 Prague speech on nuclear disarmament.

Whatever the impetus, this award gives Obama added legitimacy in leading an intensified worldwide campaign to block Iran's nuclear weapons program.

Alfred Nobel intended his awards go to those who "have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind," specifying that the peace prize was to go to the person who did the best work to promote peace. It was never intended exclusively as a payback for achieving peace.

REACTION to the Nobel committee's decision ranged from bemusement to bewilderment. Paradoxically, Obama-haters were overjoyed. Rush Limbaugh: "We could not have made the world laugh at our president, but the Nobel Peace Prize Committee and their award pulled it off. We owe 'em a debt of gratitude." Here, a page one tabloid headline read: "A Norwegian joke."

This year's committee was chaired by Thorbjorn Jagland, a former Norwegian prime minister who served with George Mitchell on the 2001 Mitchell Committee investigating the causes of the second intifada. That panel is remembered unfavorably in Israel for "evenhandedly" assigning responsibility for the violence.

While the prize has often been presented in appreciation for definitive achievements - to George Marshall, for instance for the post-WWII reconstruction of Europe - it has not infrequently been awarded by a quixotic committee to persons whose accomplishments either would not have a long shelf-life, or were nonexistent.

Woodrow Wilson received the award in 1919 for founding the League of Nations - which collapsed with the outbreak of WWII. Frank Billings Kellogg, an American secretary of state, received the award in 1929 for the Briand-Kellogg Pact, which outlawed war. Henry Kissinger was granted the prize in 1973 for peacemaking in Vietnam. Two years later, the South fell to the communists. Kissinger's Vietnamese interlocutor, Le Duc Tho, was the only laureate to decline the prize, citing continuing violence in his country.

Yasser Arafat got the award in 1994, yet died an unrepentant terrorist. And, in 2005, the International Atomic Energy Agency's Mohamed ElBaradei was the winner, though he continues to downplay the danger posed by Iran's quest for the bomb.

In acknowledging the award, Obama made clear he's no pacifist. Without mentioning Islamist imperialism by name, he declared: "I am the commander-in-chief of a country" confronting "a ruthless adversary that directly threatens the American people and our allies."

WE WERE struck - and not ungrateful - that Obama made it a point Friday to single out his desire to help Israelis and Palestinians achieve peace. Though frankly, with his administration placing so much emphasis on the red-herring settlement freeze issue; with supposedly moderate Palestinian leaders inciting their people with false claims that the Netanyahu government is sending "settlers to pray at the Aksa Mosque;" and with the biased Goldstone Report gaining momentum in international forums - Israelis hardly see peace around the corner. Obama's value-neutral peacemaking approach has unintentionally raised Arab expectations that he will deliver a prostrate Israel.

His presidency is not yet a year old. There is time for Obama to emphasize that accepting Israel's legitimacy as a Jewish state is an absolute prerequisite for resolving this conflict.

There are those who would begrudge him the peace prize. We hope, rather, that the president finds the wisdom to pursue the path that can best lead to a genuine, secure and lasting peace.

Sunday, October 11, 2009


A progressive first from a conservative think tank

Ask Martin Kramer if spearheading the country's first liberal arts college isn't a daunting - maybe unachievable - goal in these hard times, and he invokes the name of his old friend Prof. Zvi Yavetz.

The venerable historian, Kramer tells me, was part of a small group of scholars who helped to found Tel Aviv University, ex nihilo, in the 1950s. They gave their lectures in makeshift classrooms in Abu Kabir. As Kramer heard it, the vision of creating a world-class university, on a par with the already-existing Hebrew University of Jerusalem, that would teach everything from music to physics was hashed out by Yavetz and his contemporaries as they worked away "in miserable shacks." Kramer quotes Yavetz: "Students who were later to become great professors sat on first graders' chairs."

Relative to Yavetz, Kramer has certain advantages. All he is trying to do is bring to fruition a small liberal arts college that, if everything goes according to plan, will one day have an enrollment of 1,000 students. And he is doing it at the behest of Jerusalem's powerhouse Shalem Center.

EJ: Where did the idea of a college come from?

Kramer: The idea has been an aspiration of Shalem since the center's inception. In a way, the Shalem Center was the interim framework established until a kind of critical mass and reputation were achieved that would allow this step

THE 55-year-old president-designate of Shalem College, who spent 25 years at Tel Aviv University as a scholar of Middle East Studies, has made a name for himself outside academia as well, with the publication of Ivory Towers on Sand: The Failure of Middle Eastern Studies in America - a book which argued that many Middle East departments on US campuses had abandoned serious scholarship to become trendy bastions of shoddy research and anti-Western bias.

When Edward Said, the late Columbia University English professor who became an indefatigable advocate of the Palestinian Arab cause, challenged the scholarship of Bernard Lewis, Kramer's dissertation adviser and the doyen of Western Middle East experts, Kramer went on the offensive. He initiated a campaign to depoliticize and re-professionalize university Middle East Studies departments wherever they had fallen under the ideological sway of Said's followers.

A native of Silver Spring, Maryland, Kramer first visited Israel on a summer program in 1970. He returned to study at Tel Aviv University between 1971 and 1973 where Itamar Rabinovich - who went on to become TAU president - took him under his wing. Kramer returned to the States to complete his BA at Princeton, an MA at Columbia and a PhD in Middle Eastern Studies back at Princeton.

The Shalem-Princeton connection runs deep. The center was founded 15 years ago by a group of Princetonians, among them Yoram Hazony and Daniel Polisar. Over the years other Princeton grads, including Michael Oren - and now Kramer - gravitated to Shalem. Original financial backing for Shalem came from philanthropists Ronald Lauder and the late Zalman Bernstein. The Tikvah Fund, Bernstein's creation, remains the center's leading supporter.

Separately, Sheldon Adelson provided initial support for Natan Sharansky's institute within Shalem.

By 1981, Kramer had made aliya and, with backing from Rabinovich, joined the TAU faculty. He spent 25 years at the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies, eventually becoming its director. Kramer has been a visiting scholar at Harvard, Brandeis, Cornell and other prestigious institutions abroad. He is also a former editor of the Middle East Quarterly and maintains a long-standing relationship with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Kramer lives in Ra'anana with his wife of 31 years, Sandra, a physical therapist whom he first met in high school - "though we didn't start dating until much later," he said. The couple has three children.

Kramer and I met over a lunch of bagels and tuna at the Shalem Center's posh offices in Jerusalem's trendy Emek Refaim neighborhood. Joining us was Cambridge-educated Suzanne Balaban, Shalem's vice president for communications.

WHEN HE first came to Tel Aviv University in the early '70s, Kramer reminisced, Middle East specialists were held in especially high esteem.

"In those days, you didn't have Israeli academics, journalists and diplomats traveling about the Arab world," he said. Scholars who were fluent in Arabic - he named Shimon Shamir, Rabinovich and Haim Shaked as examples - became iconic figures. Israeli newspapers featured their interpretations of events in the Arab world.

Paradoxically, Kramer lamented, the ability of Israeli Middle East experts to illuminate what was happening in Arab and Muslim civilization diminished even as more of them began to travel to neighboring countries - in part because the newer generation of experts was more narrowly educated. Remedying this now-endemic pedagogical deficiency is one of the motivations driving Shalem College.

"We are not talking about creating an alternative education system," Kramer explained, "but of providing an additional option."

He cited his personal experience: "In my first year at Tel Aviv University, with a dual major in Middle Eastern Studies and East Africa, I had no Jewish history, no Western philosophy; I studied Swahili and I studied Christianity in Egypt and Ethiopia - which were required courses. Later, when I arrived in Princeton, I discovered my cohorts had spent this time broadening their knowledge base."

SIMILARLY, an often myopic educational experience, Kramer argued, has created a generation of Israeli leaders who may know how to get things done, but have forgotten why they should bother.

In contrast, the country's founding generation had a more rounded intellectual experience and was thus well-versed in Jewish and world history, said Kramer. "Go visit David Ben-Gurion's personal library in Tel Aviv and you can get an idea of the range of his knowledge and reading. Israelis were being called upon to make sacrifices. And they needed leaders who could explain where they had been and where they were going."

Kramer paused and unfolded a handwritten quotation that he'd copied from an interview given by former prime minister Ehud Olmert to Haaretz and read it to me: "If the day comes when the two-state solution collapses and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights [among Palestinians in Judea and Samaria], then, as soon as that happens, the State of Israel is finished."

Kramer appeared quietly incensed. He said, "I thought to myself, well, certainly the early Zionist leaders knew that there was a tremendous demographic disadvantage. They were very much tilting against reality on the ground, and yet they didn't despair. Because they knew something, I think, through their reading of history that perhaps this particular leader didn't know. That history is not a straight line."

He refolded the paper.

Israel's founders "would have rejected the idea that our fate is a function of whether the Palestinian Arabs organize a state - 'If they fail, we're finished.' Our founders had an understanding of the twists and turns of world and of Jewish history, and in the ways they intersected, and in the unexpected opportunities that history provides."

EJ: But is Olmert wrong?

Kramer: His more linear reading comes from a shallower understanding of the human condition. Maybe it makes sense to a lawyer, but I think leadership requires people who are prepared to see the opportunities and not to see only the dead ends.

EJ: And with the new liberal arts college, you are setting out to create a cadre of future leaders who see opportunities; a new elite that puts the collective good first?

Kramer: That is a fair characterization.

For the challenges ahead, said Kramer, Israel needs a skilled military, a strong economic base and highly trained technocrats. Leaders of Israel's hi-tech sector recognized the need to produce thousands of engineers a year, Kramer noted, "and the system geared up to do just that.

"But where are we going to produce that cadre of 100, 150, 250 people a year with a holistic view, who will be prepared for any eventuality and the sense of responsibility in going forward?" Kramer asked.

"I am a great admirer of Israel's universities," he allowed. But they are focused, he said, on competing to enter the rankings of the top 50 universities in the world. That leads them to bolster the hard sciences and emphasize faculty research while essentially demoting the humanities and teaching, which count for less in rankings.

With the energies of university administrations invested elsewhere, "there tends to be less attention paid to what goes on in the humanities and social sciences until someone in one of the departments writes an outrageous op-ed in some American newspaper that casts Israel in a bad light and attracts negative attention onto their university," said Kramer.

TO PREPARE its students for leadership, Kramer told me, Shalem College will take a holistic approach in its curriculum and admissions policies. The language of instruction will be Hebrew, though students will be expected to be articulate in English, too. Kramer is not certain whether applicants will need to take the dreaded psychometric exam, but he's adamant that it will not be the primary selection criterion: "We will look at the applicant's entire record." Following the US model, about two-thirds of the student body will receive some form of scholarship.

Whether they specialize in Middle East Studies or in a combined program in philosophy, political theory and religion - other majors will be added over time - all students will be expected to master the same core curriculum that Kramer considers essential for a "learned person" aspiring to leadership of this country. It will run the gamut from Plato to Keynes, from the Hebrew Bible to Hobbes.

Though Israeli universities are now also adopting the core-courses principle into their existing curriculum, Kramer insisted that Shalem's requirements would be the "most extensive and comprehensive" in the country. Their content "will also be unique, and reflect what Shalem values in Jewish and other traditions."

To accomplish its mission, the college will be demanding the devotion of its enrollees for four years, compared to the usual three-year commitment required of undergraduates at Israeli universities.

EJ: To get off the ground, Shalem College will need to be accredited by The Israel Council for Higher Education. You are proposing to create an unabashedly Zionist institution. Israel's intelligentsia is riddled with post-Zionists. Do you anticipate any problems?

Kramer: Ours is not a political project that is in some way different from the enterprise of the State of Israel itself. I was struck that the president of Ben-Gurion University recently felt it necessary to assert that her institution is "proudly Zionist." So I take it that it will not be counted as a strike against us that we see ourselves as a Zionist institution, too.

EJ: But might not the college be seen as too right-wing?

Kramer: There is no doubt that various departments in various Israeli universities are not in line with the country's mainstream. But I think we are where the mainstream is in Israel today. Zionism isn't Left or Right. It's a commitment to Israel as the national home of the Jewish people. We plan to bring together outstanding scholars who share that commitment.

KRAMER'S vision is of a college that puts teaching "first and foremost." Faculty will be top-notch, he promised, but the publish-or-perish obsession that dominates research universities will be banished from Shalem.

"The heart of any educational institution is its faculty. It's not the buildings. The students graduate. But what gives a university or college its flavor is the faculty. We have a core of people who will be making appointments, who have shared values and who know how to respect the best scholarship," said Kramer.

EJ: Shared values?

Kramer: We've seen that value-free scholarship has infiltrated from the sciences - where it makes some sense - into the humanities and social sciences, where it is corrosive. Shalem will be looking for faculty whose values commit them to the Jewish people and to the State of Israel - the vessel for Jewish survival.

Yet this will not be a school for the indoctrination of Zionism. When you look at our curriculum, you see that we don't actually come to the history of Israel until the second semester of the fourth year. Why? Because we think that the Zionist conclusion emerges only from the full reading of Jewish history and Western history and philosophy.

EJ: Will you be inviting scholars who disagree with the Shalem worldview to join the faculty?

Here Balaban interjected. "When I joined Shalem, I noticed that there was a glass door. On one side sat Natan Sharansky and Moshe Ya'alon, and on the other sat Yossi Klein Halevi and Michael Oren. They profoundly disagreed over the Gaza disengagement. But they were all welcome under our roof. A.B. Yehoshua has written for Shalem publications. Our culture is one of collegiality even when there is disagreement. There aren't many intellectual havens like that."

Kramer: I would note, too, that Yosef Gorny of Tel Aviv University, my former colleague, is chair of the appointments committee of our academic council. He's an iconic figure in Labor Zionism and its historiography.

Every institution molds its faculty. Not long ago, Columbia University established a chair in Israel studies. Two leading Palestinians were put on the search committee. Why? Because it was understood that while there could be a chair in Israel Studies at Columbia, it could not be held by someone who would negate the Palestinian narrative.

EJ: Would you say that's outrageous?

Kramer: I would say that is Columbia. Shalem College, I can assure you, will not become yet another home to scholars who have made their reputations by negating the Zionist and Israeli narrative.

KRAMER hopes Shalem's graduates will become leaders in journalism, politics, academia, the security establishment and the business world - "whatever their choice, they will be equipped well beyond their cohorts."

Balaban sees the college's role as a form of continued nation-building.

"The swamps have been drained," she said. "But in terms of the intellectual infrastructure of the country, there is still much to be done."

EJ: Where is the money for the college coming from?

Kramer: Well, the money will not come from the State of Israel. We will not ask for the usual per-student allocation. It will come from private sources in America, Europe and Israel.

EJ: Want to name names?

Kramer: We will name names when donors permit us to do so. We have a number of donors at a million dollars and above - including the Klarman family foundation of Boston and George and Pamela Rohr of New York.

EJ: But are you confident you'll have enough money?

Kramer: Yes, once we receive accreditation from Israel's Council For Higher Education. We expect to open our doors in 2012. We are just launching a campaign which will take us through our first four years of college operations and also help create an endowment. We are obviously closer to the beginning than the end. I have absolute and total confidence this will happen.

EJ: Who is the father of the liberal arts college idea?

Kramer and Balaban agreed that the concept should be credited to Hazony, Polisar, Ofir Haivry and Josh Weinstein.

SHALEM has always operated on the battleground of ideas, melding Diaspora creativity and money with an Israeli stubbornness that, said Kramer, does not accept failure as an option. It is this track record, Kramer told me, that persuaded him to take on an assignment that seeks a different path for Israeli higher education.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Should Israel gloat about having won a Nobel Prize? UPDATE. OUR WINNER HAS A POLITICAL THOUGHT...

The girl from Geula

Thanks to Prof. Ada Yonath of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot - who on Wednesday won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry - just about everyone now knows that "ribosomes" are protein factories for cells. Even those of us who can't get our heads around the Periodic Table can appreciate that Yonath's research helps explain why antibiotics work, and contributes to solving the problem of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Science at this level of sophistication is where the brilliance and perseverance of the individual theorist needs the backing of an institution and its benefactors.

Not even Galileo, Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi and Albert Einstein could have achieved their respective advances in astronomy, mathematics and physics without a support network. The same holds true for our Nobel laureates in the sciences and economics - Aaron Ciechanover, Avram Hershko, Daniel Kahneman and Robert Aumann - as well as, now, Ada Yonath.

It detracts not a whit from the accomplishments of our winners that their prizes were shared with others. This year, for example, two Americans working independently, Venkatraman Ramakrishnan and Thomas A. Steitz, share the chemistry prize, Yonath's trailblazing work notwithstanding.

YONATH has a special place in our hearts, of course. She is Jerusalem-born, and as unpretentious as she is luminous. Her father, who ran a grocery store in the capital's Geula neighborhood, died when she was only 10, leaving her mother as the family's sole breadwinner. After IDF service, Yonath attended the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and then went on to study at Weizmann.

Over the years, she told The Jerusalem Post, there were those who considered her line of basic research a fool's errand. But with Weizmann's backing, her hard work came to be widely recognized when she was awarded the Israel Prize in 2002.

Israelis have reason to kvell over Yonath's achievement - and in the eight other Nobels the country has garnered over its mere 60 years. But let's not be swept away by hubris. Jewish tradition teaches that excessive pride is akin to idolatry.

The prizes for science and economics reflect the nation's priorities 30 and 40 years ago. So we are coasting on those investments in our human resources, and on the indispensable financial support of Diaspora Jewry. Yonath would be the first to acknowledge that her work is more dependent on the generosity of New Yorker Helen Kimmelman than on the taxpayers of Israel.

We'd like to think there really is such a thing as "Jewish genius," but if so, it still needs to be tempered by good judgment. Rather than gloating, we Israelis owe a thank you to the Kimmelmans and other major overseas benefactors, who keep Israel's higher education research institutions afloat.

IT'S NOT that we spend less of our GDP on education than other developed countries; it's that we appear inept in spending it wisely. Science and Technology Minister Daniel Herschkowitz could not bring himself to support the cabinet's budget plan. Regrettably, the government is committed to cutting rather than growing the education budget. Meanwhile, teaching has become a low-prestige vocation dominated by underpaid women.

Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar recently told the Knesset: "We are very close to the bottom. International [rankings] show that Jordan's school children have passed us, and we are a little ahead of Syria and Tunisia, although more recent statistics might show that they have also surpassed us."

Rather than behaving triumphantly, Israelis ought to be asking themselves: Why has education become less of a national priority?

Let's pray this country continues to be blessed with a nucleus of very high-IQ students. Yet the good of society requires greater investment in the vast pool of average students.

Israelis can learn from the experience of Muslim and Arab civilization, which once kept the beacon of knowledge glowing only to see it dim because of an inability to come to terms with modernity. Looking around Israel today, we can see some of the same obduracy permeating Jewish society.

Large numbers of Israeli children are not even receiving a basic secular education. Which means that the chance of a girl born in Geula this year one day going on to university - much less to a Nobel Prize - is remote indeed.

NB. Since I wrote this on Thursday, Yonath told Israel Army Radio over the weekend that it would be a grand idea to release each and every terrorist in the Israel prison system ... we're talking "engineers" who ordered or planned such outrages as the Pessah massacre in Netanya or the suicide bombing at Tel Aviv's Dolphinarium, on the grounds that -- if we held no prisoners, they would not take any hostages.

Which just goes to prove that you can have an IQ the size of a 747 and the "sehel" -- the common sense -- of a cheap balloon.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

How a fixed "investigation" of Israel is further reducing the chances the Palestinians will make peace

Goldstone's 'contributions'...SO far

Just when Israelis thought we had a respite from the harmful repercussions of the profoundly unfair Goldstone Mission Report, it transpires that Hamas is insisting Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas push the Security Council to consider Richard Goldstone's bill of particulars against Israel (during Operation Cast Lead at the turn of the year) - or else the deal due to be signed between Fatah and Hamas in Cairo on October 26 will be in jeopardy.

Abbas is also under withering pressure from within his own movement to exploit Goldstone for all its worth. That would have been Abbas's natural inclination too, but the Fatah chief bowed to US pressure to allow the report to be shelved at least until March 2010.

The Obama administration appreciates that if Goldstone monopolizes the daily agenda, Binyamin Netanyahu's government will be too preoccupied to conduct meaningful talks with the Palestinian Authority. Moreover, a toxic environment dominated by Goldstone will sap any popular support within Israel for further compromise with the Palestinians.

Indeed, even very dovish Zionists, former Haaretz editor David Landau for instance, think Goldstone is "misguided." Centrist theoreticians such as Yossi Klein Halevi, meanwhile, posit that the report might compel a fundamental shift in Israeli security strategy - one that simply will not tolerate a Hamas enclave in Gaza because it is "legally" impossible to protect Israeli civilians from such an enemy.

GOLDSTONE - as by now everyone knows - would apply fanciful notions of international legality to stymie Israel from protecting its people.

Fortunately for the US-led coalition fighting in Afghanistan-Pakistan against the perpetrators of 9/11 and their supporters, the Goldstone principles have not been unleashed on it. And, providentially for Western civilization, there were no Goldstone principles to inhibit Roosevelt and Churchill when they confronted fascistic fanaticism in their day.

Put aside the barefaced anti-Israel bias of Goldstone which allowed the report to find that Hamas did not use hospitals for its command posts; did not commandeer Red Crescent ambulances to transport its rockets; did not shoot from within UN-operated buildings; and did not use mosques as ammunition depots. Forget how comparatively little space Goldstone spent worrying about whether Israeli children were returning from school, or whether the streets of Sderot were crowded with people going about their daily business when Palestinians unleashed their rockets. Ignore the long swaths of the report which have nothing to do with Gaza, but gave the jurists an excuse to pontificate about "Palestinian Occupied Territories" and the relentless repression of free speech within Israel.

Focus instead on how the Goldstone precedent would limit other democracies from defending themselves against terrorist organizations specializing in anti-civilian warfare. Goldstone would make quarantining enemy territory illegal. A last-resort embargo on Iran to block it from fielding an atom bomb? That would be illegal because Iranian civilians would suffer.

Imprisoning captured terrorists? Illegal. Using sophisticated weapons against a less well-armed terror infrastructure? Illegal. Bringing non-lethal pressure to bear on non-military targets - such as flour factories, sewage treatment or roads - to hasten the end of a conflict? Illegal.

Heaven help Barack Obama, Gordon Brown and Nicholas Sarkozy if even prima facie evidence turns up to suggest that their militaries deliberately inflicted suffering on enemy civilians.

Because of "structural flaws" in the Israeli legal system, Goldstone has given this country just months to set up a process that basically self-enforces the emasculation of our army - or our leaders could, ultimately, be hauled before an international tribunal as war criminals.

To add insult to injury, Goldstone expects Israel to pay reparations to Hamas for the damage caused when we tried to get them to stop violating our border.

OF COURSE, we're supposed to give Goldstone credit because he's a friend of Israel; because his daughter lived here for some time; and because his name appears on the stationery of a number of worthwhile organizations here. Moreover, didn't he ask Hamas to release Gilad Schalit "on humanitarian grounds?" And didn't he give Hamas hell, too?

Well, actually, he originated the convoluted idea that attacks against Israeli civilians "would constitute war crimes and may amount to crimes against humanity." In any case, Hamas is so plainly unconcerned that anyone will understand such prattle as blame that it is using the Goldstone Report to batter the hapless Abbas.

And it's too early to assess how much damage the judge's work will yet do....

Tuesday, October 06, 2009


Third intifada?

For a few hours yesterday, it looked like Palestinian leaders were about to unleash a third intifada. That they didn't is perhaps attributable to a recognition that centrally-planned terrorism - drive-by shootings, bus bombings, the slaughter of children in pizza shops - is now as passé as their previous tactic of airline hijackings. Still, there's plenty of room for spontaneous violence, inspired though not coordinated from above.

The special priestly blessings of the Succot festival which brought tens of thousands of worshipers to the Western Wall culminated without incident. Still, the joy of the occasion was somewhat lessened by the palpable tension of threatened Arab violence.

The background: Prior to Yom Kippur, the head of the Muslim Wakf learned that a fringe group of Jews planned a visit to the Temple Mount. They are harmless enough - part of a stream within the mostly settler milieu that wants to establish a Third Temple on the site of the Dome of the Rock and reinstate animal sacrifices.

Generations of Jewish scholars have studied the practices and rituals of our ancient Temples, praying that one day the Messiah would deliver the Jews, and that God's presence would be manifested for all. But the group in question has busied itself with stitching the garments and crafting the sacramental objects the Israelite priests will "soon" need.

Police learned that the Wakf was bothered, and preemptively barred the Third Temple group from the plateau. But as police opened the area to other visitors, escorting a group of mostly French Christians to the Mount, waiting Muslim youths unleashed a barrage of projectiles. The police rescued the tourists and arrested some of the rioters, but the atmosphere in and around Jerusalem's Old City remained tense.

CURIOUSLY, Ramadan passed with nary a disruption. Indeed, Israeli authorities took various measures to facilitate the unfettered observance of the holy month in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza also. Too bad, then, that Palestinian leaders could not find it in their hearts to reciprocate by allowing the Jews to observe Jewish holy days in tranquility.

But, really, that is comparing apples and oranges. Israeli authorities foster coexistence and maintain free access to the holy sites. Palestinian factions, by contrast, want just the opposite. Jews do not deny the religious significance of the Muslim sites on the Temple Mount. Yet Palestinians can't abide the fact that the Jewish presence in Jerusalem anteceded the Muslim arrival in 636 CE by well over a millennium.

No one knows why the Palestinians decided to stir things up just now. Some suggest it was part of an effort by Mahmoud Abbas to distract his people from the Palestinian Authority's unpopular decision not to further exploit the Goldstone Report at this time. Some say the PLO and Hamas are competing for influence in Jerusalem and with Israeli Arabs. Some argue it is the work of radical Palestinians who are citizens of Israel and want more influence within the Palestinian polity.

Whatever the reason, this much is clear: nothing brings Fatah in Ramallah, Hamas in Gaza City, and the Islamic Movement's Northern Branch in the Galilee more into harmony than "protecting" the Haram al-Sharif from - in the words of the PLO news agency WAFA - "radical Jew colonizers."

Sadly, not one Palestinian leader is willing to tell his people that, of course, there was a Jewish temple where the Aksa Mosque stands today. To admit a Jewish civilizational connection would demand that Palestinians agree to share the area and to treat Jewish holy places with respect. It would turn upside down a Palestinian political culture that has socialized generations to think of Jews as interlopers. And this neither Fatah's Abbas, nor Hamas's Ismail Haniyeh nor the Islamic Movement's Sheikh Raed Salah will ever do.

SINCE the liberation of Jerusalem in the 1967 Six Day War, the Jews have been magnanimous in victory. Not only have they permitted Muslims to retain administrative control over their holy places, Israeli authorities have forbidden Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount.

The Israel Police restricts visits by non-Muslims to 7:30-10:30 a.m. and 12:30-1:30 p.m. and bars them entirely on Muslim holidays. To appease Muslim sensibilities, since 2006, successive Israeli governments have forbidden the Antiquities Authority from blocking illegal Palestinian excavations below Temple Mount. And invariably, when Arabs threaten violence, it is the Jews who are barred from the site to reduce tensions.

So while Israel's "Third Temple" fanatics are carefully policed and marginalized by mainstream society, the Palestinian leadership continues to mainstream fanatical ideas about Jews - making reconciliation unreachable.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Good News From Iran

Iran sidetracks the world

There has been so much good news about Iran's nuclear weapons program lately that it's almost churlish to expose that news for what it really is - hollow and ephemeral.

Teheran has offered to ship much of its low-enriched uranium to Russia and France, where it will be processed before being returned for use in medical research and generating electricity. Yesterday, Iran also agreed to allow international inspectors to visit its previously secret - and still unfinished - uranium enrichment plant at Qom on October 25.

President Barack Obama said that the uranium export offer was "a step toward building confidence that Iran's program is in fact peaceful." Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations said that if Iran honored its pledge to export its fuel for processing, Washington's proliferation concerns would be partly alleviated.

But Henry Sokolski of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center asserted that "the fuel France and Russia will send back to Iran will be far more weapons usable, being enriched with 19.75 percent nuclear weapons-grade uranium, than the 3.5 percent enriched brew Iran currently has on hand."

Experts say that uranium needs to be enriched at 90% for use in a nuclear bomb.

So instead of talking about when Iran will suspend its fuel-making activities, the mullahs have cleverly shifted the conversation to what their export pledge means - even though it would not take effect for a year or two.

And just to muddy the waters, Iran's ambassador to Britain, Mehdi Saffare, a member of its delegation to the Geneva talks with the Security Council "five plus Germany," insisted that the idea of sending Iran's enriched uranium out of the county had "not been discussed yet."

ON SATURDAY, The New York Times reported (elaborating on a story carried last month by the Associated Press) that dissident experts at the International Atomic Energy Agency have tentatively concluded that Iran has "sufficient information to be able to design and produce a workable… implosion nuclear device."

Their report, "Possible Military Dimensions of Iran's Nuclear Program," also argues that the country is aiming to place a nuclear payload on its Shahab 3 missile - which can reach parts of Europe.

The only genuinely good news is that "Overall the Agency does not believe that Iran has yet achieved the means of integrating a nuclear payload into the Shahab 3 missile with any confidence that it would work…."

Still, the IAEA specialists believe that though Iran hasn't detonated a device, the elaborate nature of its experiments gives it confidence that its bomb will explode.

Mohamed ElBaradei, the outgoing IAEA chief, has spiked the report. Yesterday, in Teheran he talked about how Iran has supposedly shifted from confrontation toward "transparency and cooperation."

With IAEA dissidents, and the intelligence services of Britain, France, Germany and, of course, Israel arguing that Iran is racing toward a bomb, Obama has instructed the US intelligence community to reevaluate its controversial 2007 finding that Teheran had halted efforts to design a nuclear weapon back in 2003.

NO MATTER how the US intelligence reassessment goes, or how Iran's export gambit plays out, or what happens when the inspectors visit Qom, at the end of the day - and in keeping with the mullahs' strategy - Iran will have bought time.

Obama insists his administration is "not interested in talking for the sake of talking. If Iran does not take steps in the near future to live up to its obligations, then... we are prepared to move towards increased pressure."

Of course, the president would have greater credibility with the mullahs if the heightened sanctions his administration insinuated would be forthcoming in September had actually been implemented.

At this point, there are only three possibilities: (a) Iran will build a bomb; (b) draconian sanctions, spearheaded by Washington, will persuade Teheran to abort its program; (c) military intervention will significantly set the mullahs back.

Assuming Obama realizes that the second option is by far the most preferable, he must not allow Teheran to sidetrack the discussion.

All the world needs to know is when Iran will stop enriching uranium, and when it will end its weapons program.

Book Review: "The Israel Test" by George Gilder

Das Capital


The Israel Test
By George Gilder
Richard Vigilante Books, New York
255 pages. $27.95


George Gilder's short, breezy, and passionately argued polemic might have been better titled "They Are Envious," or, "Netanyahu, Savior of Israel," or, The REAL Case for Israel," or, simply, "Jews are Smarter."

Gilder argues that Israel's fate, capitalism's prospects, and the ideal of liberty are interwoven. His immoderate tone will be off-putting -- at least initially -- to readers who are not enamored with capitalism in these times. His argument that Jews are inherently smarter than others will make even some members of the tribe squirm. His rapturous description of Israel's high-tech sector will irritate thousands of recently laid-off workers (especially native English-speaking technical writers whose work has been subcontracted to south Asia ). And his fawning tribute to Benjamin Netanyahu for rescuing Israel's economy in the 1990s will make those familiar with the Jewish state's transition from socialist corporatism to laissez-faire capitalism wonder why Gilder seems clueless about the critical role Shimon Peres played in this transition years earlier.

But to say this book is merely "red meat" for the high-IQ, anti-egalitarian, religious true-believers, not-one-inch, and venture capitalist crowd, does not really do it justice.

For once you get past the overbearing smugness of a writer who on the face of it abhors nuance, it turns out that there are long stretches of edifying and proleptic argument in The Israel Test. It's as if Gilder started out wanting to tell it like (he thinks) it is, and along the way decided that the messy business of trying to win over those who come to the book with a different viewpoint was worth the effort.

WERE GILDER Jewish, I'd describe him as Marx's living antithesis.

Where Marx was a self-hating Jew, Gilder is a "Judeophile." Indeed, he defines hatred of capitalism as a form of anti-Semitism, since Judaism provides a moral framework for capitalist activity. When Gilder says "Jews lead all other American groups in per-capita income," he plainly means this as a compliment. And he is convincing when he posits that "The success or failure of Jews in a given country is the best index of its freedoms."

Gilder sees Israel as one of the "world's leading capitalist powers" and presents a sort of domino theory: "If Israel is destroyed, capitalist Europe will likely die as well, and America , as the epitome of productive and creative capitalism spurred by Jews, will be in jeopardy." So in essence, "the Israel test" amounts to the degree of commitment the West is prepared to make for Israel 's survival and the extent it is willing to correctly identify and protect its own interests.

Even champions of Israel , he complains, too often make "the case for Israel " by "defending" Israeli policies based on mitigating circumstances. Not Gilder; because he believes Israel is hated not for what it does but for the virtues of the Jews. The Jews have been hated for their intellectual and entrepreneurial accomplishments since pagan times. He says outright: "The source of anti-Semitism is Jewish superiority and excellence." Part of the book seeks to prove this thesis by citing chapter and verse the extraordinary contributions of Jews to science and mathematics. There are fascinating sketches of brilliant minds, among them John von Neumann, without whose work on algorithms computers as we know them would not be.

GILDER'S BOOK is also an excellent primer against the Palestinian Arab cause.

Their self-induced dependency on foreign aid, exacerbated by the intervention of international aid groups, has "transformed the Palestinians into a ghetto of violent male gangs and welfare queens." Such over-the-top language actually camouflages an otherwise convincing argument.

As proof Gilder cites Musa Alami telling David Ben-Gurion in 1934: "I would prefer that the country remain impoverished and barren for another hundred years, until we ourselves are able to develop it on our own" than make common cause with the Zionists. Sure enough, between 1967 and 1987 – prior to the first intifada – the West Bank was "one of the most dynamic economies on earth."

True to Alami's sentiments, the Palestinians threw it all away by launching the first intifada in 1988. Then in the wake of the 1993 Oslo accords, their economy began thrived again. Hundreds of thousands of West Bank and Gaza Palestinians were employed within the Green Line; Nablus license plates could be seen on the streets of Tel Aviv. And still, in 2000, having rejected Ehud Barak's overly generous terms for a state, the Palestinian leadership launched the second intifada and again drove their people into a crater of violence and economic depression. It was all done out of irrational hatred. Gilder says "capitalism requires peace" and the Palestinians want neither.

THE strongest case conservatives have over liberals, in my view, is in how they understand human nature. Gilder quotes the physicist Eugene Wigner: "It is just as foolish to complain that people are selfish and treacherous as it is to complain that the magnetic field does not increase unless the electric field has a curl. Both are laws of nature." Gilder believes not just in the laws of nature but something greater: "The universe rests on a logical coherence that cannot be proven but to which men must commit if they are to create."

His enthusiasm for Israeli high-tech is explained by his first-hand knowledge of its key players and most intriguing innovations, the result of his being a "practicing venture capitalist." Gilder offers absorbing sketches of the people -- not a few of them immigrants from the United States -- behind the country's high-tech success.

"THE great irony of Israel ," writes Gilder, "is that for much of its short history it has failed the Israel test," meaning the Jewish state was mired in socialism.

It is certainly true that until 1977, when Likud wrested power away from it, the country was solidly in the grip of the Labor Party which was then social democratic in orientation and had used the state and the Histadrut to wield near-total power. It would take years to reconfigure the Israeli economy. In 1985, inflation ran at 450 percent a year. That's when the national unity government headed by Labor's Shimon Peres and Likud's Yitzhak Shamir adopted tough anti-inflationary measures, reduced taxes, and fundamentally liberalized the economy. I think it is a bit churlish of Gilder not to give Peres his due. By the time Netanyahu came into power in 1996 and promoted supply-side economics, the edifice of the old socialist-oriented economy had largely been consigned to the dustbin of history.

Moreover, as Israel moved from Labor-dominated corporatism to capitalism, and as state-owned companies were privatized, power shifted from the Labor Party/Histadrut/state troika, to a constellation of oligarchs who today hold sway over the economy. This is a far cry from genuine capitalist competition, I think.

THEIsrael Test
contains an excellent chapter that deconstructs the certainties of the Left. (In Israel , "left" refers generally to security matters; many on the left are solidly bourgeoisie.)

Gilder visits with (or reads) a range of post-Zionists and leftists among them Ehud Olmert's draft-dodging, expatriate son, Shaul. Mouthing his hackneyed, discredited Peace Now dribble, Olmert junior is the perfect foil for Gilder. Only when he dismisses Olmert's criticism of the haredim, is Gilder on shaky ground. Gilder wrongly see these men in black as the "defenders of the faith" and the "answer to the [Palestinian] demographic crunch caused by secular Israelis with their abortion culture and their gay-rights marches."

In fact, the haredim are part of the problem. The more insular among them do not do national service and do not pay taxes; as a community they are dependent on the largesse of the taxpayers; some are openly anti-Zionist; and their political clout stymies needed reform of the political system. Finally their hijacking of the established "church" of Orthodoxy via their stranglehold on the rabbinate has alienated countless non-observant Israelis from their heritage.

Gilder's book has many heroes but among my favorite is Nobel laureate Robert Aumann whose analysis of Palestinian rationality – suicide bombers included -- and Israel's failing nerve, is worth the price of this book, and needs to be understood by anyone venturing an opinion on "how to achieve peace" in the Arab-Israel conflict.

Finally, writing prior to Netanyahu's seminal Bar-Ilan address in June offering negotiations toward the establishment of a demilitarized Palestinian state, Gilder makes an interesting, albeit unrealistic, moral defense of the West Bank status quo -- demography notwithstanding: "If the right answer for Israel is to rule for a thousand years the territories on which reside enemies committed to its destruction, then no true principle of democracy compels them to do otherwise."

The chapter that captured my heart was Gilder's affecting testimony of what it was like to grow up as a privileged WASP in an atmosphere where refined anti-Semitism was taken as a given. It is this section which unravels how Gilder came to be a Judeophile, and reading it reminded me how few friends the Jews have in this world outside the Christian evangelical fold.

In his affinity for Jews and Israel , Gilder recalls the late Robert St. John who wrote several admiring books about the Zionist enterprise and whom David Ben-Gurion described as "our goyisher Zionist."

With this book – for all its faults – Gilder becomes St. John's worthy successor.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Boosting Hamas will come back to haunt Israel

A special mazal tov to Hadas Silver on her bat mitzva...
shabbat shalom


Signs of life

The onus has always been on kidnappers to prove that their hostages are alive and well. Yet this week, the government of Binyamin Netanyahu paid Hamas to do just that.

Rather than tell Hamas that unless it could prove Gilad Schalit was in good condition there was nothing to negotiate, Israel agreed to release 20 Palestinian women prisoners in exchange for a recent video of the captive soldier.

The official spin is that these Palestinian ladies are not accomplished terrorists. Yet each and every one of them tried to kill, or help someone else try to kill Israeli soldiers or civilians. They are members of Fatah, Islamic Jihad and Hamas. Some, like the knife-wielding Bara'a Malki, are juveniles serving short terms. Others such as the 47-year-old Zohar Hamdan, were caught smuggling suicide bomb belts.

Forget those stereotypes about Jewish business acumen. This was a bad bargain.

In paying for this "sign-of-life," Israel has also certified that Hamas's counterintelligence operation is superb. Clearly, our intelligence agencies don't have a handle on where Schalit is being kept - even though it's probably a relatively short drive from the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv.

Discharging the women inmates is phase one of a deal that could see the staged release of 1,000 terrorists, including key operatives behind some of the most heinous bloodbaths carried out by the Palestinian "resistance." If things go smoothly for Hamas, it will have essentially achieved the objectives put forth the very first week Schalit was taken prisoner three years ago.

The main stumbling block to total Israeli capitulation is, apparently, the security establishment's insistence that the 1,000 terrorists be confined to the Gaza Strip. Assuming further elasticity of Israeli principles, a steadfast Hamas politburo will have triumphed over two consecutive Israeli cabinets loaded with savvy ex-generals.

WHILE PAYING Hamas's price will end the Schalit family's ordeal, it will also have two perilous repercussions: Some of Hamas's most able "engineers" and tacticians will resume their careers; and the movement's standing within the Palestinian polity - and in the international arena - will further solidify.

Palestinians assert that Israel is holding 9,000 prisoners. If one Israeli soldier can buy 1,000 prisoners, how many will it take to deliver the other 8,000?

From Hamas's vantage point, all this could not come at a better time. The Islamists, under Egyptian auspices, may soon sign a "national unity" pact with Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah, paving the way for West Bank and Gaza elections in 2010. Hamas will then reasonably campaign as the "resistance" faction that can "deliver" Israeli concessions.

It is true that the Abbas "moderates" have shown no sign of wanting to come to an agreement with Israel - not with the Olmert-Livni government, and not with Netanyahu's. Fatah refuses to recognize the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish state; Abbas's maximalist negotiating demands would have a militarized Palestine face a truncated Israel confined behind the 1949 Armistice Lines. Strategic settlement blocs would have to be abandoned. The cost of making peace on Abbas's terms would be acceding to the demand for millions of Palestinians to "return" to Israel proper.

Nor has Abbas prepared his people for the idea of coexistence. In fact, though he egged Israel on to rout Hamas during Operation Cast Lead, now he's exploiting the Goldstone Mission's findings, leading the bandwagon to have Defense Minister Ehud Barak, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi and Shin Bet head Yuval Diskin labeled "war criminals."

With all that, Abbas does proclaim his backing for a two-state solution. He does not advocate portraying the Palestinian conflict with Israel as part of the global jihad. Hamas, in contrast, will not even entertain the prospect of Israel's right to exist. And its theoreticians are unregenerate anti-Semites.

WE DO not presume to know the depth of suffering felt by Gilad Schalit and his parents, Noam and Aviva, dignified and indefatigable advocates for their son's freedom. But the government's responsibility extends to the entire House of Israel.

Much as we Israelis welcome a sign of life from the soldier whose fate is so much in our hearts, it is the government's duty to pursue his freedom mindful of the many other lives at stake down the road.

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