Sunday, December 22, 2013

Israelis Unsurprised by NSA Spying Revelations. Politicians Note that Pollard Has Been in a US Prison for 30 Years for doing Much Less

Reaction in Israel was muted to reports that the NSA and its British counterpart spied on former Israeli premier Ehud Olmert, former defense minister Ehud Barak and on Israeli facilities. 

The revelations were made public by N.S.A. defector-- now Moscow denizen-- Edward Snowden and published in the New York Times on Friday December 20 just as Jerusalem went offline for the Jewish Sabbath.

With the end of the Israeli weekend on Sunday, the Hebrew-language newspapers and radio news programs headlined the eavesdropping.

Israel's top political, intelligence and military leaders work under the assumption that foreigners— friends and foes— are spying on them.

Shimon Shiffer, a columnist for the anti-Netanyahu government tabloid, Yediot Aharanot, wrote that he doubted senior Israeli officials would even pretend to be outraged. "No one has been taken by surprise, Israel's top officials know that everyone wiretaps everyone else, all the time."

Ronen Bergman, who specializes in national security affairs, wrote in Yediot that the Americans were likely looking for information about a possible Israeli attack against Iran's nuclear facilities.

The NSA also reportedly spied on the Hebrew University of Jerusalem's Institute of Physics, according to the Times.

Yediot reported that American officials rented an apartment near Barak's Tel Aviv residence-- a high-rise tower -- in order to listen in on his conversations.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds his most sensitive discussions at Mossad intelligence headquarters to minimize the possibility of eavesdropping, according to Israel's Channel 10 news. 

For similar reasons he does not keep a computer in his office, according to Israel's Channel 2.

Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz, whose office has no direct operational responsibilities, called the NSA's behavior "unacceptable," according to the Jerusalem Post.

"We don't monitor the U.S. president, the White House, or the defense minister, and I think we need to reach an understanding with the U.S." not to spy on Israel, Steinitz said.

My own take is that it would have been wiser for Steinitz to restrain himself. Not every event requires a comment even if a minister has time on his hands. 

And I doubt these comments reflect anyone's thinking but his own.

For the most part, Israeli politicians used the revelations to call on the White House to pardon Jonathan Pollard, an Israeli spy who has been incarcerated in a U.S. prison for 30 years. 

Few in Israel understand why he has been punished so harshly for so long.

The new head of the Labor opposition, Isaac Herzog, called on Washington to release Pollard on the grounds that he had been punished enough for spying done long ago.

Netanyahu said little on the matter directly.

He told the Cabinet on Sunday that Israel did not need to capitalize on the NSA revelations to make the case that justice demanded Pollard be released.

Earlier, Transportation Minister Israel Katz, a member of Netanyahu's Likud Party, said Pollard was being punished for activities that were mild in comparison to what the NSA had done. 

Tzahi Hanegbi, a former head of the Knesset Foreign Affairs Committee, said the NSA revelations ought to serve as an impetus for Pollard's release.

The angriest, and characteristically shallowest, reaction came from Labor opposition Knesset member Nachman Shai, chair of  the Knesset Caucus on US-Israel Relations, who demanded that parliament's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee hold hearings on the American espionage.

"The silence of Israeli officials following these reports is disappointing and shameful," Shai said according to the Times of Israel. 

Most Israelis will take the revelations in stride, I suspect. Like all countries, the US has interests and to protect those interests it monitors events and conversations.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Money Buys Qatar Influence and Interdependence

The tiny Gulf sheikdom of Qatar, comprised of 300,000 citizens and one million foreign workers, is increasing its financial, economic and media footprint in the United States, the Washington Post reported.

Experts say Doha does not have a unified strategy behind its expansion into America other than to create strong cultural, political and economic bonds with countries that could help protect its interests.

"You'll drive yourself mad trying to find an overarching plan behind all the Qatari moves," said author David Roberts, according to the Post.

Qatar previously invested in Britain. Europe's tallest building funded by Qatari investors is the 72-story Shard located near London Bridge. 

Qatar has a major stake in Heathrow Airport. It also owns the Harrods department store. Since 2007, Qatar has invested $33 billion in Britain, according to the Post.

Qatar has established Al Jazeera America.

The original media outlet Al Jazeera in Arabic has been influential in forming public opinion in the Middle East. 

Obviously, you won't be seeing preachers teaching the Koran and ridiculing those not of the faith on the American version.

In fact, Al Jazeera in English -- shown in Israel -- looks a lot like the BBC. (Take that any way you care to.)

In January, Qatar purchased Al Gore's Current TV for $500 million in order to secure access to cable television channels for Al Jazeera America which is now hiring hundreds of reporters.
Besides Washington, Qatar has real estate interests in Chicago's Radisson Blu Aqua hotel and it is a majority owner of Golden Pass Products, a Houston-based importer of natural gas.

Qatar Airways is a significant customer of Boeing having recently purchased 50 Boeing 777 aircraft for $19 billion. It is the second biggest airline in Mideast behind Turkish Airlines.

Through its Qatari Foundation, the sheikdom has donated $100 million to Hurricane Katrina relief and is investing $5 million to spread Arab language and culture in America, the Post reported.

Like Saudi Arabia, which is controlled by the family Saud, Qatar is a family concern. The emir— who took over in June from his father— is Tamim Bin Hamad al-Thani, 33, who trained at Sandhurst, Britain's Royal Military Academy.

Qatar's foreign policies are not easy to pigeonhole.

Israeli ministers have quietly visited Doha.

Since 2003 it has allowed the U.S. to station a major military base on its soil. At the same time, it is a prominent backer of the Muslim Brotherhood and a generous donor to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. Qatari-supported clerics have tried to make peace between Hamas and more radical Moslems based in the Strip.

With the eruption of the Syrian civil war, Qatar broke with the Assad regime and Hezbollah, supporting the Islamic opposition including groups associated with al-Qaeda. It has now reportedly stepped back from the Syrian morass ceding its influence to Saudi Arabia.


Wednesday, December 04, 2013

How is President Barack Obama Like George W. Bush & Bill Clinton?

Following in the footsteps of predecessors, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, President Barack Obama suspended for another six months a law passed by Congress in 1995 that required the U.S. Embassy in Israel to be relocated from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, according to a White House statement Tuesday.

Under the Jerusalem Embassy Act, Congress empowered the president to waive the law on grounds of national security.
Obama formerly instructed Secretary of State John Kerry not to move the embassy. The president must issue the order on six month intervals or the law goes into effect.

As a candidate in 2008, Obama referred to Jerusalem as Israel's capital saying, "Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided."

He subsequently clarified his position saying, "Well, obviously, it's going to be up to the parties to negotiate a range of these issues. And Jerusalem will be part of those negotiations."

During the 2012 presidential campaign Mitt Romney promised to move the embassy to Jerusalem. "Every nation has the right to choose its capital," he declared.

Prior to his election candidate George W. Bush had also promised that he would move the embassy.

While the Israeli government is seated in Jerusalem, since Israel's establishment in 1948, Washington has never recognized the Jewish state's sovereignty over any part of the city.


Thursday, October 31, 2013

BBC: NSA Pathetic Giant That Can't Keep a Secret

I found it interesting that National Security Agency spymasters pleaded ignorance in front of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, saying they didn't understand their agency's activities well enough to precisely describe them to the judges, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Since Edward Snowden -- who I would call a traitor not a whistle-blower -- escaped with the digital equivalent of truckloads of NSA secrets, the agency has seemed more feeble than omnipotent.

 "I cannot help wondering if the NSA is as powerful as its critics have claimed, why has it been so useless at protecting its secrets," writes Mark Urban, the diplomatic and defense editor for the BBC's Newsnight program.

Good point.

Despite its global eavesdropping capabilities the NSA is apparently helpless in silencing Snowden and his confederates.

No worm viruses have been unleashed against the computer systems of newspapers that have revealed U.S. secrets. No applications for court orders have been filed to block further disclosures. And – as far as is known – no missions have been launched to retrieve the stolen material or silence their owners, Urban writes.

Reaction comes only after the damage is done: Bradley Manning being prosecuted and sentenced to a long period of incarceration for providing classified material to Wikileaks, for example. In contrast, according to Urban, British intelligence has been more robust in its response to the exposure of secrets – watching as journalists destroyed computers at London's Guardian newspaper, and searching  the partner of Glenn Greenwald – one of Snowden key enablers – at Heathrow Airport.

British newspapers have widely ignored a "D-Notice" or Defense Advisory issued to restrain publication of the Snowden material. American authorities have not even bothered to try. "There have been no US legal attempts to force journalists to destroy or turn over what they have," according to Urban.

Meanwhile, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif), one of NSA's most consistent defenders on Capitol Hill, appears to have lost patience with the agency and is calling for a "major review into all intelligence-collection programs," according to the Journal.
"We're really screwed now," one NSA official told Foreign Policy magazine. "You know things are bad when the few friends you've got disappear without a trace in the dead of night and leave no forwarding address."

I'm not suggesting that the US security establishment does not need civilian oversight. And I am not convinced the Obama administration is managerially capable of providing that oversight. At the same time, friends of democracy need to be more careful in their criticism.

You don't want to go to the opposite extreme and make it impossible for the intelligence community to do what needs to be done. 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Why not a combined Muslim force to intervene in Syria for humanitarian purposes?

I need to confess that I do not understand why there is a full court press for a Western (read US – European) strike on Syria.

I do not understand the American national interest at stake. 

Though I appreciate President Obama put his foot in his mouth with talk of red lines. Still, the president's credibility is not reason enough to intervene.

I do not understand why the forces of toleration should side with either the fanatical Shi'ites or the extremist Sunnis in this terrible conflict. 

Naturally, I agree that inventories of unconventional weapons in Syria should be taken out.

But what I don't understand is why this is America's job. Or Britain's.

Turkey is a major regional power and NATO member with a massive army, navy and air-force. Its Islamist government has been outspoken against Assad.

So why doesn't Ankara act? 

Saudi Arabia has state-of-the-art US warplanes and AWACS; it has the best German tanks money can buy.

Let's see a combined Muslim force intervening for humanitarian purposes.

Instead of calling the British parliament into emergency session, why isn't the Turkish parliament gathering in emergency session?

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan talks tough but, he not President Obama or Prime Minister Cameron should be taking the lead in trying to stop Muslims from using weapons of mass destruction to kill other Muslims.

The world should not sit by and do nothings as innocents are killed. Agreed.

All I'm saying is that militarily and economically powerful Turkey and Saudi Arabia should be in the vanguard. It is their moral duty.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

'Mechina' Academies -- Israel's Gap Year Phenomenon

Some of the country's best and brightest high-school grads
 are delaying military service for a year of character-building in pre-army academies

IT'S STILL DARK in Upper Nazareth on a recent Tuesday morning as Nadav Cohen, 19, delivers a pithy inspirational talk to his comrades – choosing Bob Dylan's The Times They Are A-Changin' for his theme. On a pervious morning another student talked about the journey to Ithaca in Homer's The Odyssey. That poem begins, "When you set out on your journey to Ithaca, pray that the road is long, full of adventure, full of knowledge."

The 35 or so students, young men and women in workout clothes, have packed into a room overlooking the lower Galilee. All are recent high-school graduates who've put off their compulsory service -- two years for women and three years for men -- in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) to take part in this mechina. It is one of a score of pre-military academies offering one-year programs that are becoming increasingly popular among Israel's most committed, idealistic and gifted youth.

The mechina phenomenon began in 1988 in Eli, a Jewish settlement in Samaria near Shiloh. The idea was to prepare, and not just physically, the Orthodox religious male youngsters for the rigors of army life. At the Eli mechina, active duty army officers run the young men through their paces in the hilly terrain.

Socially, think of the army as Israel's great "melting pot" where young people from across the country's astoundingly diverse society rub shoulders in basic training.  That is why the Orthodox youngsters at the Eli academy need to be fortified for the culture shock of secular society where they'll encounter comrades with little knowledge of, or commitment to, the religious values that they uphold. For religious reasons, most Orthodox high-schools are not co-ed. Yet in the army strict separation of the sexes for reasons of modesty is difficult to uphold. Your instructor for the state-of-the-art Tavor rifle could well be a pretty 19-year-old girl from Ramat Aviv, an upscale north Tel Aviv neighborhood.
Indeed, Israel's small messianic Jewish community faces a similar challenge in upholding religious and social values. The Jerusalem Post recently reported that the community has run a short summer preparatory program, known as the Nestor mechina, to ease the transition into army life for its young people, who are leaving home for the first time.  

By 1997, the Eli mechina had been joined by other pre-military academies. Nowadays, there are academies -- each offering its own twist on the mechina experience -- catering to the secular, to young Orthodox women, and to those who want a combined, co-ed, secular-religious environment. The Lindenbaum Academy on the southern outskirts of Jerusalem offers no fewer than five separate tracks for committed Orthodox women who want to engage in advanced religious studies (Bible, Talmud, philosophy) before, or even during, or after their military service. Noa Binnes wants to go into IDF intelligence and opted to study at Lindenbaum "because I think it will help me come to the army a more mature person."

TODAY, WITH hundreds of former students, Ein Prat is arguably the most prestigious of the pre-army academies. Its ethos calls for bridging the gap between Orthodox, theologically progressive, and altogether non-observant Israelis, says Noam Arbel, an Ein Prat graduate now responsible for alumni affairs. This year's students, for example, are one-third Orthodox, one-third secular, and the remainder traditionally observant, Conservative or Reform. Arbel explains that the program combines community service with advanced Zionist and religious studies and, naturally, physical fitness. 

Ein Prat is located in the Judean Desert east of Jerusalem adjacent to the settlement of Kfar Adumim. The mechina is headed by Micah Goodman, a spiritual, charismatic young scholar who is also a popular lecturer and author. He's just published a book in Hebrew contextualizing the Kuzari, a polemical work written in the Middle Ages defending the faith of Israel. An earlier Hebrew book analyzing Maimonides' ironically titled Guide to the Perplexed remains a bestseller.

All of Israel's pre-army academies tend to have rigorous admission policies and generally require parents to pay tuition – this means most of their students come from middle-class homes. None are primarily government funded, relying instead on philanthropic support. The Avi Chai Foundation has been in the vanguard of the mechina movement, supporting 19 mechina academies including Ein Prat which also enjoys the backing of the Tikvah Fund. Arbel says that Ein Prat's expertise has positioned the mechina to provide organizational, consulting and even financial backing for other academies around the country.

The various mechina programs are well regarded by the army – seen as a means of delivering more motivated, more mature and better prepared recruits. There is, of course, one unavoidable side effect: by the time these young people start university, having finished mechina, the army, and de rigueur post-army travel, they're 24 or so  – about the age their American counterparts are graduating.

Nadav Cohen's mechina, Tabor, now in its third year, is of the secular variety, emphasizing physical fitness, personal development, self-discipline, social commitment and leadership skills -- all combined with plenty of community service. After their predawn homilies most of the Tabor group – including Cohen -- go out for a long run; a few stay behind with a personal trainer or to work on a customized exercise regime. 

By about 8:00 AM the entire team, showered and changed, have return from their cramped sleeping quarters – boys and girls live separately in groups of about 10 – to gather in the mess hall for a surprisingly wholesome breakfast prepared by students on kitchen duty. By 9:00 A.M. on Mondays and Thursdays the group heads off to any one of 11 volunteer assignments.  Some students, working in teams, mentoring Upper Nazareth elementary school pupils or high-school students, Jews and Arabs, from less privileged homes or with learning disabilities. The children are taken on wilderness hikes, do sports and play games geared to instilling some of the students' own esprit de corps in their younger charges. Other students are assigned to an after-school youth group for children with special needs.   

On other days, Tabor's focus is more on learning.
Cohen and his cohort study Western philosophy, taught by a visiting university instructor, covering thinkers such as Aristotle, Socrates and Plato and focusing on the values of fidelity to principles and commitment to the law. There are additional lessons on military leadership where students study Zionist legends such as Joseph Trumpeldor (1880-1920).  

Though Tabor is a secular academy, Jewish values are integral to the curriculum.  Lately, for instance, students have been reading a difficult work by the 18th century ethicist Moshe Chaim Luzzatto called The Path of the Just which prescribes abstinence and self-discipline, tenets more routinely studied in ultra-Orthodox quarters.  

Afternoons might find the students in makeshift classrooms learning about national security. Before dinner there is usually time for a power workout. Evenings are taken up with less formal lessons. One recent night a shepherd-philosopher engaged the students in a discussion about spirituality, identity, relationships and trust that was geared to building group dynamics.

During their downtime the students are busy with house-keeping chores and meetings where, together with academy staff, they hash our schedules, assignments, and curriculum.

The days at Tabor are typically long and grueling, not ending until the exhausted students fall  into bed late into the night.

IN contrast to Nadav Cohen's regimented mechina, Yoni Jenson's academy seems more like a laid-back urban kibbutz where the 52 students are empowered to make most decisions.
Jenson, age 19, put off his army service to enter the Mechina Of Jaffa, loosely affiliated with Israel's Reform branch of Judaism, where the mission is to train students for leadership. He plays down the leadership part. "I think of it more as an academy that will prepare me for life, enlighten me, and bolster my self-discipline," Jenson says.

It was their choice, for instance, to keep a kosher communal kitchen in deference to the needs of only three students who adhere to traditional Jewish dietary regulations which forbid the mixing of meat and dairy dishes. In making their collective decision, the cohort boned up on the basics of what keeping a kosher entails while learning a lesson in tolerance; how a majority can uphold its values and respect the needs of a minority. The on-site staff director from the Reform movement seldom intervenes in the day-to-day decision making of the group.

On a typical day, Jenson might attend an inter-disciplinary course about Israeli society that "doesn't sugar coat the country's failings," or a lecture on the politics of the media. Two periods a week are carved out for meditation and nonconformist prayer.  Some of the students organize an optional Hebrew Bible study group after hours in their rooms. On alternate weekends the group remains at the mechina, for a traditional Friday night Sabbath meal complete with benediction over the wine and song.  

There's a once-a-week workout session under the tutelage of a physical instructor from the army.  Jenson, who aims to get into the IDF search and rescue unit, enjoys regular runs along the Mediterranean coast. There are also fun activities with an educational purpose, including occasional excursions to the theatre.

The biggest emphasis, however, at the Jaffa academy is community service. Jenson spends three weekday mornings at a day care center for disadvantaged children who range in age between three and six while a fourth day is spent at a senior citizen's center helping to run its glee club. Other students are assigned to a local scout troop helping to program daily activities. This combination of learning and volunteer work is intended to help the students formulate their Jewish-Israeli identity in harmony with a modern lifestyle.

ORIT Gold, 20, didn't "do mechina" but chose another form of one-year service before her call-up. Now serving in the IDF intelligence corps, Gold (not her real name) put off her army service to spend a year working as a Jewish Agency "Shin-Shin" year-long volunteer emissary in the United States. It was a broadening experience that exposed Gold, who comes from a secular household in Netanya, to a welcoming, multi-faceted Jewish community in the Midwest.  Paradoxically, she returned to Israel with an enhanced appreciation of the Jewish side of her identity. 
On the down side, Gold's transition to army life was hardly seamless. In America she was essentially her own boss running youth programs, addressing local schools and churches about Israel and managing her own busy schedule. Back in Israel and in the army Orit Gold abruptly found herself in basic training with younger girls and under the thumb of a drill instructor her own age. Fortunately, the maturity she honed while abroad helped her to better deal with whatever the army has thrown at her.

"I learned that you need to take things in stride. The army is a rite of passage for all Israelis so why not make the most of it, have fun and learn from the challenges placed before us," says Gold.

No matter which road they take on their journey to the army, mechina academy alumni arrive better prepared and a little wiser. 

Nadav Cohen concurs, "The mechina experience takes you off the treadmill of life and puts you on 'pause' so that you can purposefully think about your direction."

A version of this piece appeared in the Independence Day issue of the Christian Zionist magazine Israel_My_Glory.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Chicken Occupation

Today's International Herald Tribune's front-page carries a story – "The fast-food underground: Gaza finds a way to get its KFC" – colorfully recounting the activities of an entrepreneur who smuggles (though that's hardly the right word) fast-food orders from a border town in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula to the Hamas-governed Gaza Strip.

[QUOTE]  It’s our right to enjoy that taste the other people all over the world enjoy,” said the entrepreneur, Khalil Efrangi, 31, who started Yamama a few years ago with a fleet of motorbikes ferrying food from Gaza restaurants, the first such delivery service here.

Let's deconstruct this story:

[QUOTE] Passage into Egypt through the Rafah crossing is limited to about 800 people a day, with men 16 to 40 years old requiring special clearance. Traveling through the Erez crossing into Israel requires a permit and is generally allowed only for medical patients, businessmen and employees of international organizations.

So, two Arab entities – Egypt and Hamas-Gaza restrict cross-border movement to 800 people a day. We're never told why.

But the IHT (the global edition of The New York Times) piece is written in a passive (aggressive) manner so you wouldn't know just who placed those restrictions.

And just to muddy the waters, we're told that Israel requires a permit for the Erez crossing into Israel.
It's true, but irrelevant.

Hamas is at war with Israel so it really isn't surprising that "permits" are needed – and granted – only for medical emergencies and other humanitarian needs. Not to order chicken.

Still, it is technically true that Hamas-stan citizens can't order fast-food from the Zionist enemy.
It would be weird if they could – if you give the idea a little thought.

But why can't they order fast-food from their Egyptian brothers?

In other words, why can't they order fast-food from a country run by the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood – a fraternal Big Brother -- and spawn --- to Hamas itself?

Strangely, the Times' editors frame the article to place the burden of moral responsibility for the Chicken Occupation on Israel.

[QUOTE] Palestinians generally refer to Gaza as being under siege or blockade by Israel, and isolation from the world is among the most common complaints of people here. That can create an intense longing for what those outside Gaza see as mundane, or ordinary.

But that don't make it true, to paraphrase Leonard Cohen.

[Quote] Breaking the blockade, then and now, is seen as part of resisting the Israeli enemy, giving a sense of empowerment and control to people here, even if it comes in the form of fried chicken.

When countries are at war they tend not to engage in commerce.

Here, if you want a reality check is the truth about what Israel does allow across its border to enemy Gaza.

So the IHT/NYT gives us a cutesy (in a tendentious way) story. But it is also agitprop – anti-Zionist propaganda.

It is a subtle manipulation of reality in which the oblivious reader (meaning most people who will skim the piece on the Internet as they scroll their way through today) is given to assume Israel controls the Gaza-Egypt border -- when in fact Hamas and Egypt control it.

The Arabs can build a 12-lane highway from Gaza to Egypt to transport all the fried chicken in the world if they want to and no one will stop them.

Yet holding on to the imagery of "the siege" helps keep Gaza's population mobilized and hateful against Israel. So that's the Arabs' motivation.

But what's the motivation of the Times' editors?

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Wars of the Jews

Rabbi Reuven Hammer makes excellent points in his Jerusalem Post opinion piece today reminding us that the Western Wall – site of premeditated ultra-Orthodox rioting Friday against Women of the Wall group – 

is (a) not part of the original second temple structure and 

(b) is the remnant of an edifice built by Herod.

It has symbolic and mythic value, of course, and its antiquity is an expression of the connection between Jewish civilization and the Land of Israel.

My sentiments -- needless to say --  are  with the progressive and liberal forces within Judaism.
I myself tend to avoid the Jewish Quarter of the Old City unless we have guests from abroad or out of town. The area strikes me as a Diaspora-oriented Disney-like theme park.

 I'll stick with the Herod exhibit at the Israel Museum.  

Thursday, May 09, 2013

IHT Publishes Israel-friendly Cartoon

Thursday's International Herald Tribune has published a cartoon that shows President Obama in two frames.

"Syria's Assad is out of control!
There's only one thing to do."

"Hope that Israel shows some guts!"

I don't know how such a sentiment escaped the oversight of Serge Schemann, whose idea of balance is to present an Arab or European critic of Israel countered by a Jewish or Israeli critic of Israel.

Nice way to start a Thursday morning.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Modest Step Toward Electoral Reform?

The Israeli Cabinet is set to propose a bill that if passed into law would be a modest step toward badly needed electoral reform.

The measure includes raising the electoral threshold to 4% -- I'd like to see it higher but this would be a good beginning.

It would limit the number of cabinet ministers to 19 and it would require that 61 Knesset members support a vote of no confidence.

In sum, it would foster a less parochial, more centrist, more stable, more efficient government and could strengthen the Knesset. Now, so many MKs are also ministers or deputy ministers that legislative oversight of the executive is weak.

I'd still like to see half the Knesset elected on the basis of constituency representation.

Friday, May 03, 2013

File Under "The masses are asses."

Curious, troubling, survey released by Fairleigh Dickinson
University’s Public Mind on Wednesday finds that 29 percent of
Americans think that an armed revolution might be necessary in the next few years -- five percent unsure.

Here is the press release:

Monday, April 29, 2013

Mechina Academies: Israel's Gap-Year Phenomenon"

My latest piece, "Mechina Academies: Israel's

 Gap-Year Phenomenon" 

now available to subscribers of the

 Christian Zionist magazine

 "Israel My


May/June issue

Thursday, April 04, 2013

'Depressed,' 'Sad,' Childless Men?

Here's a study that's garnered lots of attention.

"Researcher Robin Hadley carried out a survey of 81 women and 27 men who did not have children, and asked them if they wanted them. He found that men were almost as likely as women to want children — 59 percent to 63 percent — but actually more likely than women to feel depressed, angry and jealous if they didn’t have them."

Now, I have no way to evaluate the validity of the thesis which claims that men who want children but don't have any feel more isolated, depressed, even angry than women similarly situated.

Sociologist Robin Hadley of Keele University (which is located in North Staffordshire halfway between Manchester and Birmingham) acknowledges that his results are in no way a statistical representation of British society.

I'm not surprised by how much attention the results of Hadley's online questionnaire has earned.

The reason may be that men's feelings and attitudes about being childless are seldom explored.

Abbas Inflames the 'Street' -- Adheres to intransigent negotiating line

Tension high today in Jerusalem in advance of funeral of Hamas terrorist -- he planned to blow up the Caffit cafe on Emek Raf'im -- who died of cancer in prison.

It's a tension orcastrated by the Palestinian leadership or leaderships.

Fatah chief Mahmoud Abbas is meanwhile telling US Sec of State John Kerry that he will give the US about a year to pressure Israel to withdraw to the 1949 armistice lines, accept the "right" of Palestinian Arabs and their descendants who became permanent refugees to "return" to a truncated Israel -- or he will seek these same goals via the automatic majority the Arabs enjoy at the UN.

So Abbas and Hamas compete for the Palestinian Street by ratcheting up anti-Israel violence. While Abbas collects his salary from well-meaning Western donors.

Too bad Abbas  isn't interested in a peace deal. Too bad he won't recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

With all the chaos in the Arab world too bad Abbas is not a force for genuine moderation.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Talking Points -- 2013 Israeli Elections -- the morning after

I suspected something was up when Lisa and I did our "stroll poll" and came upon neighbors and friends who told us that they'd voted for Yair Lapid.  

Earlier, my father-in-law, voting for the first time in Israel and after weeks of thoughtful reflection, told us he'd be voting for Lapid.

Was this a trend in the making?

Turns out the answer was yes.

So here are some basic talking points the morning after.

Big Picture

PM Netanyahu emerges weakened but still Israel's next PM

-        Likud + YB held 42 seats together; now they'll be down to 31. And they've already said they are not going to stay a unified faction.
-        It was an unhappy merger.
-        Keep in mind the Likud Party does not reflect not Bibi (he's more centrist, the party "members" less so)
Centrist party Yesh Atid, new player, emerges.

PM and Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett want “broadest coalition possible.”

Centrist electorate didn't disappear – as Amotz Asa El says, it simply found new home(s)

Israelis are asking for a moderate governing coalition in voting for Yesh Atid and Labor lite

There has been no political re-alignment. No Right-Left shift. The blocs are technically tied.

Remember "right" and "left" don't mean the same things in Israel as in the US.  Shas is "right" theologically, "left" economically and, basically, dovish on security.

We the electorate chose from a losuy menu

So here are the 8AM Jerusalem numbers (without soldiers & prisoners etc.)

NB  Israel does not have winner take all system. The only losers are those who don't cross the electoral threshold – no party has ever ruled alone --- coalition building is next stage – see "what next" below….

Likud-Beytenu 31 [Shalom and Feiglin –most prominent Likud talking heads] [People want-- though don't trust –Bibi, but they neither trust nor want his party]
Yesh Atid: 19
Labor: 15 [lost by pledging not to participate in coalition/dumb] [Labor lite—de-emphasized foreign policy/smart]
NRP /Habayit: 11 (NB captured NRP from old guard] [a return to the Old NRP influence with new NRP values]
Shas: 11 [lost to two Sephardic schismatic parties that didn't cross threshold] [Deri return a bust]
UTJ: 7
Meretz: 6 [picked up from less leftist Labor]
Livni:  6 [the Area 51 vote]
Mofaz: 2
Arabs: 12
The stats in Hebrew as of 8 AM
הליכוד - ישראל ביתנו
יש עתיד
הבית היהודי
יהדות התורה
הרשימה הערבית המאוחדת
עוצמה לישראל
עם שלם

Who is Lapid?

Telegenic celebrity; columnist; son of Tommy; Middle Class Israel; Tel Aviv Icon
“What is good for Israel is not in the possession of the right, and nor is it in the possession of the left. It lies in the possibility of creating here a real and decent center.”



--pragmatic on security

--quintessential middle class

--Yair Lapid called on senior members of the political establishment to do everything in their power to form a government that is as broad as possible in order to face the challenges before Israel.

-- Said Israel was facing an economic crisis that threatened to shatter the middle class, mounting international criticism, and security threats.

--Acknowledged the weight of the responsibility he was now shouldering, and recalled the similar situation faced by his father, Yosef Lapid when the latter was leader of the Shinui party

Who is Shelli Yachimovich? (Labor)

-- Convinced that the election results amount to a resounding vote of no-confidence in Binyamin Netanyahu,

-- Labor would serve as a fighting opposition and would work to topple the government soon   

What did Bennett say last night? 

-- his party had returned to the center of the political map,
-- Israel had “returned to itself.”
-- new home for those in search of a proud, non-servile Zionism

Is there a consensus on FP?
All major Zionist parties – Likud, Yesh Atid & Labor skeptical of the Palestinian leadership’s willingness to negotiate

What Bibi Got Wrong
Tone:  on FP
Columnist Ari Shavit, a for the hard-Left newspaper Haaretz: “This was a lesson in how not to run a campaign.”
Better to ask what he got right—not much.

The Real agenda…
--domestic:  economy; Haredim; oligarchic capitalism
-- $10 billion budget deficit
--Iranian nuclear program
--upheaval in Arab world security threat to Israel
-- unknown unknowns (revolution in Jordan); war with Egypt; reassessment with US and Europe etc etc

Turnout was nearly 67 percent, higher than the 65 percent in 2009

What next?
Build a coalition…
Likud + Yesh Atid == obvious
>>> next pieces of the block far more problematic
+add NRP
+add Labor?  -- ideal for pragmatist/though unlikely
+add Haredim – recipe for paralysis
+NB Haredim and settlers have differences
oi vey

Wildcard (science fiction)

Peres asks Lapid to form government – he turns to Labor, Likud (Likud fragments) Kadima and Livni – highly unlikely scenario -- could pull together 48 seats plus 15 Likud moderates led by Bib --

How'd the polls do?
aggregate of early polls gave Likud /Lieberman 42-- closing polls 34
Labor 20:17
NRP12: 13
truth is major polls weren't that far off (even predicted Kadima with 2; Meretz with 6; livni with 7

Media Reaction
Yediot Aharonot:
* A Blow for Netanyahu, A Surge for Lapid
* The Father of the Failure
* A Vote of No-Confidence
* The Right Wing Weakens; A Blow for Netanyahu; the Big Winner Is Yair Lapid
* Protest Vote
* Forget About A “Blocking Majority”
* Spectacular Achievement for Yair Lapid; Disenchantment in Likud
* Netanyahu Has a Future
* Why Netanyahu Failed
Makor Rishon
* 2013 Elections: Setback for Likud Beiteinu; Major Accomplishment for Lapid
* The message: Social Agenda
* Netanyahu Lost Because of Fear
Israel Hayom
* Surprise for Lapid. Disappointment for Netanyahu
* Possibility for Stability
* The Lessons of the Elections

Stay tuned.

In Israel elections aren't over the morning after the election but the morning after a coalition deal is signed between the various parties….

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