Posts Tagged ‘Israel’

Hate To Say `I Told You So’: Electoral Reform In Israel

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009

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In response to a column I wrote two weeks ago (”Electoral Reform In Israel: Needed, But Not Likely,” Feb. 20), I received several calls and notes from Israeli activists advocating for Americanizing the system who said I was too pessimistic. They insisted that change was really in the air this time after the painfully inconclusive Israeli elections, noting that more and more political leaders recognized that the old system was simply dysfunctional and had to be improved.

But I read a story in the Jerusalem Post this morning (”Electoral Reforms Die On Coalition Altar“) that confirms my suspicions that those with the power to bring reform are too shortsighted to do so, putting personal ambitions over national interests, as usual.

Staff writer Gil Hoffman cites MK Gideon Sa’ar, who is heading the Likud coalition negotiating team, in reporting that “proposals to start electing half the Knesset in direct regional elections will have to wait until after the next general election” because two key parties, Shas (a religious party) and Israeli Beiteinu (headed by Avigdor Lieberman), are opposed.

“It cannot be done in a narrow coalition against the will of those parties,” Sa’ar said, “unless we want to have another election in two months.”

No surprise here, but unless and until Israeli political figures change their minds about changing the system, elections will continue being held about every two years, if not every two months.

One positive sign: Sa’ar said he would advocate some reforms, like raising the bar to make it more difficult to oust a prime minister in a Knesset no-confidence vote. But I don’t have much confidence in that happening anytime soon, either.

As Prof. Uriel Reichman, the president of IDC Herzliya and a leading voice for reform, explained to me about MKs reluctant to, in effect, vote themselves out of office, “turkeys don’t tend to celebrate Thanksgiving.”

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The Exasperating Logic Of `Terrorism’

Thursday, February 26th, 2009

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Reading Michael Slackman’s Memo From Cairo in the New York Times today was an exercise in futility and despair for anyone who believes that morality and humanity should be a factor in international relations. (”Disentangling Layers of a Loaded Term in Search of a Thread of Peace,” Feb. 26)

The Times correspondent tackles the issue of what terrorism means to the Arab world, and finds that it is 180 degrees apart from those of us in the pro-Israel community.

To Egyptians, and other Arabs, the recent war in Gaza was Exhibit A in the case against Israel, with the Jewish State guilty of terrorism in its military conduct, which resulted in the deaths of civilians. And Hamas, and Hezbollah in Lebanon, are perceived as groups “trying to liberate their countries,” according to a former Egyptian ambassador to Britain.

Slackman mentions that Israelis argue that it is not their army’s intent to harm civilians. But he does not extend the point to say that while Israel pursues militants who place themselves among civilians, the goal of groups like Hamas is to kill any and all Israelis - and according to their truly frightening charter, to destroy all Jews, everywhere.

Hamas militants who hide behind their own civilians to kill Israel civilians are deemed heroes; Israeli soldiers who jeopardize their own lives to avoid killing Palestinian civilians are considered monsters.

The timely element of the Slackman piece is that the new Obama administration is hoping to improve its relations in the Arab world, but he concludes that as long as Washington backs Israel, it’s hopeless. He does not explore the counterview that as long as the Arab world endorses the notion that killing Jewish women and children is a noble form of liberation, peace is a fantasy. What’s more, there is no mention that most Arabs believe Israel was responsible for 9/11, or that if Israel pulled out of Gaza in 2005, what is left to liberate?

And most missing of all is the belief among so many Arabs that there simply is no place for a Jewish state in the region. Period.

Slackman quotes Arabs saying that the American application of terrorism is hypocrisy, and that Americans think all Muslims are terrorists. That is not the case, but it is true that the majority of terror attacks around the world in recent years, including 9/11, were perpetrated by Muslims, most of them Arabs. Unless you insist that 9/11 was not an act of terror, or that Israel was behind it, and then, indeed, there is little room for negotiation, or hope.

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Israel Stopped Hamas…Sort Of

Thursday, January 22nd, 2009

Gary Rosenblatt, editor and publisher

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The two top headlines on The Jerusalem Post Web site this evening neatly summed up the dilemma of Israel’s 22-day military campaign in Gaza.

The first read: “Barak Declares Victory as IDF Completes Gaza Withdrawal,” noting that Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Hamas was dealt a serious blow and “will be quiet now for a long time.”

The next headline read: “Gaza Smuggling Routes Operational Again.”

Welcome to the mysteries of the Middle East.

It’s difficult to judge now whether or not the Israeli effort was a success, since so much depends on what happens next.

On the one hand, Israel flexed its military muscles - and this deterrence factor cannot be overstated in terms of what it means in the Mideast, where power demands respect. The carefully planned incursion was overwhelmingly seen as justified and necessary by Israelis after their southern region endured thousands of rocket attacks over the last seven years. Something had to be done.

On the other hand, the people of Gaza continue to defy Western logic, seeming to side with the terror group that purposefully endangers and exploits its civilian population. And the rest of the world portrays Israel as disproportionately aggressive.
Every Jew is a critic so now we are hearing: Should it have been quicker? Less invasive in terms of the loss of human life in Gaza? Or should it have gone on until Hamas was more definitively routed?

Those remain open questions, as does the value of putting Egypt in such a pivotal political position now in controlling the tunnels, despite Cairo’s poor record in preventing weapon-smuggling through the Gaza tunnels until now.

Like so much of Mideast politics, future events will determine whether actions taken now were indeed wise and helpful. Considering that Israel helped create Hamas and Hezbollah as alternatives to Yasir Arafat and the PLO - the same PLO that now sides with Israel in regards to Hamas - it’s not at all certain that the law of unintended consequences has been suspended.

Anatomy Of A Rally

Wednesday, January 7th, 2009

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One of the fascinating and never-resolved issues in our community is when and how to hold a pro-Israel rally, and this week’s debate among leaders in New York was a case in point.

With pro-Palestinian holding large demonstrations here and in other parts of the country over the last week, pressure built on Jewish groups to respond in kind. Some leaders urged a mass rally to show support for Israel in its fight with Hamas, while others worried that a small turnout on a winter’s day might signal lack of concern on the part of American Jewry. Still others noted that with Congress and other public officials squarely on Israel’s side, rallies might not be the best use of time or resources.

While the discussion went on in some circles, Rabbi Avi Weiss, who among other roles is head of AMCHA (Coalition for Jewish Concerns), called from Israel last Saturday night to urge Hillary Markowitz, a veteran activist here, to organize a rally for the next day.

She said that was impossible, but managed to plan one for Tuesday afternoon in midtown Manhattan, across the street from the Israeli Consulate.

Markowitz, a nurse, enlisted Meredith Weiss, also a volunteer, and other pro-Israel activists, with “zero budget,” according to Glenn Richter, who has been organizing such rallies since the 1960s campaign to free Soviet Jewry.

On Tuesday afternoon, an impressive crowd of several thousand people turned out on little notice for a the rally, sponsored by AMCHA, Fuel For Truth, the National Council of Young Israel and about 20 other organizations.

Despite the cold temperatures, the spirited crowd responded warmly to a number of speakers who stressed that their presence was as Americans opposed to terror as well as Zionists supporting Israel’s right to defend itself.

Several young people who were themselves wounded in Hamas terror attacks or lost friends or relatives in attacks addressed the rally, as did Fuel For Truth executive director Joe Richards, who asserted: “Free Palestine…from terror, and from Hamas.”

National and local media were on the scene, and the event was featured on radio and television news broadcasts that day and evening.

“This is the way it should be done,” an Israeli official told me during the event. “There’s something to be said for spontaneity, for responding” while others are deliberating as to whether, when and where to speak out. If nothing else, he said, it allows activists to give vent to their emotions in a positive way.

Later, Markowitz expressed deep gratitude for those who attended, including busloads of students from schools in Philadelphia and New Jersey. But she was upset that establishment Jewish groups declined to participate, charging that they refused to send out e-mails to constituents and even encouraged people not to attend, instead urging them to wait for the community-wide rally, planned for Sunday morning, Jan. 11, outside the Consulate.

“I can understand that they didn’t want to co-sponsor, even though we were paying for it,” Markowitz said, “but don’t undermine our rally. It’s very upsetting to me that we are not unified.”

Markowitz said she spoke with Michael Miller, executive vice president and CEO of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, and that he wished her well but said his group plans and coordinates rallies, rather than joins one organized by others.

Miller confirmed that remark, but strongly denied that JCRC would tell people not to attend the rally. He explained that his group is “supportive of every rally for Israel,” but “generally speaking,” does not circulate information for other groups. “In essence we would be endorsing an event over which he have no control,” he said.

In the past, speakers from marginal pro-Israel groups have addressed community-wide rallies and made statements that have caused discomfort and embarrassment to politicians and Jewish leaders, one source noted.

In the meantime, the Conference of Presidents, UJA-Federation of New York and the JCRC are gearing up for a large-scale rally on Sunday. And one can be sure that many of the folks who braved the cold on Tuesday will be there again, caring less about who the sponsors are than the cause itself: showing support for Israel in a time of crisis.

The Widening Israel-Diaspora Gap

Sunday, January 4th, 2009

Gary Rosenblatt, editor and publisher

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Few can watch the footage of Palestinian suffering in Gaza these days without feeling great sadness and empathy. But while some of us blame the cynicism and brutality of Hamas for purposely putting civilians in harm’s way as part of its strategy, appealing to the world to stop Israel in its tracks, others blame Israel without considering the context – or worse yet, are convinced that Israel is the aggressor here, not an independent state fighting terrorist thugs whose sole purpose is to destroy it, and Jews everywhere.

I am well aware and proud of so many friends and neighbors who not only follow the news from Israel closely now, during this time of crisis, but as a regular part of their day, every day of every year. These are the people who participate in grassroots efforts on behalf of the IDF soldiers now (from taking part in special prayer sessions at synagogues to sending them pizza). They are the folks who visit Israel regularly, give generously to charities in and on behalf of the Jewish State, and are the backbone of rallies on behalf of kidnapped soldiers or military campaigns.

On the other extreme are a vocal but relatively small portion of the community who oppose Israel’s campaign in Gaza, more concerned about unintended casualties among the Palestinian population than security for the citizens of Israel’s south who have been have been the target of thousands of rockets from Gaza over the last few years.

(And note to journalists and editors in the general press who often use the gentle word “lobbed” to describe those rockets coming out of Gaza: a “lobbed” rocket kills, just as ones that are “fired.”)

I suspect that the majority of American Jews are somewhere in the middle, supportive of Israel’s effort to protect its citizens, but uncomfortable with the IDF campaign, and the painful images they see of the results of the bombings. “Can’t you find another way?” they might be asking of Israel, as if the government and people had not endured years of attacks and provocation before striking back?

“We’d love to, but this is the Mideast, not the Midwest,” would come the reply.

The reality, of course, is that those of us who have been to Israel, seen its borders, met its people, and understood its challenges, are the most compassionate in times like this. My worry is that with an ongoing economic contraction at home, and fewer projects and programs to bring Israeli and American Jews closer together, the gap between us will only widen, and that level of compassion will decline.

I hope I’m wrong.

Taking Anti-Semitism For Granted

Sunday, September 28th, 2008

Gary Rosenblatt, Editor and Publisher

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Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has come and gone, and while our community focused primarily on the Stop Iran rally outside the UN last week ­ and was caught up in a controversy over which, if any politicians to invite — it seems we have almost taken for granted how the Iranian president is treated with respect rather than disdain inside the halls of the UN, despite his anti-Semitic rantings.

He was greeted warmly by many at his General Assembly talk, and no one seemed to blink, much less object, when he railed against “the Zionist murderers” who he described as a ragtag collection of people from different parts of the world who detained, displaced and killed “the true owners of that land.”

And in interviews, he continued to assert that the Holocaust is a myth, a Zionist plot to gain sympathy for the post-war Jews.

I know I sound naïve if I express even mild surprise that such murderous, racist talk goes unchallenged at the United Nations, with its long history of and obsession with blaming Israel for much of the world’s problems.

But the UN did pass a resolution less than two years ago condemning Holocaust denial and asserting that such behavior was “tantamount to approval of genocide in all its forms.”

Each year Ahmadinejad succeeds in flaunting his hateful views in front of this world body, perhaps testing the waters for international reaction to the future fulfillment of his oft-repeated pledge to wipe Israel off the map.

Based on the lack of outrage this year, as in the past, we can only assume the Iranian leader has returned home convinced that there is insufficient international opposition to keep him and his country from completing its task of building a nuclear bomb.

If and when that happens ­ a dark day, indeed, not only for Israel but for America and the free world ­ we can’t say we weren’t warned.