Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Sh'vuot and Israel, J Street, Peace Now & JVP

This year, the Jewish Holiday called, Sh'vuot (or, alternatively, 'Shavuos'), begins at sundown Tuesday, May 30th. In Israel, we celebrate Sh'vuot for just one day--Wednesday, May 31st. Outside Israel, Jews celebrate 'Shavuos' for two days--Wednesday, May 31st and Thursday, June 1st. 

Some Jews believe Sh'vuot celebrates only that moment in history when G-d gave to the Jews 'The Ten Commandments'. True, we do read the 'Ten Commandments' on this Holiday. But the Holiday itself celebrates more than that.

This Holiday is about the day--this very day (on the Hebrew calendar)--when, some 3,320+ years ago, HaShem gave the entire Torah to us. It's a day we recall the commitment the Jewish people made to the Torah at Mount Sinai, where the 'Ten Commandments' were given. It's a day we commemorate how we--as Jews--have maintained that commitment across thousands of years. It's a day Jews around the world stay up the entire night of Sh'vuot (this year, Tuesday night, May 30-31). Jews stay up all night to study the Torah to demonstrate that that original Sinaitic commitment burns brightly still. 

But this Holiday is about more than that. It's also about 'First Fruits'. It's the Holiday of the 'Time of the giving of the First Fruits' (Bikurim, in Hebrew), when farmers across Israel brought to the Holy Temple samples of product each had grown of the 'seven species' mentioned in the Torah as a source for praise for the Land of Israel (see Talmud Tractate Sotah, 32a, note 9, Schottenstein Day Yomi edition, Talmud Bavli, Mesorah publications, 2010). The seven species are: wheat, barley, grapes, dates, pomegranates, olives and figs. 

When the Temple stood in Jerusalem, Jewish farmers traveled to Jerusalem--perhaps in elaborate processions (the Rambam (app 1135-1204) describes these processions in his Mishneh Torah). Once in Jerusalem, the farmers ascended to the Temple Mount--which stands today in Jerusalem. 

On the Temple Mount, each farmer participated in a joyous ceremony, during which he presented his gifts to one of several Kohainim serving that day.  As part of what was probably a very public and joyous occasion, each farmer recited from a passage in the Torah (D'varim 26:3- 10). 

The words each farmer recited connect Sh'vuot to the Land of Israel, Peace Now, J Street, Jewish Voice for Peace--and other anti-Israel Jewish organizations like them. These words from our ancient Torah remind us that these organizations are wrong.

We have no Holy Temple today (but pray for its return). We do not get to see this ceremony (but pray for its return,too). 

Nevertheless, we know what those ancient farmers said on this occasion. Their recitation links this Holiday, Sh'vuot, to the Land of Israel--and to G-d. Despite what these Jewish anti-Israel organizations want, it's a link that won't go away. 

Those farmers recited: 

"I declare today to HaShem..that I have come to the Land that HaShem swore to our forefathers to give us" (ArtScroll translation, August 2003).

In today's world, such a declaration seems startling: how  many Jews today believe that HaShem, the G-d of Israel, swore to our forefathers to give us the Land of Israel? How many Jews who support J Street, Jewish Voices for Peace and Peace Now believe this declaration? 

All of these organizations say they are pro-Israel. But they reject the basic premise that G-d gave this Land to the Jewish people. How can they be pro-Israel?

They can't be pro-Israel. They reject the link between G-d, the Land and the Jewish people. They reject the Land. They refuse to commit to the Land.

Most don't believe in G-d. Most don't believe there's a connection between G-d and the Land. They've never heard of these ancient farmers, who say: 

"...[HaShem] brought us to this place, and he gave us this Land, a Land flowing with milk and honey"  (D'varim, 26:3-10).

This simple Sh'vuot declaration reminds us of a simple truth about Israel. This Land is connected to both G-d and the Jewish people. These three are not separable. 

For Israel to be strong, Jews must understand the link between G-d, Land and the Jewish people. For these organizations, such a link doesn't exist.  

In my opinion, G-d gave us this Land. He's connected to this Land. He wants us to be here, too.

How do we know our G-d wants us here? Read the Torah. In our Torah, we are told more than 30 times we--the Jewish people--are to dwell/settle/occupy this Land. 

It doesn't get any simpler than that. It certainly doesn't get any clearer than that.

The words of the 'First Fruits' Sh'vuot ceremony remind us of that fact. These words remind us that we are in Israel because out G-d gave it to us as an inheritance.

We should remember that the next time we read how Peace Now, J Street, Jewish Voice for Peace--and all other like-minded organizations--turn against the Land of Israel. We should remember that we've got G-d's written Word in the Torah about Israel, some 3,000 years of archaeology all around us in Israel--and the words of the Biblical 'First Fruit' ceremony to prove it. 

Israel is Jewish. It's our Land. We are not going to allow organizations like J Street, Peace Now or Jewish Voice for Peace to tell us in what direction we must go. Quite the contrary: we should tell them 'where to go'. 

Chag Someach; that is, Happy Holiday.


Sunday, May 28, 2017

Sgt Azariya should not be judged guilty of manslaughter

(A different version of this essay was published May 10, 2017. This new version revises and updates the conclusion of that original essay)

An IDF Military court meets on May 28, 2017 (Shlomo Piotrokovsky, “Last session is Azariya appeal case”, arutzsheva. May 28, 2017). It’s sitting for what looks like the end of a case involving an Israeli soldier.

Here’s what that case is about:

On March 24, 2016, two Arab terrorists attacked Israel Defense Force (IDF) soldiers at a checkpoint in Hevron, Israel. That attack led to a manslaughter conviction—against an IDF soldier.

During the approximately 160 days between mid-October 2015 and this March 2016 incident, Arabs in Israel committed more than 210 attacks against Israeli soldiers and civilians—more than one attack a day, every day. Israel was under siege.

This particular Hevron attack wasn’t much different from other attacks. Two Arabs approached soldiers at the checkpoint, drew knives and attacked. One was shot dead immediately. The other was shot and, wounded, fell to the ground. Perhaps 3, 5 or 10 minutes later (depending on whom you ask), the wounded Arab was still on the ground. He was surrounded by IDF soldiers. The soldiers stood quietly, waiting.  While they waited, IDF Sgt Elor Azariya walked up to the wounded Arab and shot him once in the head, killing him.

The entire scene was filmed by a volunteer for a Jewish anti-Israel NGO, B’Tselem. 

The video went viral. The world screamed, “murderer!”
Sgt Azariya was arrested.

Initially, prosecutors wanted a murder charge against Azariya. But they changed their minds. Given how often soldiers were being attacked at that time by Arabs, most Israelis didn’t see Azariya as a murderer. They saw him as a hero (Dan Williams, “Just 5 percent of Israelis say soldier who shot helpless Palestinian committed murder”, forward, April 6, 2016).

Azariya was charged with manslaughter.

Almost 10 months later, in January, 2017, he was found guilty of manslaughter. He was sentenced to 18  months imprisonment. 

Earlier this month, new arguments were presented to an Appeals court. Azariya’s lawyers want his conviction reversed. The prosecution wants to see Azariya spend more time in prison. The Appeals Court creeps cautiously closer to a decision.

On May 10, 2017, Brig. General Sharon Afek, the Chief Military Prosecutor (equal to a civilian Attorney General) gave an interview in which he restated the case against Azariya (Judah Ari Gross, “Israel’s military advocate general defends trial of Hebron shooter”, timesofisrael). He said the major component of this case is, the soldier Azariya “shot the neutralized terrorist without operational justification” (ibid).

Like many in Israel, I find this case problematic. I don’t believe the State’s main conclusion—unjustifiable killing—is correct. The key to my concern is something I believe the trial didn’t properly explore: the word, ‘neutralized’.

The IDF Code of Ethics of is clear. A soldier cannot kill someone who no longer endangers someone’s life (Asa Kasher, “I wrote the IDF Code of Ethics. Here’s my take on Hebron shooting”, forward, April 6, 2017). 

Everyone agrees. If you kill someone who is no longer a danger, you commit murder. The IDF has asserted that the assailant in this case was no longer a danger. He’d been ‘neutralized’. This is why Kasher (ibid) believes Azariya was guilty.

But was the Arab indeed ‘neutralized’, as the IDF contends? Was that terrorist truly ‘no longer a danger’?

The commonplace military definition of ‘neutralize’ means to render something or someone incapable of further action. That definition appears to be understood in the code of International War Ethics published by the International Red Cross (ICRC), under the title, Customary IHL (International Humanitarian Law). Under the headings, ICRC-Customary IHL—Practice—Israel—Practice relating to Rule 8-Section A-VI (other national practices), ‘neutralized’ appears in a list of military options in combat, all of which clearly suggest a state of ‘incapacity to continue’.

To neutralize someone is to render him/her incapable of further action. The key phrase here is, ‘incapable of’.

Look at the terrorist of the Azariya case. He was on the ground. He was wounded. But he was not dead. Was he capable of moving?

Consider the scene. The terrorist was observed by witnesses to be wearing a larger-than-normal jacket, one capable of hiding a suicide bomb. Yet, no IDF bomb-personnel had cleared him to be ‘bomb-free’.

You’re a soldier at the scene. The man on the ground in front of you could be wearing a bomb. He’s alive. You could die in an instant. Your pulse is over 200. The terrorist’s hands are free enough to detonate a hidden device. Are you thinking he’s ‘incapable of further action’? (“There was justification to open fire”, arutzsheva, August 22, 2016).

The fact that Azariya supposedly said, at the time of the incident, ‘he deserves to die’ is irrelevant (the Prosecution made a big deal about these words). What’s relevant is, the condition of the assailant—and the risk he poses. If witnesses feared the assailant was wearing a bomb--and was still capable of moving his fingers, he was capable of ‘further action’ (“Platoon commander: I also feared terrorist had a bomb”, arutzsheva, August 29, 2016).

At trial, IDF judges rejected these fears. They dismissed all suggestion that the assailant might indeed have been ‘capable of further action’. They rejected evidence that could render the verdict of manslaughter inappropriate.

 The Army investigated (and convicted) Sgt Azariya when it should have scrutinized the definition of ‘neutralized’. The judges didn’t properly investigate the question, ‘was the assailant truly ‘incapable’ of further action. They relied instead on opinion, not analysis, to answer that question.

That failure to scrutinize ‘neutralize’--in theory and in the field—undermines the validity of the verdict.  

The Army’s original judgment against Sgt Azaryia was flawed. There is too much reasonable doubt here. Sgt Azariya cannot be judged guilty of manslaughter. 

Friday, May 26, 2017

Cartoon Friday: Trump the 'deal-maker'

US President Donald Trump has come to Israel--and has gone. In his wake, he leaves (at least) two questions. 

First, will he follow up on his calls to Abbas to stop incitement, stop paying terrorists, and end the culture of hate so prevalent throughout the Palestinian Authority (PA)? 

This question puts Abbas stage-center. How he responds to this call will tell us if peace is possible.

Second, will Trump actually help Israel? 

This second question is most important. If Trump isn't balanced in his approach, he could become just another US President who attempts (yet again) to achieve 'peace' by (1) giving Abbas a free hand against Israel in order (2) to concentrate on pressuring Israel to give away ancient Jewish homeland to those who want to take over Israel any way they can.

We don't know the answers to these questions. it's simply too early. 

But Israel does know this. Trump sees himself as a 'deal-maker'. Trump thinks he knows how to 'make a deal' in the Middle East. He's already started.

But his first steps aren't balanced. Although he has publicly appealed to Abbas to change, we see little evidence he has been tougher in private.

In Israel, however, he's been very tough in private. He wants Israel to give land away before negotiations for peace begin (jewishpress); he asks Israel to give unilateral economic aid to the PA before the PA has offered anything in exchange (arutzsheva); and he's motivated Israel (directly or indirectly) to consider creating a $50 million project for improvements to Arab East Jerusalem neighborhoods (timesofisrael), before anyone in those neighborhoods have offered anything in exchange.  

In the meantime, there's been no news from Abbas that he's felt any pressure from Trump. The only post-Trump-visit report coming from Ramallah (the Abbas seat of power) is a request from Abbas that the US pressure Israel over PA terrorist prisoners in Israeli prisons who have gone on a hunger strike. 

That's not a sign of Trump pressuring Abbas for peace. It's an Abbas request for the US to increase its pressure on Israel. 

This isn't good news for Israel. It's the kind of news we once heard from the Obama Administration, not from Trump.  But it's precisely what we're getting from Trump.

A recent Haaretz political cartoon presents one view of what Trump's 'peace' plans might do here. The point of the cartoon may not happen. However, given the direction Trump's work here has taken to date, this cartoon may be at least half-correct. Take a look:

Trump's 'art of the deal' backfires: By attempting to appease Netanyahu as well as Abbas, the U.S. president angers both leaders
Amosr Biderman, haaretz, May 20, 2017.

"Trump's 'art of the deal' backfires: By attempting to appease Netanyahu as well as Abbas, the U.S. president angers both leaders" 

It hasn't been proven as yet that this cartoon assessment will be accurate. If Trump offends Abbas, it might be. But that remains a big question.

Of course, if Trump doesn't pressure Abbas about terror, incitement and the PA's 'culture of hate-and-war', then this cartoon will only be half-right. Israel will suffer. 

US President Trump may be the 'deal-maker' he apparently thinks he is. But his 'deal', may turn into the proverbial 'cure' that kills the patient--and bring even more terrorism and war to Israel.

Stay tuned.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

A proposal: how Bibi should speak to Trump and Abbas

We know how US Presidents behave when they come to the Middle East. They 'talk nice' in public. They talk tough in private.

We saw this double-behavior in the visit by US President Donald Trump just ended. In public, he gave optimistic, even for some, uplifting speeches. But in private, he pressured both Abbas and Netanyahu to start talking peace, now (Nitzan Kedar, "Tillerson: Trump placed heavy pressure during Israel visit", arutzsheva, May 24, 2017).

US Presidents come to Israel and do what in America used to be called 'jaw-boning'. This word, 'jaw-boning' has, if I recall correctly, two primary meanings. First,  it means, simply, using speech in both public and private discourse to persuade another. But it also means, 'using some kind of verbal or personal force'. A favorite synonym is, 'arm-twisting'.

Trump was no different from any other visiting President. He 'jawboned' both Netanyahu and Abbas.

In fact, Trump may have twisted Netanyahu's arm more than anyone realizes (David Israel, "It's starting: Trump demands Israel transfer land to Arabs BEFORE deal", jewishpress, may 25, 2017). If this report is true, Netanyahu faces a kind of pressure he might not have expected from Trump. How should our Prime Minister respond?

Here is a modest proposal. It suggests how our Netanyahu should speak to both Trump and Abbas. 

Of course, Mr Netanyahu doesn't need any advice from anyone. In Israel, it's probably fair to say there is no one better equipped to respond to Trump and Abbas than Benjamin Netanyahu. He has, arguably, more experience than anyone here dealing with such men. Nevertheless, here's my proposal. 

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin ('Bibi) Netanyahu should remind Trump that Abbas and all his predecessors never won a war against Israel. They've lost every war, every time. 

Therefore, Abbas is a supplicant. He is not a victor who has earned the right to set the agenda for negotiations. He does not get to make demands; neither does anyone else. 

The victor in the Arab-Israel war is Israel--and this victor will be the one to set the agenda. Abbas is the loser. He should remember that. So should the US.

For peace, it will not be for Israel to make the first move. It will be Abbas, the loser, to do--to prove he wants peace more than war.

Netanyahu should insist that, if Abbas wants to talk to Netanyahu about peace, he must first demonstrate peace is important. Netanyahu should repeat what Trump has already said: for there to be peace, Abbas must first stop incitement against Israel. He must delete all anti-Israel content from PA and Hamas school curricula. All anti-Israel content of after-school programs must be dropped as well

Netanyahu should insist that Abbas stop honoring those who kill and attempt to kill Jews--as Trump said should happen. Abbas must stop naming streets, schools, sports tournaments and community buildings after such individuals. This action must include all who are themselves killed in the attempt to kill Jews even if, in those attacks, the only one killed is the attacker.

Abbas must stop handing out lifetime monthly incomes for murdering Jews. This is what Trump said. Netanyahu should repeat it endlessly.

Netanyahu should remind Trump that Abbas comes to the negotiation table with a weak position. He is a supplicant. He must speak of what he seeks as one who petitions, not as one who demands.

Abbas says he's ready for peace. That's great. Everyone wants to hear that. But for Israel, Netanyahu should say, Abbas has to prove, with actions, that's what he wants.  

Until Abbas offers that proof, Netanyahu should tell Trump, Abbas will get nothing. For peace, it must be Abbas to make to first move, not Israel.

Netanyahu should address these remarks to Trump. But of course, he's free to speak this way--politely--to Abbas as well.


Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Yom Yerushalaiyim, 2017

On the 28th day of the Hebrew month of Iyyar in the year 1967, Jerusalem fell in combat (in the six-day war) to the Jews of Israel. This year, 2017, the 28th day of Iyyar falls on May 24th. That's why the State of Israel has declared Wednesday, May 24, 2017 as Yom Yerushalaiyim, the 'Day of Jerusalem'. 

It's a day of national rejoicing. It's a moment to celebrate the fact that Jerusalem has once again become 'Jewish'. 

2017, however, is different. It's special. It's the 50th anniversary of Jerusalem's reunification.  

Perhaps you've noticed that Jerusalem has been in the news. It's become the epicenter of a war against the Jews.  

The Palestinian Authority wants this city. Already, it's gotten the UN to declare that Jerusalem's Temple Mount--the holiest site in Judaism in the world--is to be Islamic, not Jewish. It's gotten the the UN also to declare that the Jewish Israel has no sovereign rights to Jerusalem at all.

The PA has gotten the UN, in other words, to tighten an Islamic noose around the Jewish Jerusalem. It's close to choking off all Jewish connection to Jerusalem, at least on paper.

Most Jews forget that Jerusalem is a holy city. It's the closest place the world has to a true 'Heavenly City'.  

Jerusalem is so holy, nations throughout history have been powerfully attracted to it, to make it their own: according to one source, Jerusalem has been destroyed at least twice, besieged 23 times, attacked an additional 52 times and captured and recaptured 44 times (Mandy Katz, "Do we divide the holiest city?", momentmag, March/April, 2008). 


Our Jewish Tanach explains why. Jerusalem is the "city of G-d" (Tehillim, 87: 3). Nations throughout human history have recognized this. The PA recognizes it, too.

Jerusalem is the chosen city. It is the only city chosen specifically by G-d for His Dwelling place (see Divrei HaYamim, 6:5-10). 

Jerusalem is where the Jewish King Solomon built the 'Temple of HaShem' (Divrei HaYamim 2. 3:5)--the Temple of G-d. Today, its footprint still sits atop the Temple Mount.

Jerusalem became the holiest of cities some 3,000+ years ago. That original holiness was a Jewish holiness brought to Jerusalem through the Word of G-d (ibid). 

Now, the PA wants Jerusalem. Its leader, Mahmoud Abbas, stands up for Jerusalem. He declares he will defend it ("Abbas: Palestinians are carrying out Ribat [holy war] and defending Jerusalem and the holy sites", palwatch, June 14-17, 2016). 

Abbas makes his goal very clear: he wants Jerusalem. What do we want? 

Today is Yom Yerushalayim. Stand up for Jerusalem.


Tuesday, May 23, 2017

How America's news leaders report Trump in Israel

There are several noteworthy—even historic—elements to US President Donald Trump’s trip to Israel. Here are some of the ‘firsts’ of this trip:

-First time a US president chose the Middle East for his first overseas trip;

-First visit ever to the Western Wall (the Kotel) by a sitting US President;

-First visit to Bethlehem for official US-Palestinian Authority talks by a newly-elected US president;

-First time in history (perhaps) an airliner has flow from Saudi Arabia to Israel (Air Force One with Trump aboard);

-First major Middle East foreign policy speeches by President Trump.

In Israel, Trump’s visit has been big news. Our media has watched his every word. Here’s a list of how many times Israel’s English-language outlets ran a Trump-Israel story as his second and final day here began. This survey was completed on the morning of May 23, 2017:

Jerusalem Post—7 of its top 10 stories were about Trump in Israel; an 8th story was about how Mrs Trump (Melania) seemed to slap away Trump’s hand as they walked together along a red carpet during the official ‘airport welcome’ ceremony yesterday;

Haaretz—7 of its top 10 stories were about Trump in Israel—plus an additional story about the Melania ‘hand-slap’;

Arutz Sheva—5 of its top 10 stories were about Trump in Israel—no Melania ‘hand-slap’ story in the top 10;

YNET news—5 of its top 10 stories were about Trump in Israel—with a 6th story about the Melania ‘hand-slap’;

Times of Israel—5 of its top 10 stories were about Trump in Israel—no Melania ‘hand-slap story’;

Israel Hayom—7 of its top 10 stories were about Trump in Israel—no ‘Melania’ story.

The American coverage of this trip was markedly different. Take a look at the US survey I took of American news the same morning, Tuesday, May 23, 2017, at the same time:

New York Times—two of its top 10 stories were about Trump in Israel;

Chicago Tribune—No Trump in Israel stories appeared in its top 10;

LA Times—only 1 of its 10 top stories was about Trump in Israel;

New York Post—1 of 10;

Wall Street Journal—1 of 10;

USA Today—nothing about Trump in Israel in its top 10 stories;

Washington Post—nothing about Trump in Israel in its top 10 stories.

Online news outlets were just as bad—or worse:

Yahoo—4 of its top ten stories were about Trump in Israel—but of those 4, one was the Melania ‘hand-slap’ story (not exactly a substantial news report) and a second was a story about an alleged Trump gaffe—again, not a substantial news report. That left only 2 authentic news reports within Yahoo’s top 10 stories the morning of May 23, 2017.

Mediate—this is a news site I visit. In my opinion, it’s a left-leaning, anti-Trump outlet. On the morning of May 23, 2017, at the same time I was checking out the other news sites above, this news site has no Trump-in-Israel news stories in its top 10 stories. In fact, it had no Trump-in-Israel stories among its top 30 stories. The first appearance of a Trump-in-Israel story was story number 34. It was about the Melanie ‘hand slap’: “'She Can't Stand Him' The View Deconstructs Melania Trump Refusing to Hold the President's Hand” (by Jon Levine, May 22, 2017).

This doesn’t mean that Trump had disappeared from the American news cycle once he left America. Quite the contrary was true. America’s news was busy even in Trump’s absence. News headlines on Tuesday morning, May 23rd focussed on Trump’s new budget proposal--and his supposed ‘scandals’. 

Of course, none of the supposed ‘scandal-news’ was new. But it was obviously more important than Trump in Israel—where, in fact, some real news was unfolding (see the ‘firsts’ above’).

While Trump made at least two major foreign policy speeches in the Middle East, America’s news outlets focussed on pursuing dirt about Trump and former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and former FBI Director James Comey. The stories seemed to push conspiracy theories that, directly or indirectly, involved Trump and Russia.

As MSNBC personality Mika Brzezinski put it, the Trump trip was a distraction (Mark Finkelstein, “Mika: we won’t be distracted by Trump trip, will focus on Russia investigations”, legalinsurrection, May 23, 2017).

Apparently, here's what’s important to America’s leading news sites: conspiracy theories about how incompetent, self-serving, duplicitous –and, therefore, scandalous—Trump is.

Trump in the Middle East? Forget it.

Of course, my survey is based solely on a single snapshot taken at one moment on one day. Other snapshots taken on other occasions could yield a different result.

Still, a question arises. Has journalism in America died?

It might have. The news certainly looks more like propaganda than news.

Where do you think that’s going to lead?

Monday, May 22, 2017

Trump in Israel: Will Abbas laugh at him, too?

Now that US President Donald Trump has arrived in Israel, he should announce the US Embassy will move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Israel’s capital. Here’s why:

The Palestinian Authority (PA) acts as if it owns Israel. It demands the US Embassy must remain in Tel Aviv. It expects everyone to comply.

At the UN, 50+ Muslim countries support the PA. They have even ‘kidnapped’ a UN body to pass what amounts to a declaration of war against Israel: Israel must abandon all claims to its ancient-modern capital city, Jerusalem (Joel Gehrke, “UN body demands Israel abandon capital in Jerusalem”, washingtonexaminer, May 2, 2017).

Israel has something called, ‘a basic law’’ (ibid). That law says, in effect, that Jerusalem is complete and united, and is the capital of Israel (ibid). But the UN’s Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has demanded that Israel essentially rescind that law so Jerusalem can be taken over by the PA (at some future-but-unnamed date) (ibid). Really?

In what was perhaps an attempt to humiliate Israel, UNESCO had the gall to pass this insulting anti-Israel resolution on Israel’s Independence Day—the day Israel celebrates its modern re-creation. On this day, in other words, UNESCO demanded Israel ‘uncreate’ its eternal capital.

Remember now, Jerusalem isn't just a city. it isn't simply a capital. Because of the religious significance of Jerusalem to Judaism itself, Jerusalem is really the heart of the Jewish people ("Jerusalem is the heart of our existence". arutzsheva, May 22, 2017). It beats at the heart of Judaism. 

The point of the joint PA-UN assault on Jerusalem is to cut out that heart. The PA-UN union wants to destroy all that is Jewish in Jerusalem so it can claim all of Jerusalem as purely Islamic--just as it claimed the Temple Mount as Islamic, not Jewish (the October 2016 UNESCO vote). 

This is the background that welcomes US president Donald Trump’s visit to Israel. He comes to Israel at a time when the existential threat to Israel is, arguably, at its greatest. The PA is happy the UN denies all Jewish connection to Judaism’s holiest site on earth, the Temple Mount in Jerusalem (the October 2016 UNESCO vote). It’s delighted the UN denies all Jewish historical connection to Jerusalem (the May 2016 UNESCO vote).

This assault on what’s most Jewish about Israel has nothing to do with Palestinian self-determination. It’s about Islamic conquest. It’s part of the drive to obliterate the Jewish Israel forever.

This is why every map published by the PA of the new ‘Palestine’ never shows that ‘Palestine’ next to Israel. It shows that ‘Palestine’ in place of Israel.

President Trump’s visit here is crucial. He can help the isolated Israel by declaring that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East- -and therefore worthy of America's protection. He can announce that Israel is a staunch and dependable ally of the US--and therefore worthy of America's friendship. 

He needs to say more. It’s well-known that Arab leaders respect power—and, most important, respect the clear willingness to use that power (Gideon Israel, “What Trump needs to say to Abbas”, frontpagemag, May 2, 2017).  Arab leaders lose all respect for one who has power but won’t use it (ibid). They see powerful countries which are hesitant to use its power as weak and capable of being manipulated (ibid). This is how Abbas saw US President Barack Obama. In his own way, Abbas laughed at Obama.

If Trump begins to act like Obama, he, too, will lose Abbas’ respect. As a consequence, Israel will suffer just as it did when Obama was president. But if Trump stands strong with Abbas, he’ll win.

So far, Abbas has lied to Trump. He’s rejected—as ‘insane’--a Trump request to stop paying salaries to Arab terrorists in Israel prisons. He’s declared he’s not ‘ready’ to sit face-to-face with Netanyahu to talk peace. In other words, so far, Abbas acts as if he can do anything he wants with Trump, just as he did with Obama.

Trump needs to show that Abbas is the supplicant in these peace talks, not the victor. Trump can do that by moving the US Embassy. But when he moves the Embassy, he needs to get tough with Abbas. He needs to say, if Abbas provokes violence over this move, the US will not support the PA in any way--period.

He’s got the US Congress behind him. All he need do is stand up to Abbas—then follow through. He needs to remind Abbas he is not the victor who gets to define the terms of a peace. He is the supplicant.

Right now, Abbas lies to Trump. He honors Jew-killers at home as he talks to Trump of peace .If Trump wants to have any influence over Abbas, he’s got to show he’s tougher than Abbas.

It’s a harsh truth. But it’s what Arab leaders respect. If Trump wants that respect—and the influence it brings--he’s got to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem. Otherwise, Abbas will, in his own way, laugh at him, too.

I suspect the Jewish Tanach suggests Trump won't go down this road. But I can't be sure. 

Stay tuned. This movie isn't over.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Trump in Israel: US, Abbas play; Israel numb

US President Donald Trump is scheduled to land in Israel sometime tonight-tomorrow. His arrival has already unleashed a storm of news about Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA). What we've been seeing here over the last five days is, in my opinion, unlike anything we've seen here for a long time--if ever.

First, most of the news coming out of Israel is about the excitement that always attends a visiting dignitary; the newest 'best plan for peace'; traffic announcements; and analyses of Trump or Trump/Netanyahu/Abbas. The only politician who appears to have spoken out strongly is the head of the Jewish Home Party, Education Minister Naftali Bennett. He wants Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to tell president Trump that the US Embassy belongs only in Jerusalem. Otherwise, Israel seems muted about Trump's arrival.

Meanwhile, there's a storm of news coming out of the US--and from Ramallah, the power-seat of the PA.

The news from the US is a chorus of not-so-good-news-for-Israel. For example, Trump supposedly will: not invite Netanyahu to go with him to visit Israel's Western Wall; tell Netanyahu he'll have to curb 'settlements'; tell Israel that the White House has made Israeli politician Naftali Bennett a 'marked man' for making 'outrageous' demands about the US Embassy; not move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Because of a series of comments Trump has made both before and after being elected President, many Israelis have come to have high expectations about him. They've believed him to be pro-Israel without reservation, a true pro-Israel supporter. Now, reports from the US make it appear that Trump has a lot of reservations--if all the US stories we've seen are in fact true. 

Nobody knows if not-so-good-for-Israel reports from the US are truth or fakery--or, if fakery, why they've been sent out. At any rate, this flood of non-supportive news from the US might be the reason Israelis have seen this headline: Yossi Verter, "The chaos before Trump: why it's convenient for Netanyahu to play dumb about Trump's plans for Israel", haaretz, May 19, 2017. It looks as if our Prime Minister is as baffled by this sudden coldness from the US as the rest of us.

Right now, the two most appropriate words to describe Israeli feelings about the upcoming Trump visit are, 'perplexed', and 'subdued'. 

This sudden 'quietness' has shown up in the polls. In January, 2017, some 79 percent of Israelis polled felt Trump was more pro-Israel than pro-Palestinian (Jack Moore, "Trump's popularity plummets among Israeli Jews ahead of visit", newsweek, May 19, 2017). Now, that number is 56 percent (ibid).

Israelis aren't just cautious. They're numb. They're perplexed: what 's Trump up to? No one knows.

The PA, however, is definitely not perplexed--or subdued. It's brimming with optimism. Abbas sees Trump bringing peace. Abbas says he's ready for that peace. He's even declared what he wants with this peace: a new airport, a seaport, a new resort at Eilat--all for Palestinian Authority use only. Oh, and he's already made it clear that when it comes to sitting down face-to-face with Israel to negotiate peace, the PA isn't quite ready just yet to do that. 

Israel's perplexity and Abbas' bouyant optimism reminds one of the Purim story. There, too, citizens reacted to current events with a sense of 'perplexity'. At one point in the Purim story, the evil Haman convinces the king to allow Haman to send out letters to all in the empire, to tell them, essentially, it's time to murder Jews. After sending out the letters, the king and Haman sit down 'convivially'--and "the city Shushan (the capital) was perplexed" (Megillat Esther, 3:15). What they had just seen unfold regarding Haman and the king seemed to make no sense.

Trump's behavior--and Abbas' behavior--seem to make no sense to us in Israel.

In the Purim story, the Divine Hand was not visible. HaShem worked behind the scenes. We only saw what He had intended--to save the Jews and punish Haman--after the fact, not before.

Some of us see a similar Divine Hand behind the scene here. If ever there was evidence of a Divine hand behind the stage--setting that stage for something historic--it's with Trump's visit. No one knows what Trump intends, everyone wonders about Abbas' bouyancy. 

Is there a more insightful way to explain the perplexity and suddenly numb caution of the Israelis--and the almost-euphoria of Abbas?

HaShem has a Plan. We, on the other hand, are perplexed. What could He be planning for us?

Stay tuned.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Friday cartoon: it's that darn Western Wall thing

Today is Friday. it's Cartoon Day here in Israel--just for you.

Some weeks just aren't good weeks for a cartoonist. Sometimes, there's simply not much in the news that lends itself to a cartoon. Other times, there's too much to 'cartoon' about.

This past week in Israel was an incredible week for cartoonists. They didn't have to pull any hair out thinking of what to draw. 

For example:

-There was a huge dust-up over a US official (here at the US Consulate in Jerusalem) announcing that he would not cooperate with Israeli officials over a planned Trump visit to the Western Wall; he said he would not cooperate with Israel because, as he put it, 'the Western Wall wasn't in Israel'. This assertion created outrage in Israel, mostly because the comment took Israelis by surprise: no one in Israel knew the Western Wall had moved. 

Part of that consternation was, in a Muslim Middle East, really now, where exactly does a Jewish religious icon belong? More significant, where would such a massive (hundred-ton+) Jewish icon go to?

Israelis didn't know. The US Consulate here didn't care. Lots of us were ticked off, to say the least.

Cartoonists in Israel could have a proverbial 'field day' with such a dust-up.

-As the week headed to  its close, more and more stories appeared about the impending Trump visit. Everyone here is certainly excited, and for many, that excitement was framed by a simple question: HOW THE H*LL AM I GOING TO GET TO WORK ON MONDAY AND TUESDAY?

I put that statement/question in caps because of how news surfers here have reacted to the list of street closings that will occur in Jerusalem on May 22 and 23, 2017. The list, for Jerusalem, is as long as your arm.

Well, maybe that's not exactly true. That list is as long as a newborn's arm--or something like that. The list includes lots of 'main' routes people take as they drive to work.

Here's a news story about the road situation. I believe the story gives the impression one can make one's way through Jerusalem if one follows the recommendations listed. Then you get to the last paragraph. Take a look. The story is from arutzsheva (some of the highlighting is mine): 

Trump visit:
List of Jerusalem roads to be blocked

US President Donald Trump to visit Israel next week; many roads in nation's capital to close.
Contact Editor
Mordechai Sones, 

Taking it in stride
Taking it in stride
צילום: Nati Shohat/Flash 90

Police today (Thursday) published a list of routes to be blocked next week in Jerusalem on the occasion of US President Donald Trump's visit to Israel.

On Monday:

At 12:00 the following streets will be blocked:

  • Derech Hevron;
  • David Remez;
  • King David;
  • Jabotinsky;
  • HaNasi;
  • HaAri;
  • Gaza;
  • Herzog;
  • Nayot;
  • Bezeq;
  • Baitch;
  • Herzl;
  • Yad Vashem.

Police recommend the following alternative routes:

  • Begin;
  • Herzl Blvd. to Begin south;
  • Haim Barlev to Agron;
  • Ben Zvi to Rabin.

Between 13:00-15:30 the following streets will be blocked:

  • Herzl;
  • Bate;
  • Bezeq;
  • Nayot;
  • Herzog;
  • Gaza;
  • HaAri;
  • HaNasi;
  • Palomar;
  • King David;
  • David Remez;
  • Derech Hevron;
  • Hativat Jerushalayim;
  • Jaffa Gate;
  • Batei Michseh;
  • Ma'aleh HaShalom.

Police recommend the following alternative routes:

  • Begin;
  • Haim Barlev until Yitzhak Kariv;
  • Derech Hevron until Miriam HaHashmonait;
  • Emek Refaim until David HaMelech;
  • To Begin from Ben Zvi and from Herzl Boulevard
  • HaNevi'im.

At 18:30 the following streets will be blocked:

  • Agron;
  • Keren HaYesod;
  • Jabotinsky;
  • Balfour;
  • Smolenskin;
  • Keren Hayesod;
  • Palomar;
  • King David.

Police recommend the following alternative routes:

  • Ramban;
  • King George until Paris;
  • Haim Barlev;
  • Ben Zvi;
  • Nevi'im.

On Tuesday

At 08:30 the following streets will be blocked:

  • King David;
  • David Remez;
  • Derech Hebron;
  • Manachat.

Police recommend the following alternative routes:
  • Agron;
  • Haim Barlev;
  • Jaffa Gate;
  • Derech Hevron until Miriam HaHashmonait;
  • Keren Hayesod;
  • Emek Refaim.

At 11:15 the following streets will be blocked:

  • Derech Hevron;
  • Ma'avar Rachel until Hebron Road.

The police recommend the following alternative routes:

  • Haim Barlev;
  • Begin;
  • Harel route;
  • Derech Betlehem;
  • Emek Refaim;
  • Keren Hayesod;
  • Ramban.

On Monday and Tuesday

Between 8:30-12:00 the following streets will be blocked:
  • Gihon;
  • Tzruya;
  • Ein Rogel towards Derech Hevron;
  • Derech Betlehem from the Paz station northward;
  • Train station towards the north.

As a result, from Derech Betlehem, traffic will be diverted via Carmia and Lloyd George to Emek Refaim. Residents of Abu Tur will be directed to Naomi Street and from there they will head south to Derech Hevron, northward through Givat Hanania to Malach b'Lavan and from there to Cabiya northward.

Smaller local streets in these areas themselves may be open, but access may be impossible... [emphasis  mine].

This news story certainly looks good to me. It's got lots of detailed information for a driver. But I'd also say the key word in this story is 'impossible'.

Can't you see a cartoon about that?

-The very fact of Trump's visit meant a cartoonist would be free to comment on Trump's domestic problems just as he chooses to fly (run away?) to the Middle East.

Given his supposed troubles back home, Trump has got to be a cartoonist's dream subject.

Then, there were stories coming out of Washington about the trip. These stories were almost always from an 'anonymous' Administration source--and they drove Israelis nuts with frustration--against Trump. For example, unnamed sources were quoted as saying:

-Trump will ask Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to implement a 'settlement curb'; 

-The White House was furious at a prominent Israeli politician (Minister Naftali Bennett) after Bennett demanded the US should move the US Embassy to Jerusalem;

-Trump wasn't going to allow Netanyahu go with him on his visit to the Western Wall. 

-A White House video, meant to promote Trump's first official trip abroad, showed a map of Israel--without the Golan Heights or Judea-Samaria. 

-Trump cancelled a visit to an ancient Jewish fortress, Masada.

Any one of these 8 (by my count) items contain an idea for a cartoon.To have 8 such sources for cartoons in a single week must have been either overwhelming--or completely joyous-- for a cartoonist.  What a week!

For today's Friday's cartoon, I choose the first item--the Western Wall dust-up. I think cartoonist Shlomo Cohen of israelhatyom truly captured a real truth concerning that 'not in Israel' comment about our Western Wall. Take a look:

Shlomo Cohen, israelhayom, May 18, 2017