I’m reading about the fact that Newt Gingrich is leading the polls among the Republican presidential candidate contenders, and I’m hearing the things he’s saying. And I ask myself if I dare hope that a man with great intelligence, and enormous historical and political savvy, who is not afraid to tell it like it is, might be elected president.
At this juncture my impulse is to tell everyone to pray. The contrast between Gingrich and Obama takes the breath away. Too soon to call it, but what it would mean for the US, for Israel and for the world!
Gingrich created quite a flap when he said the Palestinians are an invented people — that in the Ottoman empire there were no nation states (i.e., no “Palestinian state”), and that the “Palestinians” were simply part of the Arab people. He is quite correct and it took a great deal of courage to say it, as politically incorrect as such an observation is. Of course, it created apoplexy among PA leaders And, according to one report I encountered, Gingrich’s campaign office then came out with a statement saying he was providing necessary historical context but that he now supported negotiations with the Palestinians.
Yes, we might call this damage control. But his position is roughly equivalent to mine. NOT the part about supporting negotiations. Rather, the recognition that the “Palestinians” as a people are invented, but that the world has come to perceive them as a people, and thus it’s difficult not to deal with them as such today. As Dan Greenfield puts it, “The Big Lie technique has turned their existence into an established fact.”
When people understand the historical context, it certainly deconstructs some widely promulgated myths: that the “Palestinians” have been in Israel longer than the Jews or that their claim to having their own state is solid. This is important. But there is something quixotic about a quest to convince the world that they are not a “people.” More productive to deal pragmatically with the current issues: What are Jewish legal rights in the land, how does the PA conduct itself today, etc.
Gingrich made his comments during a Republican contenders debate on Friday, and during an interview by the Jewish Channel, a cable channel, that followed. I provide here exceedingly brief clips to offer a sense of what’s going on. I particularly like what he says about how Obama is dealing with Israeli-Palestinian issues and the nature of the PA, with its inciteful textbooks. Great stuff!
A Jewish Channel interview clip about the Palestinian people with campaign office follow-up:
Jewish Channel interview clip about the nature of the PA as a peace partner and Obama delusions:
In debate, speaking about nature of the PA:
I want to return — yes, again — to the issue of the Mughrabi Bridge: the temporary structure that leads from the Kotel Plaza to the Temple Mount and provides the only access for Israelis and tourists to visit the Mount.
As you may well remember, Israel has been set for many months to replace this temporary structure — which has been deemed unsafe — with a permanent one, but has held off because of vehement Arab objections and threats of violence. The issue is one of control, with the Islamic Wakf (trust) which — much to our shame and regret — administers the Mount, saying they have to sign off on this, and Israel saying that this isn’t about the Mount but an area that is in sovereign Israel and subject to exclusively Israeli control.
Jordan has much influence over the Wakf, and Israel had worked extensively to include the Jordanian government in plans for the bridge. But in the end Jordan backed off entirely.
See Nadav Shragai on this: http://www.israelhayom.com/site/newsletter_opinion.php?id=992
A couple of weeks ago, Netanyahu stopped work on the bridge, which had been scheduled to begin. The delay would be for a week, he said. At that point I cut him some slack. While my back goes up at suggestions that Israel has to curtail legitimate actions because of threats of Arab violence, there was another issue. The Egyptian elections were about to take place, and there was concern that if work on the bridge had started the Muslim Brotherhood — parlaying this into heightened anti-Israel feeling (because we are going destroy the Al Aksa Mosque on the Mount, you see) — might benefit at the polls. OK, I said. A week seems reasonable.
But it’s two weeks, and the elections are over. And there has been no order from Netanyahu to proceed with taking down that temporary, dangerous structure and putting up a new permanent one.
Now Jerusalem municipal engineer Shlomo Eshkol has closed the bridge because it is in danger of collapsing and a fire hazard. Acting before a tragedy happens is appropriate. But this, in and of itself, is insufficient and unacceptable. As there are no plans to follow through with a new bridge, as matters stand, non-Muslims are left without access to the Mount.
Enter the Jerusalem municipal attorney, Yair Gabbai, with a proposal to also block Muslims from access to the Mount. This will never happen.
Gabbai says the current situation constitutes discrimination against Jews, and in this he is absolutely correct. He intends to ask members of the Jerusalem Council to sign on to a letter supporting his proposal that will be sent to Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch.
What disturbs me is that Gabbai is quoted as saying that, “We must close all the entrances to the Temple Mount until the Wakf is so kind as to allow for the construction of a new, permanent Mughrabi Bridge.” With this he is implicitly acknowledging Wakf authority.
There is a considerable call inside of Israel for utilization of another gate to the Mount for non-Muslims until the Mughrabi Bridge issue is resolved. The Chain Gate, on the western side of the Mount, which has been utilized before when Mughrabi was inaccessible, is being suggested.
MK Uri Ariel (National Union), is calling for the immediate demolition of the bridge and then the beginning of work on that new bridge.
“But even with this, it would be inconceivable if during construction Jews are hindered from going to the Temple Mount for even one minute, and the construction work should never be an excuse for this,” he says.
“Israel doesn’t know how to express its own independence in its own capital,” said Yehudah Glick, chairman of the Temple Mount Heritage Foundation.
Glick points out that, “Temple Mount is sacred to [Jews] and to Christians too. It has 12 gates, 11 of which are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week for Muslim worshipers, who can use them freely, with no security checks.”
Apparently at the end of December the High Court will be visiting this issue.
Not long ago, an IDF soldier wrote a letter from the south, where he was serving, describing how kindly the IDF received Africans who came across the border from the Sinai. It was “feel good” material that made people proud of Israel, and was widely circulated on the Internet. You may have seen it.
The problem with it was not that it was, as far as it went, inaccurate. No, we do not shoot these people in the back, as Egyptian soldiers do. And yes, many of the Africans find life here better than anything they’ve ever known. But the letter did not tell the full story, which is now making news.
While they are represented as being “refugees,” only a small percentage truly are. Most who come — largely from places such as Sudan and Eritrea — are illegal work immigrants. Times are hard where they come from, and they are seeking better lives and greater opportunity. Sound familiar? In this part of the world, the word is out that Israel is the place to come to.
But their numbers threaten to overwhelm us: We are, after all, a very small country.
There are currently more than 50,000 such illegal Africans in Israel; with some 30,000/year currently making their way in, and predictions of increases to 100,000/year coming, we are being inundated. Prime Minister Netanyahu has referred to “entire populations that are beginning to make their way [towards Israel]. This, he explains, poses a threat to Israel’s security, economy, infrastructure and social welfare system.
A large number have settled in southern Tel Aviv, which looks more like an African country these days than Israel. Often at loose ends, they hang around on the streets, and light fires for cooking in the parks. As well, crime in these areas is up because of their poverty. When they work, it is illegally.
This is much less politically correct, but much closer to the truth of the situation.
Caroline Glick’s satirical Latma video from this past week includes “the singing refugees from Tel Aviv,” which addresses this situation:
Now the Israeli government has decided to get serious about the problem. The Cabinet unanimously decided yesterday to approve a multi-part plan by Netanyahu to deal with it, and the funds to support what he proposes:
A key part of the plan is enforcing with great stringency laws against the employment of illegal workers. Individuals who hire them will face increased fines. And legislation will be brought to the Knesset regarding corporations that hire them — who would face fines of up to 75,000 shekels and possible closure.
“We will close businesses,” declared Netanyahu, “so that the enterprise known as the State of Israel does not close.
The expectation is that word will filter back to Africa that Israel is no longer an economic mecca.
The plan also includes closing of the porous border with the Sinai, via speedy completion of a 240 kilometer fence, all the way down to Eilat, and deployment of additional forces along that border until the fence is finished.
Additionally, there will be increased detention facilities built to house infiltrators until they can be repatriated. The law is to be amended so that the amount of time that illegal workers can be held will be increased from 60 days to three years.
In January, Netanyahu will be making an historic visit to sub-Sahara Africa, the focus of which will be the strengthening of ties with several nations. At the same time, he says, he will “discuss and advance procedures for returning [infiltrators] to Africa.”
The opinions of journalist Dan Margalit with regard to this issue shed light on how contentious it all is, and how varied the views. (The Latma video reflects this as well.)
He concurs that, “…there is no other choice but to deport them. If the government does not deport economic migrants it will only encourage more migrants to pour into Israel. It will unleash a human tsunami. It will endanger Israel’s Jewish identity and further destabilize the delicate demographic balance. It will harm not only the status of Jews in this country, but also that of Israel’s Arabs.”
These are significant points that go beyond economic concerns or threats to our social welfare system.
However… Margalit apparently feels that none of this might be necessary if the rabbis just wouldn’t be so stringent with regard to converting the Africans. Not that he is suggesting a missionary effort, he says, but for those Africans who want to convert, the door should be open. Then they could convert and absorb into Jewish society.
But I have trouble knowing what he’s talking about. I have encountered nothing about the Africans, many if not most of whom are Muslim or animist, being genuinely attracted to Judaism or Jewish culture. They just want a better and more comfortable life. And so, this is precisely when stringency in conversion is necessary. Without it we would have tens of thousands of Africans superficially converting in order to be able to legalize their status. This would most definitely not be a good state of affairs. What is more, I have no reason to believe that the occasional African illegal immigrant who is sincerely attracted to Judaism, and willing to study, and take on the commitments of a Jew, would be turned away by the rabbis.
Margalit takes pride in the fact that we take care of those illegal immigrants who have been wounded in the course of making their way into our country. And on this I agree, for what we do reflects our essential humanity.
Additionally, he proposes conditions, including that:
“Their dignity is strictly protected (unless they use violence) and they are granted a rehabilitation stipend, as Interior Minister Eli Yishai once suggested and now seeks to double to about $1,000; the governments in their countries of origin are contacted to ensure that no harm comes to them upon their return; and they are treated so well while in Israel that they become ambassadors of goodwill in their home countries despite being deported.”
The intent of these conditions is humane and honorable — certainly it would be both proper and wise to treat the immigrants with essential dignity, and make an effort to avoid provoking bitterness in them against Israel. But the rest is pie in the sky. The notion that we can “ensure” that no harm comes to returnees once they are repatriated is unrealistic. And precisely how “well” does he imagine we should treat them so they return as goodwill ambassadors?
Lastly, those return stipends amounting to a hefty $50 million dollars — do we owe this to illegal immigrants? A thousand dollars is a huge amount of money in many places in Africa. What message would be broadcasting if we provided this sum to each of those returning? I suggest the message would be that even if Israel will send them back, it’s worth it for additional Africans to try to get into the country for that return stipend.
Pity Margalit is so harsh in his judgment on those who see more stringent conditions as necessary.
The Quartet is coming back here on Wednesday, and it’s a ho hum situation that should not be belabored. Israel is saying this presents an opportunity for direct negotiations, and the PA is saying no way, until (and we all know the details). The PA is saying, in fact, hey, the Quartet didn’t say anything about direct negotiations.
The PA recently submitted negotiation requirements for borders and security, while Israel, which did not, is saying such requirements should be submitted only at the negotiating table.
Self-deluded Quartet representatives will run between Jerusalem and Ramallah and the same “nothing” result will come of it.
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum is saying that the committees working on reconciliation have made little progress, reports the Palestinian news agency Maan today. Major issues such as the structure of the PLO have yet to be resolved. What is more, Fatah is still detaining members of Hamas and this may sabotage the accord.
If Fatah were serious about seeing through this reconciliation with Hamas, it would not be continuing to detain its people. Seems pretty obvious from here.
Meanwhile, Hamas has set up bases and rocket production facilities in the Sinai, assuming that Israel would not hit them there for fear of weakening ties with Egypt. Both Hamas and Egypt are denying that these facilities exist.
Yaakov Amitai, Israel’s new ambassador to Egypt, has arrived in Cairo.
Because a new secure location for the Israeli Embassy has not yet been found, he will operate from his own home. Only a small number of staff are in Egypt.
Matters are heating up again in the south, with 19 missiles having been launched over the last few days. The Air Force has respo
nded with four air strikes, three against terrorist cells and one against a weapon manufacturing site.
The good news for today is that on Saturday night Professor Dan Shechtman of Israel’s Technion won the Nobel Prize in chemistry for his discovery of quasicrystal patterns of atoms.
His work on quasicrystals, which began almost 30 years ago, led to the discovery that atoms in rigid crystals can be packed together in unusual ways; this changed the way chemists look at solid matter, and enabled the development of extremely strong materials. Quasicrystals do not rust or become oxidized and have almost no surface friction.
Dr. Shechtman is Israel’s tenth Nobel Laureate.
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by Arlene Kushner, functioning as an independent journalist. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.