My regular readers know that I am basically an upbeat person. I am not a Pollyanna: I face the bad news. But I also seek out the promise and hold fast to the blessings. And so I think I may surprise many of you, when I speak now of how pervasively unpleasant I am finding the news to be these days, both here in Israel as well as in the US and beyond.
It’s not simply (simply?) a matter of a couple of significant stories that are distressful (and I will get to those). It goes beyond this to a pervasively unsettled and negative atmosphere that reflects dissension, mistrust, foolishness and self-serving motivation, with anti-Semitism rising in certain quarters.
I have avoided extensive discussion about the charges against Prime Minister Netanyahu, charges —some flimsy, if not nonsensical — that smack of political opportunism.
There are individuals intent on bringing Bibi down, no matter the cost to the nation. The media, meanwhile, zealously shares it all in detail, so that he must function under a cloud of implied guilt before a decision has even been made by the attorney general as to whether to indict him. I find it shameful and infuriating.
Are they not paying attention?? We are dealing with some exceedingly difficult times, and if our prime minister is to do his job properly, he must focus. Yet they have no compunctions about distracting him from that focus. Nor do they give thought to how this makes our nation appear.
If there is good news here, it involves the Israeli electorate: Netanyahu’s approval rating has gone up. The people are not buying it.
Add to this the unpleasantness of the current Knesset turmoil about haredi (ultra-Orthodox) military exemptions. The ultra-Orthodox – United Torah Judaism (Ashkenazi) and Shas (Sephardi) – are locking horns with Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and his Yisrael Beytenu party.
They say if they don’t get what they want, they will bring the government down by refusing to support the budget. What they want is a system of total exemptions for haredi men, based on the premise that study is a form of service to the nation equivalent to military service.
But Lieberman is not completely wrong when he calls this a draft-dodging scheme. That some haredi men are serious, and make a contribution to the nation via their study of religious texts, is, I believe, a valid proposition. Yet it seems to me that the system must be selective – providing exemption only to those who ARE serious: who will contribute as rabbis or teachers or scholars. Blanket exemptions are an outrage.
What is more, those young men within the haredi community who opt, with integrity, to do their military service should be treated with respect within that community and not as pariahs. It is both painful and tragic that often this is not the case!
There has been legislation on haredi military service on the books for years, but the Supreme Court instructed that it be revisited. That is why we are now immersed in this matter (which is not new). The UTJ’s Finance Committee chairman MK Moshe Gafni (pictured) and Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman have both called for new elections if the exemption does not pass.
The prime minister is now in Washington DC for the AIPAC Conference; he has charged Minister Yariv Levin (Likud) with securing a resolution to the crisis, and is consulting with him by phone.
Apparently Levin did not meet with representatives of UTJ or Shas yesterday.
The meeting that did take place last night was between Finance Minister Kahlon (Kulanu) – who insists the budget must be passed – and Minister Litzman (left, below). They were not successful in arriving at a compromise.
It is being said that this stalemate may now bring the government down, but this is hardly the first time this prediction has been made. There is still the possibility that a compromise will be arranged. We need elections now like the proverbial hole in the head, which is something the haredim are aware of. But, on the other hand, Likud would likely emerge from elections with more mandates.
For the record, I note that within the National Religious community there is a system of Hesder yeshivas, which combine a period of serious study with military service of reduced length: a compromise that honors both religious and civil commitments. This might serve as a model, if indeed a model were being sought by the haredim.
What is more, there is the Netzah Yehuda Battalion of the IDF’s Kfir Brigade, popularly referred to as Nahal Haredi. This unit seeks to provide for the religious needs of haredi recruits regarding such matters as a more stringent standard of kashrut. There is as well a second unit, a haredi battalion in the Givati Brigade.
The irony is that the haredi recruits tend to make excellent soldiers.
But it is not only in Israel that the view seems dismal now:
Talk of Trump’s “Peace Plan” is floating in the air, and the rumors abound. Reports allegedly leaked to Arab sources speak about a “plan” that is horrendous – with eastern Jerusalem for a Palestinian state, etc. etc. People are speaking out against this, but we don’t really know if it is true. The White House is claiming that it is not – that we need to wait and see what will be presented.
At this point, talk about the plan feels anti-climactic, and terribly foolish. Although it was always foolish – the idea that Trump, the ultimate “deal maker,” would be able to make a “deal.” We’ve been told that more attention to detail has been devoted by Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt to this plan than has ever been devoted to any other plan. Apparently it runs some 100 pages.
But if all of the details have been laid out, where is the opportunity for the parties to decide what they want?
More significantly: Given the intransigent and hostile behaviors of Mahmoud Abbas – which include a curse directed at the president of the United States, rejection of an invitation to meet with Trump when he came to the US to speak at the UN, and a listing of demands that brooked no compromise – why would the “team” imagine that any deal was possible?
When Abbas went off the deep end, members of the “team” did not throw up their hands and say they’d had it, but instead resolutely declared their intention to keep working. Bully for them. But that’s when I threw up my hands, muttering: “Don’t you get it yet?”
Amir Taheri, in “Trump the Deal Maker and the Middle East,” makes excellent points that merit consideration here (emphasis added):
“The first reason that so many deal-makers have failed is that peace is never negotiated and is always imposed by the side that wins a war. There is not any instance in history…in which an outsider has imposed peace on unwilling belligerents.
“The second reason is that outside deal-makers have their interests and agendas which make an already tangled web even more complicated. For example, in the case of American deal-makers, how to win Jewish votes in the US without antagonizing the Arabs who sell us oil and buy our arms?”
Taheri’s first comment reflects upon us here in Israel, as well as upon the Trump Administration. For 25 years, we have not permitted ourselves to think in terms of actually winning.
Then, in the midst of this discussion about the “plan,” the scenario was rendered surreal, as we learned that chief negotiator Jared Kushner had been assigned to a lower level security clearance.
According to the NYTimes, Trump would really like to see Jared and Ivanka leave the White House and return to New York; but he wants others to convince them to go, while he continues to embrace them. Who knows what’s true.
We have some very heavy matters to deal with. And so, all of this is an unwelcome – a jarring – distraction.
You will never hear me refer to what’s going on in the US with regard to the concept of “intersectionality” as a distraction. It is deadly serious and very troubling.
“Intersectionality”: the notion that different aspects of humanity – race, sex, gender choice, etc. – are interconnected, so that you may not speak out with regard to bias again one aspect of humanity without being committed to speaking out on bias against all aspects.
Thus goes this thinking: You want to call yourself a feminist? You must also speak out on behalf of transgender persons. And black and brown people in general. And poor beleaguered Palestinian Arabs, in particular. Otherwise, you are not a “true” feminist. It’s a package assembled by progressives and leftists, and it has a distinctly anti-Israel and anti-Semitic tilt. Zionists who declare as homosexuals are not particularly welcome under the rainbow flags of the LGBT parades.
Jewish leftists and progressives have in good part swallowed this balderdash, and thus remain silent when the movement they are eager to identify with also reflects hostility to Israel, or Jews.
What further complicates matters is that social categories have become so intertwined that anti-Trump positions and the “#Metoo” protests against sexual harassment have become part of the intersectionality mindset.
I mention this now because of what recently happened when Louis Farrakhan, leader of the black separatist Nation of Islam, spoke at his annual Saviors’ Day event. His words were virulently anti-
Present at this event were leaders of the Women’s March movement, Tamika Mallory and Linda Sarsour. They praised Farrakhan’s speech and pointedly declined to condemn him for his hateful remarks about Jews. Mallory had her picture taken with him.
And what of progressive Jews who want to identify with the anti-Trump movement? In the main, they held their peace, declining to criticize Mallory and Sarsour’s embrace of Farrakhan.
Please see Jonathan Tobin’s excellent article on this issue:
Are we surprised? Just a week ago, after EU meetings with foreign ministers of the Arab League, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini called for Jerusalem to be the capital of two states, saying that the “special status and character of the city must be preserved.” The EU and the Arabs, we are being told, “see eye to eye” on this.
In Syria, the violence by Assad against the rebels in Ghouta continues, with some 500 civilians said to have been killed to date.
THE major concern for us here in Israel, and for the larger world, including the US, is IRAN (Iran’s hand, of course, being in Assad’s actions now).
A report released last Wednesday indicated that satellite images taken by ImageSat International’s Earth Remove Observation Satellite showed evidence of a new Iranian military facility at Jabal ash Sharqi, eight miles northwest of the Syrian capital. It is believed that short and medium range missiles are to be stored there by Iran, in order enhance its presence at Israel’s northern border.
Prime Minister Netanyahu is meeting with President Trump today, and Iran will be a key focus of the discussions.
Israel’s Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer set the tone yesterday, during his talk on the first day of the AIPAC Conference. He warned that the Iran nuclear deal “put us all on cruise control heading over a cliff because the restrictions that the deal puts in place are automatically removed after a few years… Iran does not need to change its behavior at all. All they have to do is wait for the calendar to move…Iran is advancing its nuclear weapons program under this agreement… Right now, as we speak, Iran is doing research & development into advanced centrifuges.” (Emphasis added)
Dermer highlighted steps that need to be taken to fix the Iran deal:
 Remove the sunset clause.
 Place restrictions on Iran’s ballistic missile development, with the establishment of crippling sanctions.
 Deal with the inspections aspect of the agreement, as now inspectors cannot visit military sites, which is clearly where they will be doing “weaponization work.”
I will be very surprised indeed if Netanyahu does not address these matters in his speech to the AIPAC Conference.
I will come back to this, and to other aspects of the Conference as well.
I note here in closing that the Howard Kohr, CEO of AIPAC, has come out for establishment of a Palestinian state. NOT a good move.
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by independent journalist Arlene Kushner. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.