Happy Independence Day to America!
May Americans be mindful on this day of the values of the founding fathers.
Before I pick up with decidedly unsettling news, I want to share some responses to the posting of last night, regarding Israeli and American Jews — as well as some of my comments. These issues are too important and too relevant to our current situation to ignore.
I cited Dr. Rettig regarding the 1.4 million Jews who served in armed forces in WWII but had no power. Commented one reader: Far more relevant to the fact that Jews failed to have an impact on military policy to save those threatened in the Shoah was the refusal or reluctance of American Jews of prestige and those who were even in government service to take a stand for saving fellow Jews. My reader specifically mentioned Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, I would add by way of example Rabbi Stephen Wise. And of course there were others.
My immediate response to this was that in spite of their positions of power and prestige, these Jews may have in some sense felt powerless in a time that was prior to the founding of Israel. (Of course, this was no excuse morally, where saving Jewish lives was concerned — they had a moral imperative to try.) My thought was — and to some considerable extent still is — that the existence of Israel has empowered Jews in the US.
But I have since thought of situations that give me pause. Not so many months ago, Obama called a meeting with (carefully selected) key American Jews leaders. This was the beginning of his politically motivated courting of American Jewish community. One leader in particular had critical comments after the meeting, and he shared these with a journalist. But anonymously. His unwillingness to come forward by name disturbed me greatly. What was he afraid of? Falling out of favor with the White House? Losing perks of his position? Was a climate set up within the meeting that worked against honest criticism?
Here I see the essential conundrum of American Jewish power. In some instances, American Jews on the inside become co-opted by the system. This is definitely and sadly the case today. But, at best, to make a difference, one hopes to have influence with the powers-that-be — the president and his staff, members of the cabinet, etc. Thus, crossing those powers might result in (and is certainly perceived as carrying the risk of) a loss of influence. A sort of catch-22.
This is a function, I think, of not having a Jewish national power base, while having become thoroughly immersed within and identified with the larger US power base. We might ask the question as to whether American Jews have attained success in integrating within the corridors of power to an extent that sometimes actually works against the interests of the Jewish people.
I am generalizing, of course, and there are exceptions. Jewish members of Congress — I think in particular of Congressman Eric Cantor (R-VA), and Congressman Eliot Engel (D-NY), but there are also others — are sometimes forthright in their public support of Israel. Their source of power is their constituency and their seat in Congress. Grassroots community — organizational and religious — leaders who command a base can have influence on power, best wielded by affecting, or threatening to affect, voting patterns or major donations.
The American Jewish community survives because of traditionally observant segments of that community. It is here that we find the least opting out, the most fervent support of, the Jewish people and of Israel.
I would add this, as well: Israeli society is considerably more child-oriented. There is a broad mental set that encourages having more children — this is not the case among American Jews, who are more concerned with recreational opportunities, freedom to live a good life, ability to maintain a certain standard of living, etc. I don’t have statistics, but I would bet that young American Jews are barely reproducing themselves. In Israel, our numbers are growing. It wasn’t until I came to Israel that I found, for example, that it was routine for young couples to bring their babies with them when attending a wedding. A totally different mental set.
Now as I begin to explore the news, I remind one and all that we are in the time period of “pre-Netanyahu visit to Obama.” Thus we find multiple rumors and considerable posturing. Statements from credible sources should not be treated lightly, but neither should they taken as gospel. Sorting truth from fiction, and innuendo from forthright statement, is a difficult if not impossible task.
Last week, two news reports emerged that were particularly disturbing — as they indicated the possibility of a caving by the Israeli government.
First, news broke that Maj. Gen. Eitan Dangot, the coordinator of government activities in the territories, had met with Hussein al-Sheikh, the PA’s minister for civilian affairs. They established a number of joint committees in order to coordinate on issues, it was said.
One of these issues was renovation of the crossing into Gaza at Keren Shalom. This would include construction of infrastructure that would allow for the PA to take over control of the crossing.
Seems the US and the PA have pressured us for some time to allow the PA to control the crossings. This has been perceived as a way to give the PA a foothold in Gaza, which is Hamas-controlled. Until now, the IDF has opposed this because of security concerns.
But, according to an “exclusive” on Friday in the JPost, “Since the government’s decision last week to ease the blockade on Gaza (more properly: to allow more goods in via the crossings, as there was no “blockade” on land), the IDF understands that this is likely to be one of the next steps that Israel will have to take.”
“…that Israel will have to take.” This deplorable mental set is what brings concession after concession. I write about lack of Jewish power in the US, but where is our sense of power? There is no “have to,” there is only caving to demands. Undoubtedly, this is just one more thing that will make Obama happy when our prime minister comes calling. Making Obama happy should not trump security concerns. Ever.
Then there was this flap:
Last week Netanyahu, circumventing Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who was kept in dark, sent Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, a certified left-winger, to Brussels for a clandestine meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in order to clear the air or somehow improve the relations between the two nations.
From two different Turkish newspapers, Zeman and Huriyyet, came different reports regarding Turkish demands for an apology regarding the flotilla, and then an alleged concession by Ben-Eliezer to consider making an apology and providing compensation for families of the injured.
Ben-Eliezer’s office su
bsequently denied that there was any promise of compensation, saying, “No one intends to do that, and the minister did not promise anything.” Not anything? Not even a willingness to consider an apology?
At any rate, Netanyahu presumably resolved the issue on Friday, when he told Israeli TV that there was no intention of offering either compensation or apology:
“Israel cannot apologize for our soldiers being forced to defend themselves against the mob that almost slaughtered them.
“We are sorry over the loss of life. This is clear.”
He then said that the idea of compensating those injured “…is not up for discussion.”
As to Lieberman — the straight-talker in the government — he had smoke coming out of both ears when he learned that he had been circumvented. He has no intention of quitting, he said, but will “make them pay” for his having been excluded.
Netanyahu claims that he “explained” the situation to Lieberman, and everything is OK. Spin is everything. Netanyahu says, reassuringly, that his coalition is not in danger. Lieberman says he wouldn’t give them the satisfaction of quitting.
We may have heard the last on this issue, but then again, we may not.
At a Labor party meeting today, Ben-Eliezer exploded at Ehud Barak, claiming that because he, Barak, was opposed to the meeting Ben-Eliezer had with the Turks, he had leaked false information about the meeting. A hot-blooded Iraqi, Ben-Eliezer told Barak’s media person, “I’ll skewer you. You don’t know whom you’re dealing with.”
While…according to Al-Hayat in London (whose reports are not necessarily reliable), Obama intends to try to convince Netanyahu to accept Turkish demands for an apology. If this is true, we must fervently hope that our prime minister has the strength to stand strong on what he’s said.
The full Al-Hayat report alleges that Obama, in an effort to calm things down, has warned Turkey that its demand for a full international probe of the flotilla incident would be a “double-edged sword,” as such an investigation would expose the relationship of Turkish passengers on the Marmara to the terrorist IHH.
Today, there were headlines alleging that PA president Mahmoud Abbas has agreed to forfeit claims to the Kotel and the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. These claims were reported by the same Al-Hayat in London.
According to this report, Abbas presented in writing to Mitchell an offer based on the proposals discussed at Camp David in 2000 (which Arafat rejected). This is said to include giving the PA 100% of the land area of Judea and Samaria, with a 2.3% land swap, and all of eastern Jerusalem except the Kotel and the Jewish Quarter. Additionally, a passageway from Judea and Samaria to Gaza would be opened. (That would be lovely: it would give Hamas greater access to Judea and Samaria.)
The Prime Minister’s Office had no comment on this report.
Chief PA negotiator Saeb Erekat, according to the news agency Ma’an, did have comment: He denies that Abbas handed a written proposal to Mitchell. I believe he also denies the concession by Abbas of the Kotel and Jewish Quarter to us, even verbally.
This I would definitely categorize as “pre-Netanyahu visit” hype: On Friday “senior US officials” said that “significant progress” had been made in the “proximity talks.”
Dan Shapiro, a Middle East advisor to the (US) National Security Council, said both sides have engaged in all core issues. Last I heard, the two sides were discussing different things with Mitchell, with Netanyahu declining to discuss core issues until there were face to face meetings.
One thing PM Netanyahu is holding out on is a refusal to concede more to Hamas in order to secure Shalit’s release. This in spite of enormous public pressure being put on him. And I salute him for this.
See here his press conference on the issue on Friday:
“The call to pay any price is a natural cry from the heart of any father, mother, grandfather, sister or brother. As a brother and son, I understand this cry from the bottom of my heart. But before me and before every Prime Minister in Israel, must also be the security of all the citizens of the state.
“The State of Israel is prepared to pay a heavy price for the release of Gilad Shalit but is unable to say ‘at any price.’ This is the truth and I state it here.”
You might like to see Caroline Glick’s latest satirical Latma piece on this subject. Tough and incisive, it makes the point that the huge outpouring of public concern does not help convince Hamas to release Shalit but, rather, convinces his captors that Netanyahu will have to cave in the face of the publicity and that holding firm is the thing to do:
Tomorrow Netanyahu flies to Washington for meetings on Tuesday. After this long posting, I likely will not write again until after there is news from that meeting, such as that may be.
Caroline Glick has written that the best our prime minister can do is buy time, by saying things such as, “Well, I’m willing to take this into consideration and discuss it with my cabinet when I return home.”
Hopefully, I have not made you all crazy with this posting, which at least provides a clear pictures of how frenetic and lunatic the situation is.