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entries tagged with: Israel


Gush evacuees still waiting for permanent homes

Dror Vanunu, international coordinator of the Friends of Gush Katif, in a field designated to house a community of Gaza Strip evacuees. Construction on new homes has yet to begin. Ben Harris

NITZAN, Israel – More than four years after her family was ejected from their home in the Gaza Strip, Karen Sarfaty lives with her husband and four of their children in a small pre-fab house in this small town located about midway between the southern Israeli cities of Ashkelon and Ashdod.

Neither she nor her husband have found adequate employment. The compensation she received from the government is running out. Her daughter is only now beginning to overcome the trauma of their forced removal from Gaza. And while the lots allocated to them to build permanent houses are nearly ready, Sarfati says she lacks the money for construction.

Moshe and Rachel Saperstein, seen here outside their temporary home in Nitzan, are still waiting to move into their home in the new community of Bnei Dekalim. Ben Harris

“I have a lot of anger inside of me,” Sarfaty told JTA. “If [the evacuation] had to be, then it had to be. But at least if it had to be, it should have been done the right way.”

More than four years since the August 2005 removal of some 9,000 Israelis from Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip, the national trauma of the forced evacuation is firmly in the past. But for the majority of evacuees, who still do not live in permanent homes, the trauma has not ended.

According to a report last November by Friends of Gush Katif, the American arm of the former Gaza residents’ official representative in Israel, unemployment among the evacuees is 21 percent, and only 12 percent have begun construction on permanent homes. Housing construction has begun at only seven of the 23 sites where the evacuees are to be resettled. At about half the sites, work on permanent infrastructure — the prerequisite for housing construction — has not begun.

The situation is so bad that the Knesset has established a commission of inquiry to look into the matter. In an interim report issued in September, the commission said the government basically had failed in its handling of the evacuees, though it also noted that a lack of cooperation from some in the settler community contributed to the delays.

According to government data cited in the report, only about half the 1,800 or so families had been allocated plots of land to build new homes. Of those, only about 250 families had begun to build as of last August.

Several evacuees noted with disgust that while the government managed to speedily carry out the evacuation — also known as the disengagement — from conception to execution, the rehabilitation has dragged on without any sense of official urgency.

“There was terrible foot-dragging,” says Dror Vanunu, the international coordinator for Friends of Gush Katif.

Evacuees were supposed to be housed in temporary quarters and then moved to permanent dwellings. But in Nitzan, which is home to the largest concentration of former Gaza residents in the country, the community has all the trappings of a permanent neighborhood.

The community has schools and groceries, playgrounds, and hair salons. Many families have upgraded the small, pre-fab housing units known as caravillas with additional rooms and elaborate gardens.

About a mile to the south, where permanent dwellings are to be built, roads have been paved and sewage and electricity lines installed, but construction on housing has not begun. According to Vanunu, the paved roads and absence of pedestrians have made the area a popular destination for high-speed motorcycle racing — so much so that the authorities have broken up parts of the pavement to discourage the practice.

“Look around,” Vanunu says. “Not even one single house was built.”

A spokesperson for the commission of government inquiry said the infrastructure is in place and the onus is now on the evacuees to begin construction of their homes. But Sarfaty says that after more than four years with minimal income, the family lacks money to begin construction and may be forced to sell part of their plot to finance a new home.

Karen Sarfaty, in the garden of her temporary home in Nitzan, says her family lacks money to build a permanent house. Ben Harris

Rachel and Moshe Saperstein also have not begun construction on a new home. The Sapersteins, who moved to Neve Dekalim, Gaza, in the 1990s in protest of the Oslo accords — or, as Rachel likes to say, to “put our bodies where our mouths were” — live a few blocks from the Sarfaty family in a caravilla with a small garden where Moshe, who lost an arm in the 1973 war and several fingers in a terrorist attack, likes to smoke cigars.

Their future home will be in Bnei Dekalim, a community being built in the eastern part of Israel’s Lachish region. The town eventually is supposed to include a luxury hotel, cottages for rabbis on sabbatical, and a health spa. Infrastructure is being built in the area, but it will be many months before the Sapersteins move into their new home.

“I wish I were 39 so I could build a town, watch it grow, and still have a few years left,” Rachel says. “When you’re 69 going on 70, you should theoretically be living in a place that is built. But I’m excited. I’m going to build a town at 69.”

That sort of optimism isn’t always easy to muster among the evacuees, but Sarfaty says her faith helps her to cope.

“We’re people that believe. We believe that everything is for the best,” she says. “Maybe right now we can’t see it. Maybe in another couple years we will see it.”



YU aims for ‘cross-pollination’ between its students and Israel

Students from YU’s Operation Healthcare service learning initiative play with special- needs children at a park. Avi Rosenbaum of Teaneck is on the right. Photo courtesy Yeshiva University

Never in its 80-year history has Yeshiva University — America’s flagship centrist Orthodox academic institution — expended more resources forging bonds between its students and their Israeli counterparts.

North Jersey natives consistently participate in an ever-expanding array of exchange, advocacy, and service programs in Israel. This winter alone, select students from YU high schools (see accompanying story) and undergrads from the university’s Yeshiva and Stern colleges traveled to Israel on four different programs.

The trend began not just because more than 3,000 YU alumni now live in Israel, or because 800 post-high-school North Americans are studying in independent Israeli yeshivas earning credit as YU undergraduates.

University President Richard M. Joel set the stage for the current emphasis in his 2003 installation address: “The land of Israel and the state of Israel are central to the future of the Jewish people, and have always been central to the reality of the Yeshiva University community,” he said. “Let’s make YU the address in New York for Israel events and Israel conversations.”

To help realize this goal, Joel initiated the founding of the university’s Center for the Jewish Future in 2005 and its Center for Israel Studies in 2007. “I am especially pleased with the large number of students who have decided to take advantage of the innovative Israel missions run by the Center for the Jewish Future,” he said last week.

Bergen County residents were among 35 college students in the CJF’s Project Connect last January, where they interacted with Ethiopian and Russian immigrants to understand the challenges of their absorption. And they were among nearly two dozen volunteer counselors in CJF’s Counterpoint Israel summer camps for low-income children.

This winter, 71 undergraduates — including nine from Teaneck, Fair Lawn, and Passaic — are taking part in CJF winter-break missions in Israel.

Shabbat 2010 explores the complex relationship between Sabbath observance and technology at Israeli hospitals and army bases, as well as the societal tensions the official day of rest causes in a multicultural democracy. Through Operation Healthcare, pre-medical and political science majors are comparing and contrasting the health-care systems of the United States and Israel. Each program includes service components.

YU students from the Shabbat 2010 men’s group teach Hilchot Shabbat to sixth- and seventh- graders from Gush Etzion. Among them are Ari Selevan, top and Yaakov Taubes, both of Teaneck.

Additionally, 12 undergraduate fellows from the university’s QUEST student leadership program spent a week in the schools and hothouses of former Gush Katif (Gaza) residents now living in the new Negev desert community of Halutza. Sponsored in partnership with the Jewish National Fund, this mission required the group to raise $20,000 toward the construction of houses and public buildings there.

“The primary goal of these and all CJF programs is to inspire our students to become agents of change in their communities and the world at large,” said CJF Dean Rabbi Kenneth Brander. The center’s mandate is to “renew and refresh, strengthen and support, and inspire and energize” Jewish communities in North America and around the world.

Comparing specific elements of American and Israeli culture — both religious and secular — is one of the tools CJF uses to raise participants’ awareness of the differences between the two societies, reexamine their values, and ponder their potential to make a positive impact.

The Shabbat 2010 mission, for example, was planned to include Sabbath experiences in Yemenite and chasidic settings, as well as dialogues with Israelis who do not observe the laws of Shabbat.

“Shabbos in the diaspora is a bifurcated experience, not a societal experience as it is in Israel,” said Brander, a Teaneck resident. “But it is also a societal challenge.”

As a result of the mission, he said, “maybe some of the students will make aliyah and create a Shabbos experience for those not yet connected.”

However, the overall aim of such programs is “cross-pollination” rather than aliyah. “We hope the students will internalize these experiences and begin shaping the communal landscape immediately upon their return by educating others about their newfound understandings,” said Brander. “There is a healthy spiritual viral effect to the whole endeavor — for the college students and the high school students as well.”

JNF Campus Programs Manager Rebecca Kahn, a Teaneck native, said the QUEST mission connected rising American Orthodox leaders with JNF’s work in Israel. Last January, she coordinated a similar mission for 120 mostly Conservative college students and young professionals — including six North Jersey residents — who tackled beautification projects in southern development towns.

“Our partnership with Yeshiva University has presented a unique opportunity to work with an exceptional group of students who are already committed to becoming leaders in the Jewish community,” Kahn said. This year’s group included Michelle Grundman of Fair Lawn and Sarit Ben-David of Teaneck.

Grundman said the trip opened her eyes to the possibility of assisting communities far from home, and specifically those in Israel that are outside the better-known Tel Aviv and Jerusalem areas. “You see how leaders can bring so much change and growth,” she said.

CJF projects on the drawing board include placing rabbinical interns with local Israeli rabbis to gauge the potential for careers in Israel and further expansion of the Counterpoint Israel summer camps for disadvantaged children. These programs are costly, Brander acknowledged.

“YU is willing to invest in a partnership with Israel, because we want it to be strong and continue to grow,” said Brander. “We are blessed with wonderful visionary partners, Repair the World and the Jim Joseph Foundation, who understand that the greatest incubator to inspire our students is Israel, where people are leading holistic leadership lives affecting Jewish society around the world.”


Israeli aid effort helps Haitians — and Israel’s image

Members of the IsraAid medical team offered treatment on Monday to earthquake survivors at a soccer stadium in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

The text messages started coming in to Shachar Zahavi’s cell phone in the middle of the night: “What are we going to do about Haiti?”

Zahavi, chairman of IsraAid, a coordinating organization for 17 Israeli and Jewish humanitarian groups, hadn’t even heard yet about the earthquake that had rocked Port-au-Prince, leaving untold thousands dead.

By morning, preparations already were under way to dispatch an Israeli relief team to the devastated Caribbean nation. Consisting of doctors, nurses, paramedics, and logistics experts, the 15-person group arrived Saturday in Port-au-Prince and immediately set to work treating wounded Haitians at the site of a collapsed hospital near the city center.

On Monday, deep into the thick of coordinating logistics for a second aid team to replace the first, Zahavi received a heartening text message from one of his team members in Haiti: “A 6-year-old girl, Jessica Hartelin, was just pulled from the rubble by locals nearly six days after the earthquake, was rushed to our clinic, and treated by the IsraAID/FIRST medical team. She was saved. She will be transferred in the next few minutes to the Israeli Defense Force field hospital for further treatment.”

It was one bright spot in a week that aid workers described as alternately heartbreaking and exhilarating.

The IsraAid team, composed fully of volunteers, was just one component of the broad Israeli and Jewish effort to help Haiti. As soon as the magnitude of the earthquake’s destruction became apparent, humanitarian officials sprang into action.

The Israel Defense Forces was the first major Israeli team to arrive. Team members reached Haiti last Friday on a flight loaded with military and civilian medical personnel from all over Israel, rescue teams, search dogs, and supplies. While Port-au-Prince’s hospitals were rendered mostly useless by the quake, the IDF team set up a field hospital near a soccer stadium to treat survivors. It was one of the only places Haitians could receive advanced medical treatment in the city.

“The Israeli field hospital is phenomenal,” Dr. Richard Besser of ABC News told “Good Morning America.” “They were up and running on Saturday morning, way ahead of the United States hospital.”

When Besser encountered a woman in labor named Soraya in a Port-au-Prince park, he got in touch with the only medical facility he knew about in town: the one run by the Israelis.

“Before long, Soraya had an operating room waiting for her,” said Besser, who helped deliver the baby. “Ultrasounds, IVs, medications. Soraya was now getting better care than she could have ever imagined.”

On Saturday, Israeli doctors at the hospital delivered a baby boy whose grateful mother said she’d name the boy Israel.

Meanwhile, other civilian aid workers were having trouble getting into Haiti. Power was down in most of Port-au-Prince, complicating matters, and airplanes on the ground at the city’s airport lacked sufficient fuel to take off and make way for additional aid flights to land.

The airport in Santo Domingo, in the neighboring Dominican Republic, became an alternate staging area, and aid officials from around the world converged on the Dominican capital as a first step toward reaching the earthquake zone in Port-au-Prince.

A 6-year-old girl was pulled from the rubble and treated by the IsraAID team in Port-au-Prince on Moonday. IsraAid

In Israel late last week, frustrated aid workers idled as they waited for a clear route into Haiti to be established. Reached by telephone last Friday, an official from Magen David Adom, Israel’s version of the Red Cross, said the group still hadn’t received clearance to leave.

It took until Monday for the team of five Magen David Adom paramedics to get to Port-au-Prince, which they reached overland after landing in the Dominican Republic. Once in Haiti, the paramedics set up a field hospital in conjunction with the Norwegian Red Cross at the courtyard of the university hospital in Port-au-Prince. The hospital was up and running Tuesday morning.

A group from the Israeli disaster relief organization ZAKA was in a better position to move quickly. ZAKA had a team of rescue workers in Mexico assisting in recovery efforts following a helicopter crash there two days before the quake hit, so when the official Mexican aid delegation to Haiti left Mexico, Israeli rescue workers hitched a ride with them aboard a Mexican Air Force Hercules aircraft.

Before the week was over, ZAKA rescue workers had pulled eight students, alive, from the wreckage of a collapsed university building.

In a statement, the head of the delegation, Mati Goldstein, was quoted in an e-mail describing a “Shabbat from hell” in the earthquake-ravaged city. ZAKA is made up of Orthodox Jewish volunteers.

An Israeli and others carry a wounded Haitian to a field hospital on Monday set up by the Israeli army in Port-au-Prince. Zaka/Flash90/JTA

“Everywhere, the acrid smell of bodies hangs in the air. It’s just like the stories we are told of the Holocaust — thousands of bodies everywhere,” Goldstein wrote. “You have to understand that the situation is true madness, and the more time passes, there are more and more bodies, in numbers that cannot be grasped. It is beyond comprehension.”

To lift their spirits, the rescue workers from ZAKA taught Haitian survivors to sing “Heiveinu Shalom Aleichem.”

Whether clad in IDF uniforms, wearing the flag of Israel on their shoulders, or holding Shabbat prayers during a brief break from their rescue work, the Israeli aid workers’ visible presence in Haiti is helping to promote a positive image of Israel in a world more accustomed to seeing the nation negatively.

“I am sure it is good for the Israeli image, but we’re not doing it only because of this,” said Danny Biran, ambassador of logistical and administrative affairs for Israel’s mission to the United Nations and the Americas. “We are doing it because we believe in what we are doing.”

“We always carry an Israeli flag and hang it wherever we work. We don’t do anything under the radar,” said Zahavi of IsraAid. “It’s important for us to show that we come on behalf of the Israeli people, and people should know we’re there for them.”

The IsraAid coalition is made up of aid organizations — such as the Fast Israeli Rescue and Search Team (FIRST), the Jerusalem AIDS Project, and Pirchey Refua-Israeli Youth Medical Cadets — as well as funding organizations including the American Jewish Committee, B’nai B’rtih International, and UJA-Federation of Greater Toronto.

In an interview from Port-au-Prince, one of IsraAid’s logistics volunteers, Alan Schneider, director of the B’nai B’rith World Center in Jerusalem, said the destruction in Haiti was overwhelming.

“I’ve been to Chad, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Kenya, and Georgia on IsraAid missions, and I’ve never ever seen anything of this scale,” Schnieder said by telephone as patients receiving treatment at IsraAid’s clinic could be heard screaming in the background. “It’s like a war scene.”



Aliyah diary: Take a number

Abigail Klein LeichmanWorld
Published: 28 January 2010

Israel’s governmental bureaucracy has a reputation for wrapping every transaction in vast amounts of red tape and attitude.

Admittedly, the reputation is well-earned. I’ve heard plenty of horror stories and experienced a few myself (like the one-armed postal clerk who took a leisurely pita break as swarms of us waited in a hot, cramped vestibule). But I see more than a glimmer of hope that things are changing for the better.

Most of our bureaucratic experiences since making aliyah two and a half years ago have been unexpectedly pleasant, even easy. The concept of customer service is taking hold in Israel, along with take-a-number ticket dispensers (Israelis are incapable of orderly turn-taking) and more sophisticated methods to boost efficiency. Though some departments still enforce a maddening siesta break from 1 to 4 p.m., that’s changing too.

Abigail Klein Leichman’s neighbor, Elisheva Reichman, takes a number at the Ma’aleh Adumim post office.

When my husband and daughter went to the Licensing Bureau to apply for Israeli driver’s licenses, the clerk checked our family ID numbers on her computer and offered to take care of my paperwork as well, even though I was not there. What a nice surprise!

The Ministry of the Interior’s Jerusalem office is infamous for its long wait times. But at the branch in Ma’aleh Adumim, we have never waited longer than 10 minutes before successfully completing a passport application or address change.

For my annual routine medical screenings, I simply called our health plan and was guided through making appointments at its central Jerusalem clinic. A swipe of my member card took care of paying the nominal fees, to be added to the modest amount automatically deducted monthly from our bank account. Each appointment took place reasonably on time, and as I left I received a CD with a backup of all results for my primary care physician.

Not bad for a young Middle Eastern country that spends most of its meager budget on the necessities of bare survival.

Nevertheless, I was prepared for the worst as I went looking for the tax authority branch nearest the offices of one of my part-time jobs.

Anyone earning two Israeli salaries — and that encompasses many of us — must go to a tax bureau and apply for a waiver from income tax on all but one job.

Naturally, the day I chose to accomplish this dreaded errand was the only inclement one that week. Rain was coming down in sheets and wind was whipping my face. Inside the tax bureau, I took a number and waited less than three minutes before a young Arab clerk called me over.

Speaking excellent English, Salim joked amiably as he assisted me in filling out the application. “How much do you estimate you’ll earn this year?” he asked. “Not much,” I replied, and we both laughed.

Two minutes later I was out of there, precious waiver in hand.

I could have faxed it from home. Instead I chose to walk the six minutes to my employer’s office. I arrived wind-blown but triumphant — until the bookkeeper informed me that Salim had entered one detail incorrectly and I would have to go back for a new form.

The security guard at the tax bureau recognized me from before, took pity on my drenched state, and ushered me right past the metal detector.

As it was now 5:30 p.m., I didn’t know if the office would still be open. But it was. Salim’s jaw dropped as he read the note from the bookkeeper. “Ooooh, I am so sorry,” he exclaimed, and quickly printed out a corrected waiver. “I will fax it to her myself,” he said. “I must make up to you for my mistake.”

My toes were squishing around in my water-logged boots by then, but I couldn’t help leaving Salim’s office with a smile and a sincere “thank you.”

For those who will retort, “You just got lucky! My Uncle Sam waited five hours at the Licensing Bureau just last week!” it must be noted that Israelis do not have a lock on bureaucratic tomfoolery.

What American has not waged battle with licensing agencies, insurance companies, or the IRS? Who has not spent hours pressing menu options in a vain attempt to talk with a human? Who hasn’t been sent home from the local motor vehicles commission for failing to bring the correct documents?

A cousin of mine pointed out that many Americans moving to Israel think bureaucratic hurdles are higher here, but that is only because they never experienced being immigrants in the United States. Or in Canada, where the same government bureaucrat who explained to my cousin how to process his immigration paperwork informed him the very next day, when he showed up prepared, that the rules had changed that morning.

No matter where one relocates, paperwork and bureaucracy are unavoidable. But I give Israel credit for trying to improve an imperfect system.


Let them pray


Women seek equality at Kotel

Pluralism is a very foreign concept in Israel,” said Women of the Wall chairwoman Anat Hoffman. “There isn’t a word for it in Hebrew.”

Hoffman is fighting to bring pluralism into Israeli language and society. Earlier this month, Jerusalem police questioned Hoffman about her group, which regularly shows up to pray in the women’s section of the Western Wall. Late last year, one of its members was arrested for donning a tallit at the Kotel, considered an offense by the Orthodox rabbis who oversee the holy site.

“Separate but equal doesn’t work,” Hoffman said during a teleconference last week organized by Meretz USA. “And at the Wall it’s not separate but equal, it’s separate but unequal.”

Anat Hoffman

Jerusalem is the battleground in this fight for what WOW calls women’s equality, but here in America — where egalitarianism and the ordination of women is more acceptable — the issue has struck a chord as well.

“The battle they face is hard for us to imagine here, where we have comfortable Jewish lives that enable people a degree of religious expression that isn’t possible right now in Jerusalem,” said Rabbi Jarah Greenfield of Reconstructionist Temple Beth Israel of Bergen County in Maywood. “The fight they’re taking up is in my mind for Jews everywhere.”

Rabbi Elyse Frishman of Barnert Temple in Franklin Lakes has been involved with WOW for some 15 years, and this latest confrontation illustrates a growing recognition in Israeli society that a problem exists, she said.

“There is a perversion to the ‘religious’ claiming this part of the Wall at the Temple Mount as a synagogue — and as an Orthodox synagogue,” she said. “Women of the Wall has done a great deal to promote this issue publicly.”

In 2005, WOW lost a 17-year Supreme Court battle that would have granted women legal protection to don tallitot and read from Torah scrolls at the Western Wall. The group continues to pray at the Wall every Rosh Chodesh, but in order to hold services with Torah readings and tallitot, the organization must go to a nearby archaeological site called Robinson’s Arch. The disadvantages of the site include an entrance fee, Hoffman said. Entry to the Western Wall is free.

“We are not enjoying all the different services that people enjoy at a holy place,” she said.

WOW isn’t looking to do away with gender separation at the Kotel. According to Hoffman, the organization seeks equal rights for women to pray — with all of the accoutrements — within the women’s section. The organization is halachic, she emphasized, and wants to expand women’s rights within the boundaries of Jewish law, not to abrogate that law.

Supporters agree that there is room for co-existence.

“Any reasonable or thoughtful voice calling for creation of an Israeli society in which religious pluralism can flourish is a voice that would recognize a need to afford Orthodoxy the same privileges,” said Rabbi Adina Lewittes of Sha’ar in Demarest.

At the center of the debate is the Orthodox grip on Israel’s religious institutions and regulations. It’s an issue that goes back to the very foundation of the state, Lewittes said.

“As the Reform and Conservative and Reconstructionist and even secular Jewish movements are gaining more and more ground in terms of communities being developed in Israel,” Lewittes said, “maybe what we’re seeing is the pushback.”

Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first premier and himself a secular Jew, placed Orthodox institutions in charge of the country’s religious institutions as a way to encourage Orthodox support for the fledgling state, said Samuel G. Freedman, a Columbia University journalism professor, New York Times religion columnist, and author of the 2000 book “Jew vs. Jew.”

“They needed Orthodox allies,” he said of Israel’s founding fathers. Many Orthodox circles were against the creation of the state at the time and this was a way to draw them in, he added. Now, the religious parties have become a powerful political force within Israel.

“They bring a lot of bloc votes to the elections,” Freedman said. “It makes it difficult for a center-right government to stand up to them. They bring more votes and more political clout than the Reform and Conservative movements and Jewish feminists do.”

Women’s prayer at the Wall is not a religious issue but a political one, Frishman said, acknowledging the clout of the religious parties. Because of this, the solution for WOW is going to come one step at a time. She pointed to Yotzma, Barnert’s sister congregation in Modi’in, which was the first non-Orthodox synagogue in the country to win partial government building funds.

“Ultimately, what we want to do is change people’s attitudes,” she said. “This issue will actually draw more Jews to Judaism because it opens doors.”


Israel seeks action from Germany

Leslie SusserWorld
Published: 29 January 2010
Israeli officials say German Chancellor Angela Merkel, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Holocaust Museum in Berlin on Jan. 18, 2010, has been lagging in acting against Iran despite some outspoken declarations. Moshe Milner / GPO / Flash90 / JTA

On the face of it, Israel-Germany relations have never been better.

Last week, Israeli and German government ministers held a symbolic first-ever joint Cabinet meeting in Berlin — they had held a similar joint meeting in Jerusalem in 2008. And this week, President Shimon Peres was due to address the German Bundestag in Hebrew on International Holocaust Memorial Day.

News Analysis

Israeli officials say that Angela Merkel — who declared during a 2008 visit to Israel that “Threatening Israel is akin to threatening Germany” — has been Israel’s most supportive German chancellor ever.

But although there are huge benefits in the relationship for both sides, Israel has a number of nagging concerns.

Despite tough talk against the Iranian nuclear weapons drive, Germany remains one of Iran’s biggest and most important trading partners. Israelis are worried, too, about the huge disparity between German government support for Israel and the virulent criticism of Israel coming from many public opinion leaders in Germany.

There are also signs of growing anti-Semitism in the country.

Despite her outspoken declarations, Merkel’s actions are lagging — particularly on Iran. She is categorically against the use of force against the Islamic republic. And on sanctions, Merkel says Germany is obliged only to abide by those authorized by the United Nations. Tougher U.N. sanctions backed by the United States are facing Chinese and possibly Russian opposition in the Security Council.

In 2006, after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made statements questioning the Holocaust, Merkel declared that “a president who questions Israel’s right to exist, a president who denies the Holocaust, cannot expect to receive any tolerance from Germany.” But she did not recall her ambassador from Tehran.

The gap between German word and deed on Iran is not the only discrepancy that has Israeli officials worried. They are concerned as well about the disparity between government support and popular criticism of Israel in Germany.

“This worries me because in democracies, political parties seek public approval for their policies,” Shimon Stein, a former Israeli ambassador to Germany, told JTA. “In the long run, the discrepancy is not good for us or for our friends in Germany.”

German popular support for Israel has eroded steadily since the 1982 Lebanon war, according to Stein. In a poll taken after the Second Lebanon War in 2006, 50 percent of Germans surveyed identified Israel as the biggest threat to world peace. In a 2002 Der Spiegel poll, 25 percent of Germans agreed with the statement that what Israel does to the Palestinians is no different from what Germans did to the Jews in the Holocaust.

In testimony to the Bundestag in June 2008, journalist and author Henryk Broder warned of a new kind of anti-Semitism in Germany among the genteel classes, academics, and politicians of all stripes that takes the form of virulent anti-Zionism.

“The modern anti-Semite pays tribute to Jews who have been dead for 60 years, but he resents it when living Jews take measures to defend themselves,” Broder said.

Germans and Europeans in general — prosperous, at peace, not threatened by outside foes and human rights-oriented — find it difficult to empathize with an Israel fighting for its life, Stein said.

“When Germans say never again, they mean never again war emanating from German soil. When Israelis say never again, they mean never again being passive victims of their enemies,” he said.

On the positive side of the balance sheet, Germany is Israel’s third-largest trading partner after the United States and China, with an annual trade volume of more than $6 billion. The Federal Republic is Israel’s strongest and most reliable supporter in European Union forums, recently helping to moderate a perceived anti-Israel move by Sweden on eastern Jerusalem.

Perhaps most significantly, Germany has made a major contribution to Israeli security through the supply and partial financing of five state-of the-art Dolphin submarines, which, according to foreign reports, give Israel a nuclear second-strike option. German mediators have helped arrange prisoner and body-parts exchanges with Hezbollah in Lebanon, and a German mediator is involved in the efforts now to secure the release of captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

Israel and Germany also are enjoying significant scientific cooperation; Ada Yonath, the 2009 Israeli Nobel laureate in chemistry, did much of her research in Germany.

Given all this, many Israelis are bewildered that Germany hasn’t done more to curb its extensive trade and technology ties with Iran.

In 2008, German trade with Iran actually increased by 14 percent, to more than $5 billion. The German appliance and technology giant Siemens alone accounted for $600 million. It has nearly 300 Iran-based employees, and with its Finnish partner Nokia provides state-of-the-art surveillance technology. In the mid-1970s, Siemens began construction of the reactors at the Bushehr nuclear plant in Iran.

About 100 dummy German companies are suspected of involvement in the sale of missile and aircraft technology to Iran, some rerouted through the United Arab Republic in the UAE. There also have been dozens of cases of “dual use” contracts between Germany and Iran: the sale for civilian use of technology that could be used for military purposes.

For Iranians, German brands long have been the products of choice. According to unofficial German estimates, 75 percent of small- and medium-sized Iranian factories use German equipment and technology. While this is a good indicator of the amount of trade between the two countries, it also shows just how much leverage Germany could have on Iran.

In early 2009, after pressure from then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Merkel moved to limit export guarantees, known as “Hermes Cover,” to firms doing business with Iran. This seems to have had some effect after the unrest that followed the disputed June election in Iran, when some German firms froze activities in Iran because of the perceived risk.

Israeli pressure also forced the cancellation last week of a huge contract for Hamburg Port Consulting to run Bandar Abbas, the Iranian port from which a ship called the Francop set out carrying roughly 500 tons of weapons for Iran’s Hezbollah and Hamas proxies. It was intercepted on the high seas by the Israeli navy last November.

Israel reportedly is working behind the scenes to get a huge gas deal with an unnamed German firm canceled — a $1.44 billion contract reportedly signed last week to supply Iran with 100 gas turbo compressors for the production of liquefied natural gas.

Whether or not Israel’s efforts will bear fruit remains to be seen.



U.S. Jewish leaders press incitement issue

Ben HarrisWorld
Published: 26 February 2010
Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice-chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, shakes hands with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in the west bank town of Jenin on Feb. 18. The chairman of the Jewish group, Alan Solow, left, introduced Fayyad’s address to U.S. Jewish leaders visiting the area. Avi Hayun

U.S. Jewish leaders pressed Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad on incitement last week and the need to keep Israel a Jewish state.

At a meeting Feb. 18 in Jenin between Fayyad and a visiting delegation from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Alan Solow, the chairman of the Jewish umbrella group, said the actions of the Palestinian leadership set back the cause of peace.

“When the Palestinian leadership visits and honors families of those who have murdered innocent Israeli civilians, or when produce is destroyed rather than used only because it originates from the west bank, that sets back our confidence of peace,” Solow said, according to a news release from the Conference of Presidents. “The Israeli prime minister is clear about Israel’s needs to be recognized as a Jewish state. Yet, not only do the Palestinians refuse to acknowledge Israel’s Jewish nature, but clearly state, in Article 19 of the Fatah constitution, that there must be an armed struggle with the Zionist entity.”

Fayyad criticized Israeli military incursions into Palestinian areas, saying they undermined the Palestinian leadership. He pledged that the Palestinian Authority is committed to nonviolence and coexistence.

The PA wants “a progressive state, democratic, which doesn’t tolerate discrimination, which is open, culturally sensitive — including to our Israeli neighbors,” Fayyad said, according to The Jerusalem Post.

A former World Bank official with a doctorate in economics, Fayyad is generally regarded as a moderate, though he has come under fire, including from the Zionist Organization of America, for meeting Feb. 17 with the family of a Palestinian killed as he allegedly attempted to stab an Israeli soldier Feb. 12 in Hebron. The ZOA called Fayyad and the Palestinian Authority “unreconstructed supporters of terrorism and not genuine moderates and peacemakers.”

ZOA President Morton Klein, who was present for the Feb. 18 meeting, also raised the issue of incitement at a meeting with several journalists covering the Middle East conflict, including New York Times bureau chief Ethan Bronner. Klein complained that the Times all but ignores incitement in the official Palestinian media and the perceived endorsement by the Palestinian leadership of anti-Israel terrorism, while reporting extensively on allegations against Israel.

According to Klein, Bronner explained the difference by pointing to different expectations of Israelis and Palestinians. Bronner told JTA that wasn’t exactly what he had said and declined to comment further.



Mossad chief seen as indispensable on Iran

Leslie SusserWorld
Published: 26 February 2010

JERUSALEM – Israel has not claimed responsibility for the assassination in Dubai of top Hamas arms smuggler Mahmoud Mabhouh, but the killing is raising questions about whether it will compromise Israel’s effort to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

That’s because one of the key figures behind the effort, Mossad chief Meir Dagan, is coming under heavy criticism for the sloppy operation in Dubai.

Operating under the assumption that Israel was behind the Dubai hit, some Israeli analysts are calling for Dagan’s ouster. They say the Mossad has adopted an irresponsible, trigger-happy approach to fighting terrorism, and they point to the diplomatic imbroglio facing Israel for the use of fake British and Irish passports by members of the hit squad, who traveled under the names of European citizens now living in Israel.

Dagan’s tenure at the Mossad is up for renewal at the end of the year.

Defenders of Dagan point to the long list of Mossad achievements in the war on terrorism and the campaign against Iran’s nuclear program, and argue that his tenure at the intelligency agency should be extended for an unprecedented fourth time. They insist that his knowledge of the Iranian theater is unmatched, and that as the clock reaches zero hour on the Iranian nuclear threat, his input will be invaluable — and not only for Israel.

Mossad chief Meir Dagan, shown at a Knesset committee meeting in February 2008, has earned plaudits for his actions on Iran and some criticism for his tactics countering terrorism. Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90

Under Dagan, the Mossad has had just two priorities: delaying Iran’s nuclear program and counter-terrorism.

“The list must be short. If we continue pretending we can do everything, in the end we won’t do anything,” Dagan was quoted as saying when he was appointed by then-prime minister Ariel Sharon in 2002.

Sharon reportedly told Dagan to run the agency “with a knife between its teeth.”

The main focus of his tenure has been Iran. Soon after Dagan took over the Mossad, the agency reportedly passed on information to the United States and others that the rogue Pakistani nuclear dealer Abdel Qadir Khan was helping the Iranians build a uranium enrichment facility at Natanz.

Since then, a string of unexplained accidents has afflicted the Iranian nuclear project: scientists have disappeared, laboratories have caught fire, aircraft have crashed, and whole batches of equipment have proved faulty.

In 2007, Israeli intelligence detected work on a secret nuclear program in Syria, and in September of that year Israeli planes bombed the site of a North Korea-style reactor the Syrians were building.

The Mossad also was credited for the discovery of a hidden Iranian enrichment plant near the holy city of Qom last September — a find that finally convinced even previously skeptical international observers that Iran indeed was conducting a clandestine nuclear weapons program.

Although the Mossad has not claimed credit for any of this, regional players have little doubt as to who has been behind the killings, the accidents, and the pinpoint intelligence.

Egypt’s Al-Ahram daily ran an article in mid-January calling Dagan Israel’s Superman and claiming that he almost singlehandedly has delayed the Iranian bomb.

“Without this man, the Iranian nuclear program would have taken off years ago,” the newspaper’s former Gaza correspondent Ashraf Abu al-Haul wrote. In a moment of rare praise for an Israeli in the Egyptian press, he called Dagan’s actions against Israel’s enemies “very brave.”

Now, as the international community dithers over new sanctions against Iran and the Iranians move closer to nuclear weapons’ capacity, Dagan’s reading of the situation will be crucial. He recently revised backward his estimate of when Iran will be able to manufacture a bomb it can deliver to 2014.

Still, there are fears in the international community that Israel may act to stop the Iranian program before it reaches its “breakout point” — when Iran will have stockpiled enough highly enriched uranium to manufacture a bomb if it so chooses. That could come by the end of this year.

For now, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he favors giving sanctions a chance as long as they are tough — not allowing oil out of Iran or oil distillates like petroleum into the country.

“If one is talking about what are effective sanctions, they must include the constriction of the export of oil from Iran and the import of refined oil into Iran,” Netanyahu said Monday in a speech to the Jewish Agency for Israel’s board of governors meeting. “I think that nothing else stands a real chance to stop the progress of the regime, but this has a chance. At least it must be tried and must be tried now.”

Few criticize Dagan’s actions on Iran, but some question his derring-do tactics on terrorism as allegedly reflected in the Dubai operation. They argue that his risk-taking could cost Israel diplomatically and provoke heavy terrorist retaliation. His critics also contend that taking out top terrorists is a dubious proposition: Often their replacements are even more dangerous.

Dagan’s eight years at the helm have seen several targeted killings of top Hezbollah and Hamas operatives in Beirut and Damascus attributed to the Mossad — the most notable of which was the assassination of Hezbollah terrorist mastermind Imad Mugniyeh in a car bombing in Damascus in February 2008. Mugniyeh, who reportedly planned the attack on the U.S. Marines compound in Beirut in 1983, had been on the wanted lists of Israel and the United States for more than two decades.

Late last year the Mossad, although it never acknowledged any involvement, seemed to step up its activities.

In early December, a bus carrying Hamas members and Iranian officials exploded outside Damascus. Two weeks later, two Hamas members were killed in a mysterious bombing in the heart of Hezbollah’s Dahiya stronghold in southern Beirut. Last month, an Iranian nuclear scientist died in a bombing outside his home in Tehran. A week later, Mabhouh was found dead in his Dubai hotel room.

Dagan also has pulled off some major intelligence coups in the war on terror, enabling Israeli forces to intercept weapons destined for Hamas and Hezbollah as far afield as Sudan and on the high seas near Cyprus.

In mid-January 2009, a convoy carrying weapons for Hamas during Operation Cast Lead reportedly was bombed by Israel Air Force planes in Sudan. In November, the Francop, an Antigua-flagged vessel carrying more than 100 tons of rockets, mortars, and anti-tank weapons for Hezbollah, was captured by the Israeli navy.

Dagan’s advice on Iran over the coming months will carry considerable weight. He seems to think there is still time for actions other than a full-scale military operation.

If and when it comes to that, however, chances are that despite the Dubai incident, Netanyahu, one of Dagan’s staunchest admirers, will want Dagan at his side helping to plan it.



Birthright foundation announces new matching grant

imageMiriam and Sheldon Adelson take part in an Aug. 12, 2009, event in Jerusalem with Birthright Israel participants. Courtesy of Birthright Israel Foundation

A new matching grant program by the Birthright Israel Foundation will provide a dollar-for-dollar match on any increase in donations to the foundation based on 2008 gifts.

That means if a donor gave $100 in 2008 and gives $120 in 2010, the foundation would match the $20 increase.

Private philanthropists, the Jewish federation system, the Jewish Agency, and the government of Israel fund the Birthright program. The foundation oversees the private money given to the program, which makes up the vast majority of the Birthright budget.

The foundation has up to $20 million to use for the matching grants, which are being funded by a $10 million gift from casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and another $10 million from a small group of other donors.

The Adelson money is the second installment of a $30 million pledge he made in 2008.

According to Birthright, the foundation is in the middle of a huge push to broaden its donor base.

In 2008, the foundation had 2,823 donors. The number nearly tripled to 8,370 in 2009 as it rolled out a national grass-roots campaign. The foundation aims to have 50,000 donors by 2015.

The matching grant program came out of a late January summit of 49 major donors held by the foundation in Las Vegas and hosted by Adelson, although he was not in attendance.

Of the 49, only three of the 15 original private funders who helped launch Birthright — Michael Steinhardt, Charles Bronfman, and Lynn Schusterman — were present in Las Vegas, according to the foundation’s CEO, Bob Aronson.

Among the 15 original donors, only eight are still giving to Birthright. The rest have dropped off either because of changed economic circumstances or philanthropic focus, or death.

This trend, Aronson said, highlights the need to build a much broader donor base.

According to Aronson, funding for the trips has held steady. In 2008, the foundation raised $55 million to $56 million, and in 2009 it brought in $57 million — even as the mega-gift from Adelson dropped by $10 million.

Fund raising, when subtracting Adelson’s mammoth gift, rose from $26 million to $37 million.

By 2015, Aronson wants to be raising some $49 million per year without Adelson money. Anything Adelson would pledge at that point would be gravy.


This article was adapted from JTA’s philanthropy blog,

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