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entries tagged with: Israel


15 years after the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin

Published: 29 October 2010

Israel, Iran, court, entitlements — what would a GOP Congress mean?


The likely prospect of Republican control of at least one chamber of Congress has triggered broad speculation about the remainder of President Obama’s time in the White House, Republican bids for the presidency in 2012 — and the very course of the nation, if not the West.

The issues that preoccupy Jewish voters and groups have a narrower cast. Nevertheless, the likelihood of a GOP-controlled U.S. House of Representatives, along with the more remote possibility of a Republican Senate, could mean sharp turns in foreign policy and domestic spending. Here’s a glance.


The biggest Israel headlines of Barack Obama’s presidency have had to do with the renewed direct talks with the Palestinians and with the Obama-Netanyahu administrations’ tensions that preceded them.

Such tensions have informed tight congressional races, where an array of Republican candidates have pledged to stand closer by Israel and painted their opponents as pawns of a president who is cool, if not outright hostile, to Israel.

In reality, the peace talks are not likely to be affected by a switch of congressional leadership. Obama’s opposition to Israel’s settlement policy has been expressed through rhetoric and not any action. In fact, Obama’s main substantive shift has been to increase funding for Israel’s defense and enhance defense cooperation as an incentive to make concessions to the Palestinians — intensifications of the relationship a Republican Congress would likely embrace.

If there is a change, it might have more to do with politics than policy. An adversarial Congress may force the White House to tamp down public criticism of Israel ahead of 2012 presidential elections.

The single substantive policy a GOP House might influence is the massive increase in funding for the Palestinian Authority launched in the last years of the George W. Bush administration, from occasional spurts of $20 million in the early part of the decade to today’s $500 million annual expenditure, including half in direct funding.

U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the GOP whip, has suggested that continued funding could be contingent on PA recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. (See related story.)

Theoretically, putting a stop on such funding could threaten U.S.-backed programs, especially training for Palestinian security services.

In fact, such foreign policy funding confrontations in the past have rarely led to defunding. Instead the executive branch — under Democratic and Republican presidents — has dipped into approved funds to keep programs going while it works out new arrangements with Congress.

Congress also is less likely to defund programs favored by Israel. The Israeli defense establishment, while not as gung-ho as the Obama administration in praising PA nation-building, nonetheless appreciates the increase in stability in recent years brought about in part by U.S.-led financial backing for the moderate west bank government of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

Still, even the congressional threat of a U.S. cutoff of funds can inhibit growth and investment.

The more substantive possibility for change on Israel is in Cantor’s pledge to remove defense funding for the nation from the overall foreign aid package and place it elsewhere — perhaps in the defense budget.

In the short run, all this means is that Israel will continue to receive $3 billion in aid annually while the Republicans attempt to gut backing for nations they do not consider reliable allies.

Pro-Israel officials, speaking on background, have said they would work hard to beat back such a proposal because of possible long-term consequences. They see aid for Israel as inextricably bound with the broader interest of countering isolationism.

These officials are concerned, too, that elevating Israel above other nations might be counterproductive in an American electorate still made up of diverse ethnic groups. They also believe that such a designation would make Israel more beholden to U.S. policy and erode its independence.


Republicans have sharply criticized Obama’s outreach to Iran and said he was too slow to apply sanctions.

Over the summer, however, Obama dialed back the outreach to the Islamic Republic and signed a sanctions bill. His Treasury Department already has intensified sanctions, particularly against Iran’s financial sector. U.S. and Israeli officials say Iran is feeling the bite.

The principal U.S.-Israel difference remains timing, or what to do when: When does Iran get the bomb — and what happens then?

Cantor, in his interview with JTA, emphasized that Obama must make it clear that a military option is on the table.

Congress, however, cannot declare war by itself, and while a flurry of resolutions and amendments pressing for greater confrontation with Iran may be in the offing, they will not affect policy — except perhaps to sharpen Obama’s rhetoric ahead of 2012.

Should Obama, however, return to a posture of engagement — this depends on the less than likely prospect of the Iranian theocracy consistently embracing diplomacy — a GOP-led Congress could inhibit the process through adversarial hearings.

Social issues: abortion,
church and state

The two Supreme Court justices more likely than not to uphold liberal social outlooks who were itching for a Democrat in the White House so they could retire — David Souter and John Paul Stevens — have done so. Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan replaced them following smooth confirmation processes.

No other such resignations are imminent. However, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who also tilts liberal in her decisions, is 77 and has battled cancer; Antonin Scalia, a reliable conservative, is 74; and so is Anthony Kennedy, the court’s swing vote who tilts right more often than not.

In case one of them retires, don’t expect the smooth transitions that characterized Obama’s first two appointments. Republicans may not control the Senate, but they will likely have a stronger filibuster in January.

Republicans now control 41 seats — one more than is needed to keep a nomination from advancing to a full vote. After Nov. 2, more among their numbers are likely to be diehard conservatives and less likely to cross the floor to break a filibuster.

They will want Obama to tailor a judge more to conservative likings under those circumstances, especially if he is replacing Scalia or Kennedy.


The House’s GOP caucus imposed a yearlong moratorium on its own earmarks last March. An extension is likely, Cantor said, and a GOP majority will be able to enforce a moratorium on Democrats.

That prospect concerns federations and Jewish groups that care for the elderly and infirm. Earmarks, less lovingly known as “pork,” are the funds lawmakers attach to bills in order to help their districts. Such funds have helped spur forward the Jewish Federations of North America crown project, naturally occurring retirement homes, among other programs for the elderly.

Medicare, Medicaid, and health care

No matter who wins next week, both parties have pledged cuts to entitlements like Medicare, the program that funds medical assistance for the elderly, and Medicaid, which provides medical care for the poor. Jewish groups draw on both programs to help fund assistance for the elderly and provide the Jewish poor with kosher meals.

Targeting entitlements misses the point, say Jewish professionals whose expertise is elderly care. They say the real savings come from addressing burgeoning health care costs overall and not just entitlements.

“Let’s go after health-care spending and health-care costs and see how we can make the system more effective,” said Rachel Goldberg, the director of aging policy at B’nai B’rith International, the largest Jewish sponsor of senior housing in the United States.

The Republican leader in the House, Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), has said he will lead an effort to repeal the Obama health-care reforms passed this year by the Democratic Congress. It’s not clear that Boehner has broad party support, and he likely would not be able to override Obama’s veto of such a bill.



Scott Berrie in Israel to make film about Jerusalem

Film will show ‘the human aspect’ of the city

Filmmaker Scott Berrie was a little wary about transplanting his family to Israel for a year. A proud secular Zionist and son of the late toy magnate and philanthropist Russell Berrie, the Englewood native nevertheless imagined that religious confrontation and Jewish-Arab violence might mar the experience.

But he need not have worried. “I have found it to be spectacular and beautiful here,” said Berrie, who arrived in mid-July. “We are experiencing history, culture, and diversity here. We are hearing a million different languages all the time.”

While his wife and three children settled into the rhythm of life in their temporary surroundings in Jerusalem’s Talbieh neighborhood, he began laying the groundwork for the next film in Emmanuel Benbihy’s “Cities of Love” series. His company, Impulse Creative Productions LLC, is licensed to produce “Jerusalem I Love You.”

Berrie is hopeful that this full feature-length film, due for release in the spring of 2012, will put a new spin on the holy city for viewers across the world, just as his time here has proven unexpectedly delightful. It will present a montage of scripted short stories about falling in love in Jerusalem.

“This film will provide an opportunity to tell a different story about love and hope and possibilities — the human aspect of Jerusalem instead of the headlines — from multiple points of view,” Berrie said. “We hope to create something beautiful and touching and meaningful.”

Soon to turn 45, Berrie spent his first year of life in Fort Lee before his family relocated to Eastwood Court in Englewood. When he was 6, they moved a few blocks away to Mountain Road, where his mother continued to live after she and the elder Berrie divorced.

“When Scott finished college, I expected him to work for his father, and instead he went to serve in the Israeli army,” said Kathy Berrie, a Moroccan Jew who described her three grown children as “very big Zionists.” She looks forward to joining Scott’s family in Israel later this year for his oldest child’s bar mitzvah.

Berrie vividly recalls his mother crying on her way to Yom Kippur services at Tenafly’s Temple Sinai in 1973. War had just broken out, and she was worried about her brother, who had made aliyah the previous year, and her mother, who was visiting him.

After attending the University of Colorado in Boulder, Berrie spent a few months tending fish ponds on a kibbutz near Haifa. He returned to join his father’s New Jersey-based business and philanthropic Russell Berrie Foundation, of which he remains an active trustee. He made aliyah in 1989 and served for a year in a combat engineering unit (“I dealt in explosives and all that stuff”). As Scud missiles fell during first gulf war, he was translating news stories and setting up interviews for ABC News.

Berrie returned to the States, where he earned two master’s degrees, in Middle Eastern studies at Columbia University and in business from New York University. Eager to meld his interests in social justice and entrepreneurship, in 1999 he co-founded a venture devoted to designing and distributing fashionable and affordable reading glasses worldwide. He sold his share in the venture and turned to independent movie production in 2008.

“Film is an incredible method for conveying the complexity of human emotions,” he said. Impulse Creative Productions allows him “to be committed to public service as well as the bottom line.”

“Jerusalem I Love You” presented a welcome opportunity for Berrie and his wife, Patricia, to take their three kids abroad for a year. “I loved the business world, but I always longed to come back to Israel with my children,” he said.

Backed by private investors and a grant from the Jerusalem Film and Television Fund — the first ever awarded to an international production — Berrie has signed up an A-list cast of Israeli talent, and has invited American and European directors to join them.

His production partner is David Silber, producer of the Oscar-nominated “Beaufort” (2007) and Venice Film Festival award-winning “Lebanon” (2009). One segment will be directed by Joseph Cedar (“Beaufort”), and prominent novelist/screenwriter Etgar Keret is to contribute an original story.

Also on board are the authors Meir Shalev and Amos Oz, as well as prominent Israeli-Arab journalist/television writer Sayed Kashua. Berrie is in negotiations with Hagai Levi, creator and director of the Israeli TV series that inspired HBO’s “In Treatment,” and Ari Folman, writer/director of the Oscar-nominated 2008 animated documentary “Waltz with Bashir.”

“We’re asking all the directors to write their own short stories or work with stories from different writers,” said Berrie.

His wife is on sabbatical from her job as a news producer for WNYC radio, and the kids are doing well in public school, still perfecting the Hebrew that their father speaks fluently.

Rather than religious tension, the Berries have experienced warm acceptance among “a very special group of people who have invited us into their homes for holidays and Shabbat.”

Berrie enjoys biking, hiking, and Sunday night softball with a cadre of English-speaking Jerusalemites. “They’re all smart and fun to be with, world experts in this or that. This is an amazing, stimulating environment to be in, with fewer distractions than in Manhattan.”

Mayor Nir Barkat is among fans eagerly awaiting the movie’s debut. In addition to its hoped-for positive impact on the city’s economy, “Jerusalem I Love You” could be a fine homage to the city.

“We can portray Jerusalem in all its beauty to the world,” said Berrie. “I hope it will make the Jewish community around the world proud and that it will make people want to come and visit.”


Non-Jews as saviors of Judaism

Published: 05 November 2010

Jimmy Carter, have you no shame?

Published: 05 November 2010

Youth and consequences


The role of diaspora Jewry considered once again


Doughnuts, draft dodgers, and sexy paranormalists

JERUSALEM – Here are some recent stories out of Israel that you may have missed.

Dough for doughnuts

It’s hard to hate Elie Klein of Beit Shemesh, even though he’s been chowin’ down on sufganiyot without gaining a pound.

Israel under the radar

As of Sunday, the still-slender Klein, 30, has raised more than $4,000 for three dozen charities just for eating the Israeli doughnuts — 39 of them.

Via his Facebook page, Klein has asked family and friends in Israel and abroad to donate a certain amount per sufganiya he munches. He has raised more than $100 per puffy fried confection for 37 causes.

The gorging mitzvah grew out of a friendly rivalry among several friends to see who could eat the most sufganiyot, a traditional Chanukah food. The sponsors decide where the pledges go.

Klein, who had a doctor check him out before starting the sufganiyot marathon, told The Jerusalem Post that he’s been balancing his goodies by having plenty of salad. He told Ynet that he is “blessed with a crazy metabolism” and has not gained any weight yet as a result of his binging.

Draft-dodging women caught on Facebook

Memo to Israeli women: If you claim to be religious to avoid army service, don’t update your Facebook status on Shabbat. And don’t post photos of yourself in immodest clothing.

The Israel Defense Forces is using the social networking site to help catch draft-dodging women and reportedly has nabbed 1,000.

Military investigators looking for women who lied about being religious to evade mandatory army service have found young ladies posting photos of themselves in immodest clothing, dining in non-kosher restaurants, and responding to invitations to parties taking place on Friday night.

Some 42 percent of Jewish women in Israel do not serve in the army — 35 percent of them signed a declaration that they are religiously observant. The army has 60 days to challenge the declaration, according to The Jerusalem Post.

Israeli men at 18 and finished with high school are required to serve three years in the Israeli military; women are required to serve two years.

Recharging their batteries

Israelis will soon see electric cars on its roads, imported to test battery recharging stations at several sites throughout the country.

Better Place, a company based in California and Israel, was granted permission by the Minister of Transportation to import 13 Renault Fluence electric cars to test the stations. The cars are set to be approved soon for marketing in Israel for 2011, the Israeli business daily Globes reported, making Israel one of the first markets for vehicles with a quick-change station, where the vehicles can pick up a freshly charged battery for immediate use.

Sexy entertainer

One of the sexiest men alive, at least for the year 2010, lives in Israel.

Israeli paranormalist Lior Suchard was named to People magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive list for 2010 representing his age group, 28, on the Sexy at Every Age list of 100 men.

“I still can’t believe that I’m on the list; I’m in shock,” Suchard, who is performing his Uri Geller-esque act in Las Vegas, told Ynet. “I got all sorts of text messages from people telling me that I’m in the magazine, so I immediately ran to the store to buy it.

“On the one hand I’m a little embarrassed, but on the other hand this is very exciting. It was never my goal to be on it, but it is definitely cool to be included.

‘Traffic Light’ passes Emmy muster

“Ramzor,” an Israeli sitcom about three longtime friends and their romantic relationships, won the International Emmy Award for best comedy.

The Emmy was awarded Nov. 22 in New York at an International Academy of Television Arts and Sciences ceremony.

“Ramzor,” which means “traffic light” in Hebrew, defeated entries from Thailand, Mexico, and Britain. It was selected as a finalist by a panel of 700 judges from 50 countries.

Earlier this year, the Fox network bought the rights to the show, which is being called “Mixed Signals” and is scheduled to air starting in February. The American version will be written by Bob Fischer, who wrote the Fox TV series “Married with Children” and the film “Wedding Crashers.”

Russia also has purchased rights to the show.

The Hebrew version will be aired in several other countries, including Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and Georgia, Ynet reported.

“Ramzor,” which airs on Israel Channel 2 and is owned by its franchisee Keshet, is taping its third season. Its second season was among the top 10 most watched shows of 2009, with 23.7 percent of Israelis watching.

‘Sex and the City,’ Israeli style

Casting has begun for an Israeli version of the hit HBO series “Sex and The City,” Ynet reported. The series will follow the lives and loves of three 30-something gal pals. The four American women lived in New York; the three Israelis will live in Tel Aviv.

Ynet reported that young Israeli actress Neta Plotnik has been tapped to play the Carrie Bradshaw character made famous by Sarah Jessica Parker, a Jewish actress.

Two episodes will be filmed as the Globus Corp., which is producing the series, searches for a broadcasting contract.

On the Oscar shortlist

The Israeli documentary film “Precious Life” has been shortlisted for an Oscar.

“Precious Life,” the story of a sick Palestinian child in Gaza and his mother’s efforts to get him the care in Israel that he needs to survive, is up against 14 films for one of five spots to vie for the Best Documentary Film award at the 83rd Academy Awards in March.

The film, by award-winning Israeli TV reporter Shlomi Eldar, who is making his documentary directorial debut, has been screened at festivals around the world in recent months.

JTA Wire Service


WikiLeaks reveals secrets — and cluelessness

WASHINGTON – A careful reading of the WikiLeaks trove of State Department cables — which is laying bare some 250,000 secret dispatches detailing private conversations, assessments, and dealmaking of U.S. diplomats — reveals a notable if perhaps surprising pattern: how often they get things wrong.

Again and again the cables show diplomats, lawmakers, and heads of state predicting outcomes that never come to pass.

A year ago, top Israeli defense officials, in a meeting with their U.S. counterparts, set 2010 as the absolute deadline to squeeze Iran on its nuclear program. Now Israeli officials say the date is 2012.

In a 2005 assessment, the same Israeli cadre told U.S. interlocutors that the point of no return would be Iran’s ability to enrich uranium without assistance. Iran has had that capacity for years.

In January 2008, Egypt’s intelligence chief said Hamas was isolated and would not stand in the way of a peace agreement. Hamas’ continuing control of Gaza, even following the war that broke out 11 months after the Egyptian assessment, still undercuts Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

In 2007, U.S. diplomats called Tzipi Livni an up-and-comer. Though now the leader of the Israeli opposition as head of the Kadima Party, Livni twice failed in bids to become Israel’s prime minister.

The same State Department cable said the Israeli military and government don’t get along — “never the twain shall meet!” But they do get along, mostly, and meet often; the lack of cooperation in 2007 was the result of the short-lived term of Amir Peretz as Israeli defense minister.

The disparities between predictions and reality reflect the on-the-fly nature of the discussions detailed in the newly revealed cables.

Ed Abington, a former U.S. consul in Jerusalem who has consulted for the Palestinian Authority, said the authors of such cables work under pressure to come up with “added value” in analysis and fill in the vacuum with chatter that might not have any basis in reality.

“You’re looking for what you can add that makes it relevant to policymakers in Washington and elsewhere — analysis, insight,” Abington told JTA. “A lot of the reporting, in hindsight, is irrelevant.”

David Makovsky, a senior analyst with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said facts on the ground also change rapidly — a factor that helps explain how dire Israeli predictions about Iran’s imminent weapons program have dissipated, at least for now.

Part of that may be attributable to efforts by the West to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program. Makovsky cited the recent success of the Stuxnet computer worm, which apparently disrupted Iranian centrifuges necessary to enrich uranium to bomb-making capacity.

Much of the material in the leaked cables offers frank U.S. assessments of everything from the temperament of foreign leaders to the shipment of arms between foes of the United States.

In late 2009, U.S. officials told their Russian counterparts that they believed North Korea had shipped missiles to Iran capable of hitting capitals in western Europe. The Russians were skeptical, but agreed that there was evidence of increased cooperation between the two rogue nations and it posed new dangers.

The cables also track increasing concern among the United States, Israel, and Western nations that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is leading Turkey along a path to Islamism — and beyond the point of no return of accommodation with the West.

In Cairo, U.S. diplomats told Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton that in meetings with Egyptian leaders, she should defer to Egyptian self-regard as the indispensable Arab state while acknowledging that the perception is long past its due date.

Tracking the cables that straddle the Bush and Obama administrations also demonstrates that on some matters policies have changed little, if at all.

Stuart Levey, the treasury undersecretary charged with enforcing Iran sanctions, reassured Israeli Mossad chief Meir Dagan in December 2008 that President Obama was as determined as George W. Bush to isolate Iran through sanctions. Within a few weeks, Obama would confirm the point by reappointing Levey to the job, ensuring consistency.

The leaks also show Iranian and Syrian duplicity. A 2008 memo, apparently from an Iranian source, details how Iran used the cover of the Iranian Red Crescent to smuggle officers into Lebanon in 2006 to assist in Hezbollah’s war against Israel. Syria apparently provided sophisticated weapons to Hezbollah within weeks of pledging to U.S. officials that it would not do so.

Some of those named in the leaks worried that their publication could inhibit frank dialogue.

U.S. Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) was outraged that her private exchange with Netanyahu on Iran and Palestinian issues in a 2009 meeting became public knowledge.

“If Congress has no ability to have candid conversations with foreign leaders, we won’t have some of the critical information we need to make the judgments we need to make about countries like Iran,” she told The Daily Beast.

In condemning the leaks, Clinton said Monday that they represent policymaking only in its most nascent stages. Once the heavy hitters become involved, the policy is changed. So the content of the leaked cables is not of vital importance, she argued.

“I want to make clear that our official foreign policy is not set through these messages but here in Washington,” Clinton said. “Our policy is a matter of public record, as reflected in our statements and our actions around the world.”

But the cables reveal policy discussions in blunter terms and show the inner workings of intergovernmental relationships that the parties would rather have kept private.

Saudi Arabia, for example, is shown in the cables to be beating the war drum for a U.S. attack against Iran — a stance quite different from its public posture.

In a 2008 meeting, the Saudi ambassador to United States reminds U.S. Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, about the multiple times Saudi King Abdullah called on the United States to “cut off the head of the snake” — attack Iran to stop its nuclear program.

But the message is not consistent. Other cables describe meetings in the Persian Gulf with Arab officials, including Saudis, who counsel against a strike, saying that the backlash would be incalculable.

The cables least prone to such disparity may be those that describe meetings with Israeli officials. Successive Israeli prime ministers and defense ministers all say the same things — and in the same ways that they do in briefings with reporters.

Meeting this week with Israeli reporters after WikiLeaks began publishing the cables, Netanyahu said the Israeli government takes pains to make sure the most sensitive discussions are kept private.

“It influences our work, what we do in meetings, who we bring into meetings, what we say in them, and when we narrow the meeting to two people,” he was quoted as saying by the Jerusalem Post.

The most important exchanges between the U.S. and Israeli governments are not detailed in the cables because top U.S. and Israeli political leaders speak directly to each other.

The cables leaked by WikiLeaks, about 1 percent of which have been published so far, have low secrecy classifications and were written by relatively low-level diplomats. They were stored in a computer system that more than 2 million people had clearance to access.

Newspapers reported this week that a U.S. soldier, Bradley Manning, is allegedly behind the leaks to WikiLeaks. Manning, a private, is facing trial in another leaks case.

JTA Wire Service


American Jews plan relief efforts in wake of Israeli blaze

Netanyahu, Peres honor foreign rescue workers

JERUSALEM – Israeli President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu honored foreign rescue and fire fighting delegations that assisted in putting out the Carmel Forest fire.

During a ceremony Tuesday at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, the Israeli leaders presented certificates of appreciation and awards to the heads of each foreign rescue delegation for their efforts and assistance in extinguishing the fire.

Some 300 members of the delegations participated in the event, including firefighters, pilots, emergency response experts and ambassadors from 10 countries. The delegations represented Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Egypt, France, Germany, Greece, Holland, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Britain, United States, Russia, Jordan, Turkey, and the Palestinian Authority, according to the president’s office.

“Thank you for your mission which is neither diplomatic nor foreign relations but rather expresses the highest form of human responsibility,” Peres told the participants.

“In helping us douse the flames, you have warmed the hearts of the entire nation and you have shown us that we are not alone,” Netanyahu said. “You have shown us that around the world there are people of good will that will help us in our hour of need. I believe that this rapid international response can be a model for future cooperation in our region. I thank each and every one of you for your courage, your dedication and your friendship. The people of Israel, an ancient people with a long memory, will never forget what you have done for us.”

Christos Oikonomou, head of the 70-member Greek rescue delegation, spoke on behalf of all of the foreign teams, saying in part, “On behalf of those who contributed in the fighting of the fires in the Mount Carmel region of the last few days, I wish to express our deepest sorrow and profound sympathy to the relatives of the victims. At the same time I wish to express our deep satisfaction and pride for being able to assist our Israeli colleagues in their tremendous struggle to control the fire. Real friends speak with their deeds. We are your friends and that’s what we tried to do.”

JTA Wire Service

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