Israel, Palestinians reach landmark water deal for West Bank, Gaza
Israel and the Palestinian Authority on Thursday announced an agreement that will provide millions of cubic meters of drinking water to the Palestinians from a desalination process.
While the Palestinians made plain that the deal, brokered by US President Donald Trump’s envoy Jason Greenblatt, has no impact on final-status issues in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Greenblatt hailed it as a “harbinger of things to come.” At a joint press conference in Jerusalem, however, Greenblatt refused to take any questions regarding his bid to relaunch peace negotiations
The agreement announced Thursday is part of a larger trilateral agreement for the construction of a 220-kilometer (137-mile) pipeline transferring water from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea — the lowest body of water on earth — to benefit Israelis, Jordanians and Palestinians, and replenish the dwindling Dead Sea. As the water runs down the gradient it will be used to generate electricity that will also power a desalination plant to produce drinking water.
“As we all know, water is a precious commodity in the Middle East,” Greenblatt said. “The US welcomes the agreement reached by the Palestinian Authority and the government of Israel, which will allow for the sale of 32 million cubic meters of water from Israel to the Palestinian Authority. In addition, we hope that the deal will contribute to the healing of the Dead Sea and that will help not only Palestinians and Israelis but Jordanians as well.”
Trump has made it clear that reaching lasting peace agreement is a “top priority for him,” Greenblatt added. “This agreement is an example of the parties working together to make a mutual beneficial deal,” he said.
“I am proud of the role the US and international partners have played in helping the partners reach this deal land I hope it is a harbinger of things to come,” Greenblatt said.
The US envoy, who earlier this week met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and senior Palestinian negotiators as part of a bid to relaunch talks, noted that Thursday’s agreement is the second recent deal between Jerusalem and Ramallah to improve the daily lives of Palestinians. On Monday, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz and PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah attended a ceremony launching a new Jenin electrical substation.
Thursday’s water deal was reached under the tutelage of Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi, who hailed the so-called Red Sea-Dead Sea Conveyance project as the “biggest and most ambitious project event initiated and exercised” in the area.
“Unfortunately, in our neighborhood we don’t always have a reason to smile. This morning we do,” Hanegbi said. “After years of stalemate, and thanks to the passionate negotiations of Jason Greenblatt and thanks to the pragmatic and professional approach of both delegations… we reached an important agreement,” he said.
The agreement announced Thursday showed that “water can serve as means for reconciliation, prosperity, cooperation rather than calls for tensions and dispute,” Hanegbi said
The deal was also applauded by the pro-settler Yesha Council. “We are very impressed by Jason Greenblatt’s ability to achieve a substantive agreement on water that will change people’s lives on the ground,” the group’s foreign envoy, Oded Revivi, said. “We have long said that true peace must be built from the ground up, one step at a time.”
Environmentalists hailed the deal as a significant step toward addressing water shortage issues, especially in water-starved Gaza. Gaza needs about 200 million cubic meters of water per year, but natural aquifers can only provide 50 million. For years, Gaza has been overpumping its aquifers, causing seawater to seep into the groundwater and salinity levels to rise. Currently 97% of Gaza’s water is not potable. When Gazan water is mixed with Israeli water, however, the salinity levels drop enough to make it safe for human consumption, according to Gidon Bromberg, the Israeli co-director of EcoPeace Middle East, a joint Israeli-Palestinian-Jordanian environmental organization.
“[Greenblatt] identified water as a low-hanging fruit, and this water deal between Israel and the PA is really significant, because it is going to help improve the water situation first and foremost in Gaza,” said Bromberg.
“The original 2013 water deal did not include Gaza at all; the original deal was only for the West Bank,” Bromberg added. “It’s because of the crisis in Gaza; both sides realize that it’s not just a water security issue, it’s a national security issue. If more water is not provided to Gaza, there could be a potential outbreak of pandemic disease, which even Prime Minister Netanyahu has said won’t stop at the border.”
The water sharing deal reached on Thursday calls for an Aqaba desalination plant in Jordan to sell water to southern Jordan and Eilat, while water from the Sea of Galilee will be sold to northern Israel and Jordan. Israel will sell 32 million cubic meters of water to the Palestinian Authority from Mediterranean desalination plants — 10 million to Gaza and 22 million to the West Bank — according to Bromberg, whose organization is heavily involved in water research and advocacy.
Besides providing a yearly total of 100 million cubic meters of drinking water to Palestinians, Jordanians and Israelis, the Red-Dead project will produce “green energy” and replenish the Dead Sea, which is currently shrinking at a drastic pace, Hanegbi said.
The Israeli government now has to allocate a budget for the project — which is located entirely in Jordan but will be run by a joint administrative board — before construction can commence, he said. It is expected to be completed in four to five years, he said.
Experts have estimated the canal will cost $10 billion, and the EU, US, Japan and Italy, among others, have already committed to part of the cost, according to the Prime Minister’s Office.
Bromberg’s EcoPeace, however, dismissed the idea that the canal will “replenish” the Dead Sea. The canal will bring an estimated 80-100 million cubic meters to the Dead Sea per year, just 10% of the amount the Dead Sea needs to stay at its current level. The Dead Sea, dropping at a rate of more than a meter per year, requires 800 million cubic meters per year just to stay stable, meaning the expensive project will provide needed water but won’t “save the Dead Sea” as advertised to global donors, it said.
The head of the Palestinian Water Authority, Mazen Ghuneim, welcomed the deal.
“This will alleviate the suffering of Palestinians that they surely face, especially in the hot summer months,” he said, speaking through an interpreter.
Water is primarily a humanitarian issue, he added, stressing that the deal struck this week has no bearing whatsoever on the overall Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Greenblatt and Hanegbi refused to comment on current US-led efforts to relaunch peace negotiations, though the Israeli minister said Thursday’s agreement teaches that “when you focus on the issues, and not history or background or personal emotions or other disturbing elements, the common denominator’s much bigger than what separates us.” (the Times of Israel)
Israel Air Force flies farther thanks to Brazil deal
Boeing 707 Re’em refuels IAF jets
The Israel Air Force has bought a Boeing 707 from the Brazilian Air Force to use for parts as part of a major upgrade of its tanker fleet.
The plane was bought several months ago in a contract worth $410,000, according to the Defense Ministry.
The IAF Re’em (Boeing 707) refueler aircraft, many which are nearing 60 years old, are needed for long-range missions.
“We like to see ourselves as the squadron which allows the IAF to go anywhere.
Without air refueling fighter, jets can only go so far,” a senior officer in the Re’em Squadron told The Jerusalem Post during a visit to the Nevatim Air Base, southeast of Beersheba.
The Defense Ministry is believed to be considering leasing Boeing KC-46A air tankers to replace the 707’s, and while the air force has begun initial talks to consider the option of using some American military aid to buy new tanker aircraft, they are considered relatively expensive.
The air force’s Re’em planes, the number of which remains classified, are former civilian aircraft adapted for military uses such as aerial refueling for fighter jets, as well as for transport aircraft.
Sitting in the cockpit of one of the aging planes, the senior officer said that it was challenging to fly the planes, explaining that pilot must be able to coordinate with the boom operator who sits in the back of the craft.
Able to carry 20 extra fuel tanks while modified for aerial refueling, the planes are able to be adapted to carry passengers as well as cargo such as military equipment and ammunition from the United States, the officer said.
“The diversity of our missions is quite large. There are not many squadrons that go help in humanitarian situations and then carry out a classified operational mission and then carry the prime minister to peace talks,” he said.
The planes, which carry out most of their training in Israel, are set to take part in the Blue Flag exercise in November.
Close to 100 aircraft and hundreds of support crew from the United States, Greece, Poland, France, Germany, Italy and India are expected to partake in the two-week Blue Flag drill, marking the first time India will be participating.
The exercise has been carried out every two years, first in 2013 and then in 2015.
“It will be exciting to fly with the Indians. It makes our alliances stronger,” the officer said.
The drill, which is aimed at honing skills in planning, targeting and coordinated command and control, will take place out of the Uvda Air Base, about 60 km. north of Eilat, and will marks the first time that such a large number of foreign planes and air forces will participate in a training exercise in Israel.
In August 2015, Re’em Squadron planes set the record for the longest direct IAF flight, when they flew 14,500 km. from Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada to Israel, after participating in Red Flag, the main Israeli-American air forces training exercise.
The long journey to Nevada had taken three days, with several tankers prepositioned in Spain and at Lajes Air Base on Terceira Island in the Azores, Portugal, in the mid-Atlantic, before they flew to Bangor, Maine, and then finally to Nellis.
“It was a really complex exercise which demonstrated exactly how far we can go. To land several tankers and 200 air crew on a small island in the mid-Atlantic shows the power of the air force,” the officer said, explaining that Israel is one of the few countries participating in the Red Flag Exercise that gets there alone.
“Other countries receive aerial refueling from the Americans. We choose not to on purpose.” (Jerusalem Post)
IDF’s new method for disarming terrorists without injury
The city of Hebron has seen an increase in the number of attempted stabbing attacks than the height of the wave of terror last year. However, in all of the attempts, the IDF and Border Police have succeeded in neutralizing the armed Palestinians with the incidents ending without injury to either the soldiers or the would-be terrorists.
Speaking in an interview with Ynet, a senior IDF officer from the Judea and Samaria Division said that the forces had caught no fewer than 25 suspected Palestinians carrying knives on their bodies at checkpoints around settlements in the West Bank between April and June. The figure, he says, has only risen and reached its peak during the month of Ramadan.
Despite the high numbers, not a single Israeli was harmed and no soldier was forced to open fire on the attacker. The reason? The Judea Division, which controls the Hebron area, has made dramatic changes to the methods used for searching people passing through the checkpoints which separate Jewish settlements and the Palestinian neighborhoods.
Now, passing through some checkpoints requires standing in a special reinforced concrete room containing bullet proof and shatter proof glass, along with a machine capable of detecting not only metal or sharp objects on the body, but also of identifying the exact point of the body to which the object is attached.
Effectively, the system allows for a comprehensive search without endangering the safety of the soldier who, instead of approaching potential harm’s way, stands in small room next door and views the scan through the reinforced glass.
A Palestinian who is spotted carrying a sharp object is immediately locked in the cell with the touch of a button and is then taken in for questioning leaving both the assailant and the soldier unscathed.
The new system has now been added on the Palestinian side of the Cave of the Patriarchs, a flashpoint for attempted and successful knife attacks.
In the new checkpoints, a computer is also installed for a more efficient transfer of Palestinians entering for legal purposes. For example, a computer in the room assists the soldier in quickly identifying Palestinians carrying entry permits for merchants, VIPs and teachers.
Not only will the number of efficient checkpoints increase in the Jewish settlements, but over the last few days one has already started being built at the beginning of a road leading to the entrance of Kiryat Arba where Jewish civilians have been, hitherto, exposed to unchecked Palestinians from northern Hebron where infamous clans control well-known terrorists.
“We don’t want IDF soldiers patrolling the road in a Jewish community with a bullet in the barrel around Palestinian and Jewish children,” the officer said.
Other measures have also been taken to beef up security in some of the most sensitive zones that have experienced the deadly realities of terror.
In Otniel, for example, NIS 2.5 million have been invested in security, including the installation of 25 CCTV cameras. The city of Hebron is the most recorded city in Israel and in the last four years, the number of IDF security cameras has risen in the West Bank and its vicinity from 82 to more than 160. (Ynet News)
Nod to Palestine an ignorant and regressive idea
by Greg Sheridan The Australian
The NSW Labor Party, under the shameful influence of its once great right-wing faction, is about to pass a resolution on the Middle East that is a disgrace in principle, is semi-publicly but earnestly opposed by Bill Shorten, Tanya Plibersek, Richard Marles and Penny Wong, and will be an embarrassment to the Labor Party.
Former leader Kim Beazley describes it as gesture politics unrelated to the real world. The resolution reflects a kind of sectarian nastiness and regression in the party’s internal culture.
Oh, and one more thing. It will make it that bit harder for Labor to win the next federal election.
The resolution will call on the next Labor government to unconditionally and immediately extend diplomatic recognition to the state of Palestine. The sponsors want it to become national Labor policy at a federal conference next year.
It would replace the 2015 national resolution, which supports the two-state solution and calls on the Israeli government to halt building settlements in the West Bank, but also calls for a negotiated agreement between the two parties.
That resolution acknowledges Israel’s right to exist within secure borders and the Palestinians’ legitimate aspiration to nationhood. The existing resolution says if there is no progress a future Labor government could discuss with like-minded nations possible future recognition of a Palestinian state, if that contributes to the peace process.
The last part is ill advised because it encourages the Palestinian leadership to believe it can get a state without having to compromise on those of its demands that are unreasonable and impossible to implement. Nonetheless it is a balanced policy that a self-respecting social democratic party can defend.
The proposed unilateral and unconditional recognition of a Palestinian state, on the other hand, can really emanate only from an unbalanced hostility to Israel or an ignorance of the circumstances on the ground. Either way, the support by the NSW right for this demonstrates the complete death of its old culture of decency and strategic responsibility.
Once the NSW right was the best strand in Australian political culture, the guardian of Labor’s strategic common sense, its connection with the values of ordinary Australians. Now it looks like a self-seeking machine prepared to cave in on any principle to avoid a fight. Numerous NSW unions know this is a dud resolution but won’t fight.
Typically, former Labor ministers become less reliable guides to good policy the further away they are from holding office. Beazley, who until five minutes ago was ambassador to the US, is by a long distance the most authoritative Labor figure on strategic issues and the Middle East.
His assessment of the NSW resolution? “It has the status of a gesture without merit in reality. The issue of diplomatic recognition is a serious international legal business. There’s a recognised set of criteria that bring about diplomatic recognition. These are that a state has recognised boundaries, a clear-cut government and control of the affairs of state. On any of those criteria Palestine does not meet it. Its borders are not settled. It is not in control of the affairs of state. And it has two governments (one in Gaza, one in the West Bank).
“Labor is totally committed to a two-state solution. If from time to time we find that settlement policy is undermining that, or that one side or the other is not being sincere, we should say so. But the idea for this resolution is gesture politics and it is simply not helpful.”
Beazley also tells me that for a two-state solution to take shape, demands have to be made of both the Israelis and the Palestinians.
The NSW resolution is, of course, entirely one-sided. It is born out prejudice and baked in ignorance. Almost nothing said in its defence is true.
Last week I had lunch with Dennis Ross, who was the Middle East co-ordinator for Bill Clinton and then a senior adviser on the Middle East for Barack Obama. It would be pretty hard to call him a neocon or a Likudnik or a supporter of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Ross told me he strongly opposed gestures such as the unconditional recognition of a Palestinian state. Such gestures contribute nothing to the peace process and are counterproductive because they reinforce the tragic mistake the Palestinian leadership has made in always preferring symbolism over substance, “to seek a flag rather than build a society”.
Ross, who has devoted much of a passionate and brilliant life to the pursuit of a two-state solution, also says there is simply no such solution immediately available right now, so Israel could not possibly immediately withdraw from the West Bank.
He also puts the problem of Israeli settlements in the West Bank in some perspective. The main settlement blocs, he says, occupy about 4 per cent of the West Bank and house almost 80 per cent of settlers. He is critical of the Netanyahu government and wants it to restrict any construction activity to within those blocs. Every peace negotiation has recognised that those blocs will remain part of Israel and Israel will give up equivalent territory to make up for them.
Ross has no problem criticising Israel and asking it to make compromises and sacrifices, but he also thinks the international community must make some demands of the Palestinian leadership, such as stopping payments to terrorists who kill Israeli civilians.
At the time of the Oslo Accords, and as late as 2000, the overwhelming Israeli sentiment was in favour of an immediate and generous two-state solution. As Bill Clinton has recounted, the Palestinian leadership walked away from these offers. Since then, the history of Palestinian terrorism, and especially the missile attacks on Israel launched from the Gaza Strip, from which Israel withdrew unilaterally, and the internal bloodletting among Palestinian factions there, has convinced all parts of Israeli politics that no such solution is available right now.
Nonetheless the Netanyahu government, and Israeli public opinion, still favour a two-state solution when that becomes possible. Netanyahu has many times reaffirmed this publicly, including in an interview with me a couple of months ago, in which he also said: “The settlement issue is a problem to be resolved, but it is not the problem.”
Ross also tells me one of the main obstacles to peace is that the Palestinian leadership has never accepted the legitimacy of a Jewish national movement, which is why it won’t recognise Israel as a Jewish state.
Both Kevin Rudd and Penny Wong have criticised the inflammatory language around the NSW resolution, which plainly encourages rejectionism.
So much of the propaganda around this resolution is wrong. Former Israeli leaders do not describe Israel as an apartheid society. Some have warned that if Israel permanently annexed the West Bank and had a permanent Palestinian population whose national aspirations it denied in principle, and who would never have equal rights, that could lead to an apartheid-style future.
This resolution is jejune, irresponsible, and destructive in any effect it might have. It embarrasses the party and Labor’s leadership. That the NSW right could associate itself with such an effort speaks eloquently to its appalling decline
ALP must stand firm on Israel
Editorial from The Australian
The ALP will do itself no favours if it ignores Kim Beazley’s wise counsel against the push at the upcoming NSW party conference for a resolution demanding unconditional recognition of Palestinian statehood by a future Labor government. Mr Beazley, who has vast experience as a senior minister, party leader and ambassador to Washington, recognises the unhelpful proposal would create unnecessary problems for the ALP.
Deep divisions within the party are apparent, with Bill Shorten, Tanya Plibersek and others uncomfortable about the proposal but facing a challenge from the NSW right, including frontbenchers Tony Burke and Jason Clare, who want votes among western Sydney’s migrants. Such MPs are aligned with former foreign minister Bob Carr. But while the ALP left, including Anthony Albanese, is united behind Mr Carr’s push, the right is divided.
The ALP should listen to Mr Beazley and retain its decades-long moderate stance on Israel. It would be a grave error to fall for Mr Carr’s campaign against the Middle East’s only functioning democracy, where people of all faiths are safe under the law.
Failing to recognise the reality that there is no such thing, yet, as a Palestinian state with any of the conditions for recognition demanded by international law would put a future Labor government in an invidious position. It would be aligned with the thinking of bodies such as UNESCO, which has senselessly decreed the ancient Jewish holy site, the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, a “Palestinian world heritage site”. As part of the push to gain backdoor recognition for a Palestinian state, UNESCO has previously declared Israel an “occupying power” in East Jerusalem, home of the Temple Mount, Judaism’s holiest site.
The global drive to delegitimise Israel and confect a Palestinian state will do nothing to achieve what should be the main imperative, restarting peace negotiations towards a two-state solution. That, not bogus backdoor efforts through the UN, is the only credible path to Palestinian statehood.
UNESCO Supports Terrorism
by Bassam Tawil The Gatestone Institute
This is the same Palestinian Authority (PA) leadership that purports to be working toward achieving peace and coexistence with Israel. In the upside-down world of Palestinian denial, such repudiation of the truth is par for the course: the “culture of peace” lie that Abbas fed to President Donald Trump several weeks ago has about as much truth value as this newest deadly fabrication.
As of now, Palestinians also have an international agency (UNESCO) to support their anti-Israel narrative and rhetoric. The UNESCO resolutions are being interpreted by many Palestinians as proof that Israel has no right to exist. For many Palestinians, the resolutions are a green light to pursue their “armed struggle” to “liberate Palestine, from the [Mediterranean] sea to the [Jordan] river.”
The latest UNESCO resolutions are a catalyst for Palestinian terrorism against Israelis. Yet they are more than that: they also make the prospect of peace even more distant.
What do Hamas and UNESCO have in common?
Both believe that Jews have no historical, religious or emotional attachment to the Holy Land.
The recent UNESCO resolutions concerning Jerusalem and Hebron are precisely what terror groups that deny Israel’s right to exist, such as Hamas, have long been hoping to hear from the international community.
The first resolution denies that Israel is the sovereign power over Jerusalem, including the Western Wall, while the second one designates Hebron and the Jewish Tomb of the Patriarchs as an “Endangered Palestinian World Heritage Site.”
The two UNESCO resolutions, in fact, back the position of Hamas and other Palestinians — namely that Israel has no right to exist. These decisions provide Hamas and other terror groups with ammunition with which to destroy Israel, killing as many Jews as possible in the process.
Is it any wonder, then, that Hamas leaders were rubbing their hands with glee upon the announcement of the UNESCO resolutions? Hamas can now crow: ‘We told you that the Jews are just retrofitting their claims for 3000 or 4000 years of history in this area; now even the international community endorses the idea that Jewish history in the region is a lie.’
Hamas was the first Palestinian terror group to “welcome” the UNESCO decisions. For the Islamist movement, the resolutions serve as proof that Jews ought to find themselves another place in which to live.
“The UNESCO resolution pertaining to Jerusalem demolishes the false Israeli narrative and confirms our full right to Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa Mosque,” remarked Hamas spokesman Abdel Latif Al-Qanou. “We applaud the resolution and thank all the countries that voted in favor of it.”
Hamas has also “welcomed” and praised UNESCO for its resolution on Hebron, citing it as “proof that the Israeli narrative is fake.” Other Palestinian terror groups have hailed the UNESCO resolutions as a “victory for the Palestinians and a severe blow to Israel’s false narratives.”
The terrorists, however, are not alone in heaping praise on UNESCO for helping them promote their ideology of denial. The “moderate” Palestinian Authority (PA) of Mahmoud Abbas, which has long been denying Jewish rights in Jerusalem and Hebron, sees the resolutions as evidence of the “fakeness of the Israeli narrative.” A statement issued by the PA government in Ramallah said that the resolutions prove that the Israeli narrative is false and that the Arab Palestinian narrative is correct.”
This is the same PA leadership that purports to be working toward achieving peace and coexistence with Israel. In the upside-down world of Palestinian denial, such repudiation of the truth is par for the course: the “culture of peace” lie that Abbas fed to President Donald Trump several weeks ago has about as much truth value as this newest deadly fabrication.
Denying Jews’ rights in Jerusalem and Hebron has long been a major component of the Palestinians’ anti-Israel narrative. In school textbooks and other publications, Jewish religious sites are featured as “Arab, Palestinian and Islamic” religious places. The Western Wall, for example, is only described as “Al-Buraq Wall,” while the Tomb of the Patriarchs is referred to as the Ibrahimi Mosque.
Generation after generation, Palestinian children are taught that Jewish history is a figment of some twisted Jewish imagination. They are also being taught that only Palestinians and Muslims are entitled to the Holy Land. And they learn this lesson well: many Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims continue to deny Israel’s right to exist because they have absorbed this message of hate. This message, moreover, is pervasive — it is disseminated not only through school textbooks, but also through media outlets and the rhetoric of their leaders, especially mosque preachers and imams.
As of now, Palestinians also have an international agency (UNESCO) to support their anti-Israel narrative and rhetoric. The UNESCO resolutions are being interpreted by many Palestinians as proof that Israel has no right to exist. For many Palestinians, the resolutions are a green light to pursue their “armed struggle” to “liberate Palestine, from the [Mediterranean] sea to the [Jordan] river.” Translation: UNESCO has given the Palestinians yet another incentive to take to the streets and kill the first Jew they meet.
The latest UNESCO resolutions are a catalyst for Palestinian terrorism against Israelis. Yet they are more than that: they also make the prospect of peace even more distant. UNESCO and other international agencies that deny Jewish history are sending a green light for violence and extremism to Palestinians and other Arabs and Muslims.
These resolutions are seen by Palestinians as supporting their false and invented narrative that they are the true owners of the land and that all the holy sites belong solely to Muslims.
Observing Hamas celebrate the UNESCO resolutions should worry those countries that voted in favor of the anti-Israel resolutions. When terrorists are emboldened by international parties, they do not hesitate to strike. Armed — literally — with the UNESCO resolutions, Palestinian terrorists are undoubtedly already planning their next attack on Jews.
The blood that they spill will be on the hands of UNESCO and those who voted in favor of its anti-Israel resolutions. They will share responsibility for the next terror attack on Jews perpetrated by Palestinian terrorists: after all, they were simply helping to support a “culture of peace.”
Rabbinic blacklists, UNESCO insults and outraged Zionists, oh my!
By Gil Troy The Jerusalem Post
Zionists who love to feel oppressed are having a grand time this week. Within Israel, the anti-Zionist Chief Rabbinate, which seems committed to making Judaism look as medieval as possible, stands accused of blacklisting 160 Diaspora rabbis. Meanwhile, UNESCO, whose mission of “building peace in the minds of men and women,” excludes Jews, Zionists and reasonable people, and stands accused of denying Jews’ ties to Hebron.
Indeed, blacklisting these Diaspora rabbis is as logical as deeming gefilte fish unkosher because of its European origins, while denying the Jewish ties to Hebron is like denying Arab ties to Jerusalem – validity does not require exclusivity. But, fellow Zionists, democrats, truth-tellers, keep your blood-pressure monitors boxed. Each story is more subtle – slightly less outrageous, though nevertheless offensive.
It’s easy for me to take this Big Bad Rabbinate’s blacklist story personally. One targeted rabbi, Rabbi Adam Scheier, is a friend and Troy family spiritual mentor. In 2010, he wrote the official letter for our aliya, immigration, confirming our Jewish status. We all felt a little silly. Both my wife and I were born to two Jewish parents with long Jewish pedigrees. Her father was in forced labor during the Holocaust in Romania and served as an Israeli soldier in 1948. One of my paternal great-grandfathers was a Tolner Hassid and my maternal line includes a grandfather, great-grandfather and possibly great-great grandfather who were “baal koreis,” Torah readers in Stavisk, Poland, then Brooklyn and Queens. That we – while living our own rich, deep Jewish lives – had to get a letter from a rabbi who was younger than us, whom we had known for only a few years, felt ridiculous.
Yet we understood Israel’s necessary blurring of synagogue and state – within limits. We were making aliya under the Law of Return granting Jews automatic citizenship. The state needs objective processes for assessing claims to be Jewish. Local rabbis are logical authorities.
With that background, the temptation to flaunt my Jewish credentials further, along with Rabbi Scheier’s, and mock the chief rabbinate for rejecting us both, will be resisted here. I also reject the typical modern Jewish reaction, saying: “you see, some Jewish authority rejected me, therefore I and my hurt feelings are abandoning Judaism.”
How about a subtler approach? Accepting Birthright’s message – we belong, this wonderful heritage is ours – I approach this controversy as an indignant owner, not a picky consumer. Rather than saying to the Chief Rabbinate, “How dare you, I’m running away offended,” I say: “How dare you, you’re wrong.”
But I also read beyond the headlines. The newspapers say the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau claimed he was “astonished to discover this list,” and called it “unthinkable.” And the list detailed names of rabbis whose affirmation of Jewish-status letters had been rejected recently. The Chief Rabbinate’s “Marriage and Conversion Department” could have rejected the letters for many reasons beyond the rabbi’s credentials.
Obviously, a deeper truth lies beyond these particular facts. The Chief Rabbinate needs reforming – and it should start by firing the clerk, apologizing to each rabbi, and inviting them all to a Jewish unity summit in Jerusalem. Every Israeli should stop voting for any party which will accept an anti-Zionist chief rabbinate – or anti-Zionists clerks working there. Every Diaspora Jew should stop funding political parties and organizations that facilitate these absurd power plays by rabbis who reject Israel’s fundamental values. And while no officials are questioning my citizenship because of my rabbi, the Chief Rabbinate is unfairly doubting him and, most disturbing, blocking others it should be welcoming as converts, as immigrants. We should encourage more people to become Jewish and move to Israel – not discourage them with idiotic obstacles.
Similarly, I offer some subtlety regarding UNESCO, as much as I enjoy bashing that bunch of bigots too. UNESCO recognized Hebron/Al-Khalil Old Town as an “endangered” “World Heritage” site. The speeches were incendiary and insulting. The more reasonable citation that passed acknowledged “the tomb of the Patriarchs” as a “site of pilgrimage for the three monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.”
The main problem arose when UNESCO defined Hebron as being in “Palestine.” That’s more silly than offensive. It reflects the UN’s farcical, playacting approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They make pronouncements, rely on symbols, embrace the Palestinian narrative, feed Palestinians’ maximalist delusions, rather than advancing peace in the Middle East. If UNESCO truly were “building peace in the minds of” Palestinian “men and women,” it would encourage recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, while discouraging terrorism and the culture celebrating murderers as “martyrs.” Instead, its fake Palestinian “state” fuels the stalemate – this impotent political entity with a president who outlasts his tenure, a political culture that dodges responsibility, an economy forever on the dole, but with no doubt a beautiful certificate declaring “Hebron, Palestine,” a World Heritage site.
I am not comparing the evils of the Palestinian addiction to terrorism and negationism or the wickedness of the UN’s enabling those crimes with the Chief Rabbinate’s petty power plays. I am, however, wary, of our own readiness in both situations to read the hysterical headlines, ignore the fine print, and head straight to our particular trauma zones. Progress will come, on both these very different fronts, when everyone injects more complexity, ambiguity and thus some flexibility and empathy into our approaches, seeking to solve problems rather than simply build walls, repudiate others – or feel oppressed.