Barak: Netanyahu’s Government must change, or be taken down, before it’s too late
Former prime minister Ehud Barak harshly criticized the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday, saying that if the country’s leadership does not change its ways, the people will be forced to bring it down through protest and at the ballot box.
“I call on the government to get a hold of itself and to get back on track immediately,” Barak said at the Interdisciplinary Center’s Annual Herzliya Conference.
“If you do not, it will be the duty of all of us, yes, all of us, to get up out of our seats, no matter how comfortable they are – and to bring it down, through popular protest and through the ballot box, before it’s too late.”
Barak stated that Israel was strong in every sense of the word, “able to face reality no matter how cruel it is and to defeat any enemy.”
He added, however, that “a hostile takeover” of the government, particularly in the last year had occurred. “The agenda of the right-wing government, the use of scare tactics and threats has become the leading way,” he said. “Netanyahu is responsible for the actions of his hijacked government.”
Barak warned that Netanyahu’s right-wing government would make the world rise against Israel, tear Israeli society apart from within and alienate Jewish youth in the US from Israel.
Attacking Netanyahu for a lack of diplomatic tact, Barak said that “no leader in the world believes a word that Netanyahu and his government says anymore.”
Barak said that Netanyahu’s government was leading Israel “to the edge of the abyss.”
He expressed fear for the future of democracy in Israel given the government’s current trajectory.
“If it looks like the buds of fascism, smells like the buds of fascism and walks like the buds of fascism – then it is the buds of fascism,” Barak said. “That is the situation. Very much so.”
Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel (Bayit Yehudi) accused Barak of refusing to accept the will of Israel’s voters. “Ehud Barak refuses to recognize Israeli democracy and Israel’s citizens’ choice of a nationalist government,” he stated.
“Israel has still not recovered from Barak’s short, but failed premiership, and here he is threatening to topple the government,” Ariel said. “He’s like a pyromaniac who started a big fire and then gives advice about how to put it out.” (Jerusalem Post)
Ehud Barak: Not seeking Foreign Ministry or running for PM
A political comeback is not in the works for former prime minister Ehud Barak, not even as a “professional appointment” by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as his foreign minister, Barak told The Jerusalem Post on Saturday night.
Barak made waves on Thursday night when he called for the public to unite to defeat Netanyahu in a fiery address to the Herzliya Conference.
The Likud responded that Barak was trying to return to politics.
The Makor Rishon newspaper quoted Labor Party sources on Friday saying that Netanyahu had offered the Foreign Affairs portfolio to Barak on May 18 after the prime minister gave the Defense portfolio to Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman. The report said the Barak appointment was intended to balance out Liberman and make Netanyahu’s cabinet more palatable to the international community.
“I was never approached about the portfolio and I would not accept it if offered,” Barak said.
Barak compared himself to American Civil War general William Tecumseh Sherman, who rejected overtures to run for US president on the Republican ticket in 1884, saying, “I will not accept if nominated and will not serve if elected.”
When asked why he would not want to enter the cabinet and make changes, Barak said: “I see what has happened to the government over the past year. It is in steep decline, spiraling down into the situation that I warned of a year ago in my speech to the same conference.”
Senior Likud officials close to Netanyahu have said that the prime minister is interested in appointing a moderate foreign minister as a professional appointment. But Netanyahu’s spokesman and Likud ministers Yariv Levin and Ze’ev Elkin all denied on Saturday night that Barak had been offered the job.
“There has not been such an offer from us,” a source close to Netanyahu said. “Nothing can be further from the truth.”
When asked why he was not returning to politics, Barak referred to an interview he gave Channel 2 on Friday, in which he recalled that he beat Netanyahu in the 1999 election but said he had no plans to challenge him again.
“Running for prime minister and remaining silent are not the only two options,” Barak said. “I intend to take action. I will not run for prime minister or act within a political framework, but I will take action and aid efforts to change the situation.”
Barak denied a report that he gave presumptive Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump as 30 percent chance of winning the American election. He said that in his speech at New York’s Central Synagogue, where the quote came from, he was talking about mathematical probability and the quote was taken out of context.
In the Channel 2 interview, Barak said Netanyahu “panicked” because he knows that his leading of the government is soon coming to an end.
“I’ve known Netanyahu since he was 20 years old,” he said. “I can see the edges of panic. Netanyahu understands clearly that his days as prime minister are numbered, even if it takes months or years, they are numbered. He recognizes that the countdown to the end of his reign has begun, whether it now takes a year or a year and a half.”
Barak continued by lamenting the government’s sharp drift to the extreme Right of the political spectrum under the leadership of Netanyahu.
“This government is made up only of right-wing parties; there is no balancing element. It is operating in devious ways, ways that endanger the State of Israel,” Barak said. “[Netanyahu] needs to be replaced and thanked for everything he has done for the state… but it’s time to go. Netanyahu is not a magician, he’s gone off the rails,” Barak added. (Jerusalem Post)
Gantz and Ashkenazi join forces with Yesh Atid’s Shai Piron in a project the latter insists is apolitical
Former IDF chiefs Benny Gantz and Gabi Ashkenazi announced Thursday night that they are setting up a new cultural movement, along with former Yesh Atid education minister and MK Shai Piron. The two stressed that the new movement, named “Pnima” (which translates as “inside” or “within”), is apolitical and does not seek to oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from power.
“This is not a political movement, which has no aim of toppling anyone, and certainly not Netanyahu. Its objective is to set an agenda of hope and not fear, when the seeds of fear are being sown in all directions,” Piron, who is also a rabbi, told Channel 2 news.
Ashkenazi and immediate IDF successor Gantz met at Piron’s home Thursday night with prominent political activists from across the spectrum.
According to Haaretz, which called Pnima an “educational-social organization,” the new movement is trying to unite secular and religious Israelis around common ground.
Gantz on Tuesday discussed his potential entry into politics during a meeting with students in Beersheba. His term as head of the Israeli military ended in February, and by law former high-ranking officers must go through a three-year “cooling-off period” before entering politics.
“I don’t think I’m the savior of Israel, and I don’t think that there are no good people in Israeli society. I have not made a decision on whether or not to go into politics,” Gantz told the students, Channel 2 reported.
The former army chief did, however, criticize the current political leadership. “There is a difference between leading and being first,” he said. “In my opinion, a change in Israeli society will come from the bottom up, and not from the top down.”
Gantz said Friday, furthermore, that Israel is not currently facing any existential threats, but warned that a nuclear-armed Iran or Islamic State in the possession of biological or chemical weapons could potentially change this equation.
“There has to be a total victory over IS to the point of its elimination,” Gantz also told students in Haifa, according to the Ynet news website. “It is the sort of ideology and the sort of organization whose existence the free world cannot countenance. There has to be a ground war, even one by international forces, but we must ensure that the local coalitions in the Middle East take care [to guarantee] that this phenomenon does not reemerge.”
A Channel 2 poll in November 2015 found that Gantz would defeat Netanyahu in a race for the prime ministership. Gantz was a far more popular choice than Netanyahu for PM when not identified with any particular political party, the survey found, and narrowly beat Netanyahu at the head of a center-left party.
There is a long tradition of Israeli military leaders entering politics. Former Labor prime ministers Ehud Barak and Yitzhak Rabin both served in the role, as did former defense ministers Moshe Dayan, Shaul Mofaz and Moshe Ya’alon. Another former army chief, Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, once served as tourism and transportation minister. (the Times of Israel)
Ministers give green light to pump NIS 82 million into settlements
The government on Sunday approved a financial aid package for West Bank settlements of over NIS 82 million ($21 million) because of the “security situation.”
Speaking at the weekly cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the government would push for the large effort aimed at pumping millions into settlements across the West Bank.
“This is a multi-ministry effort aimed at strengthening security, aid small businesses, encourage tourism and more,” Netanyahu said.
According to a report in the Yedioth Ahronoth daily, the package includes a NIS 15 million stipend to local authorities in West Bank settlements, NIS 10 million in aid to renovate and improve security at public buildings and infrastructure, NIS 10 million for street lighting, NIS 5.5 million to develop tourism, NIS 6 million for youth programming social and NIS 2 million in small business aid.
“Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria are experiencing a unique daily security situation because of their geographic location and the make up of life in the region,” the cabinet said in a statement after the vote. The eight-month spike in terrorist attacks in the West Bank has had “a variety of effects on life, particularly sociological and psychological effects and economic damage to businesses which require redress and special services.”
Earlier, opposition lawmaker Itzik Shmuli (Zionist Union) called it “absurd” that while regional leaders from southern Israel were protesting the lack of investment in their communities, the government funneled funds into the settlements.
Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni charged Saturday that the Netanyahu government’s national agenda was run by the settlers’ council and reiterated her call for a referendum on a one-state or two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Speaking at a cultural event in Rishon Lezion, Livni said that the “Israeli government does whatever the Yesha Council [the umbrella organization of municipal councils of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and formerly in Gaza] wants; it is a minority that imposes its national agenda on the government.”
Chief Palestinian negotiator to the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, Saeb Erekat, slammed the newly earmarked funds as a “slap in the face” to recent international efforts to broker a peace agreement.
“Israel is doing everything possible to sabotage every effort to achieve a just and lasting peace,” he said in a statement released Sunday.
“This is yet another slap in the face of the international community despite several recent international attempts to cover up the Israeli crimes and violations. It is time for the international community to assume its responsibilities toward this extremist government, which openly supports apartheid and stands against the two-state solution,” Erekat said.
The move is also likely to anger the international community, which considers Israel’s West Bank settlements illegal and has called on Netanyahu’s government to halt activity there.
France is pushing for an international peace conference to bring Israel and the Palestinians back to the negotiating table after talks broke down amid mutual recrimination over two years ago. At the end of a confab in Paris earlier this month, participants in the conference expressed alarm “that actions on the ground, in particular continued acts of violence and ongoing settlement activity, are dangerously imperiling the prospects for a two-state solution.”
Neither Israel nor the Palestinians took part in the conference. (The Times of Israel)
Four Arabs arrested for hurling firebombs at Armon Hanatziv home
A home in Jerusalem’s Armon Hanatziv neighborhood was struck by four firebombs Thursday night thrown by four Arab suspects from the West Bank who were illegally residing in the adjacent neighborhood of Jebl Mukaber.
No one in the building on Meir Nakar Street was wounded during the attack, which resulted in damage to an exterior wall and garden, police said. All four suspects were apprehended by Border Police dispatched to the area, and remain in custody.
“Police immediately set up roadblocks in the area for security measures and opened an investigation into how the suspects got into Jerusalem,” said police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld.
Armon Hanatziv, also called East Talpiot, has been a flashpoint for violence since the wave of Palestinian terrorism began last October. Since then, residents of Jebl Mukaber have murdered four Jews.
The latter neighborhood is a haven for Hamas sympathizers and operatives.
Last week, Hamas operative Balal Abu Gaanam, 21, who resided in Jebl Mukaber, was convicted of murdering three Jewish men and wounding 10 others on an Egged bus where the neighborhoods intersect last October.
Gaanam and his accomplice, who was shot dead by police, shot and stabbed to death Haim Haviv, 78, Alon Govberg, 51, and Richard Lakin, 76, during the October 13 rampage.
One month earlier, Alexander Levlovitz, a 64-year-old grandfather, died hours after an Arab youth threw a rock from an overpass in Armon Hanatziv that shattered his vehicle’s windshield, causing him to crash.
Levlovitz was driving home with his two daughters following a Rosh Hashana dinner.
Rosenfeld added that no incidents of violence were reported during the second Friday prayers of Ramadan at al-Aksa Mosque, where more than 50,000 Palestinians from the West Bank were granted entry, as well as 300 from Gaza.
Jerusalem District Police head Asst.-Ch. Yoram Halevi praised the thousands of officers who secured the Old City for their professionalism during the volatile gathering to “allow freedom of religious observance, while keeping the public safe and at peace.”
Heightened security remains in effect throughout the capital, with an emphasis on the Old City, Rosenfeld said. (Jerusalem Post)
3 killed as car crashes into Tel Aviv restaurant
Three people were killed when a car swerved onto a sidewalk and crashed into a restaurant in central Tel Aviv on Saturday night. The driver was among the fatalities.
Five more people were being treated at Ichilov Hospital for various injuries following the incident on Ben Yehuda Street.
Police said it was an accident, rather than a terrorist attack.
Police said the driver, a 41-year-old man from Ra’anana in central Israel, likely suffered a heart attack, causing him to lose control of the vehicle and veer onto the sidewalk, crashing into tables at Furama, an Asian restaurant on Ben Yehuda street. (Earlier reports had said the driver was an elderly man who suddenly lost consciousness for reasons not immediately known.)
Surveillance footage from the incident showed the car traveling at high speed from the intersection, veering onto the sidewalk on Ben Yehuda street while mowing down people standing on the corner before crashing into the tables outside the restaurant and coming to a stop.
Police were quick to put out the word that the incident was an accident and not a terror attack as Tel Aviv was still reeling from a deadly shooting rampage less than two weeks ago at the Sarona Market plaza in the city in which four people were killed and a dozen injured. (the Times of Israel)
Experts: Tank returned by Russia was not the one used by missing soldiers
One of his achievements on a recent trip to Russia, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu noted earlier this week, was to persuade Moscow to return an Israel Defense Forces tank seized by Syria during First Lebanon War, apparently the one manned in the infamous battle of Sultan Yacoub by three soldiers still considered missing in action.
There is one problem, however: Experts said it is the wrong tank.
While the Russians did indeed give Israel a tank it used in the 1982 Lebanon War and which has been housed in a Russian museum for several decades, the experts noted that the newly returned armored vehicle has no marks showing that it was hit — and therefore could not be the one that Netanyahu asked for.
The tank manned by MIAs Zvi Feldman, Yehuda Katz and Zachary Baumel — which the prime minister asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to return — was seized during the June 11, 1982 battle that is considered one of Israel’s worst failures in the war. A total of 30 IDF soldiers were killed in the fight, and the three who were assigned to the Magach-3 tank disappeared.
In a June 8 ceremony at the Moscow tank museum, Netanyahu thanked Putin for the “warm humanitarian gesture,” and vowed Israel would not rest until it also located the three soldiers.
But expert Michael Mas told Yedioth Ahronoth on Thursday that it was “very sad” that Netanyahu and the media both “fell for these untruths.”
“The tank is not the tank of the missing soldiers. What was returned is a complete tank, and the tank of the missing soldiers is different,” he said.
“This is certainly one of the eight tanks that fell into the hands of the Syrians in that battle with [IDF] Brigade 399, but there are no signs on this tank that people [inside] were hurt. When Netanyahu said there would be respite for the families who have no grave to visit, he was wrong twice. Firstly, it’s not this tank, and secondly, they are still considered missing, not dead,” Mas added.
Another expert, Danny Kriaf, said that the tank that was returned “had the number 817581, while the tank of the missing had another number. One of the tanks was almost certainly burnt from the hit it sustained. It’s clear that the Russians didn’t really care which tank they were giving us, and Netanyahu used it as a gimmick.”
According to Yedioth Ahronoth, the IDF determined 18 years ago that after examining the number of the tank in the Russian museum, the soldiers who were in it were safe and sound.
Yehuda Katz’s sister was furious.
“The families of the missing soldiers are exploding,” said Perhia Heyman. “Why do we need all this spin? Since I heard of the intention to return the tank I waited in anticipation and could not sleep properly. Ten days ago they had the ceremony in Russia, and Netanyahu said the families would have this tank ‘to touch and remember their fallen ones.’ Even then, he knew this was not the right tank, but we still didn’t know. I only received the right tank number on the next day, not through the IDF, and realized this was not Yehuda’s tank.”
Officials at the Prime Minister’s Office said that Israel at no point claimed the tank was the one manned by the missing soldiers.
“We said it was a tank from the battle of Sultan Yacoub and evidence from the battlefield, and this is what the prime minister told the families. No one ever claimed that this was the tank manned by the three,” an official said in a statement. (the Times of Israel)
Steinitz says Israel will soon find ‘as much as four Leviathans’ worth of gas in new fields
Although the past year has been challenging with setbacks in developing the Leviathan offshore gas reservoir, National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Minister Yuval Steinitz said Thursday that Israel was planning to develop new gas fields in the coming months.
The next step, he said during a panel discussion, is to develop the natural gas market and integrate it into the larger geopolitical picture.
“I have no doubt that in the next three years, gas field advancements and the integration of natural gas into factories and transportation… will be an engine for growth,” he said. “It may be able to save us from a recession and return us to a reasonable growth level.”
Steinitz said that he intends to develop more offshore gas fields “by this autumn: September, October, November.”
He spoke of a vision for the next decade in which Israel will be a major player in the energy market and said “we estimate that the amount of gas that is expected to be found… is around 2,000 billion cubic meters. As much as four Leviathans or eight Tamar [gas reservoirs].”
Exporting natural gas to neighboring states in the Mediterranean and the Middle East could have “major benefits for Israel’s status in the region,” Steinitz said.
Many on the panel expressed disappointment at the delays in advancing the country’s natural gas market. In the past year, a number of Israeli factories that had received subsidies to convert to natural gas power, switched back to oil power.
Yossi Abu, CEO of Delek Drilling, bemoaned that the market has been stuck but noted that “today, two weeks after IPM [IPM Be’er Tuvia Power Plant Ltd.] signed a gas agreement, other power plants are looking to sign too.
He said that Delek and its partners developing Leviathan will make their investment decisions in December, but noted that they will have already invested NIS 500 million in the venture in 2016.
Shaul Meridor, the National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Ministry’s deputy director- general, said that despite estimations that there is plenty of natural gas, factories that have signed agreements have already been warned that they might not have natural gas during peak hours. (Jerusalem Post)
Israel sends firefighting planes to help battle Cyprus blaze
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Saturday evening ordered Israeli firefighting aircraft to assist Cyprus authorities struggling to put out a massive wildfire raging on the island’s coast.
“Efforts are currently underway to organize the dispatch of a rescue team as well as additional firefighting aircraft,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.
According to a report in the Cyprus Mail, the emergency assistance from Israel came at the request of Nicosia, after local firefighters were unable to control the blaze that had burned five square kilometers of vegetation in the Paphos region by Saturday afternoon.
Fire department spokesman Leonidas Leonidou told the paper strong winds were hampering firefighting efforts, and the blaze would likely continue into Saturday night.
No injuries have been reported, and Leonidou said no area homes were in immediate danger.
Local reports said the fire was the biggest Cyprus has seen in recent years. (the Times of Israel)
In Israeli desert, world’s highest solar tower looks to future
Construction of world’s tallest solar tower in Israel’s Negev Desert
In the middle of southern Israel’s desert, engineers are hard at work building the world’s tallest solar tower, reflecting the country’s high hopes for renewable energy.
Once completed in late 2017, the Ashalim Tower will rise to 240 meters (787 feet), taller than Paris’s Montparnasse Tower and London’s Gherkin, according to the Israeli government and the consortium building it.
Covered in stainless steel, the square tower in the rocky Negev desert with a peak resembling a giant lighthouse will be visible from dozens of kilometers away.
A field of mirrors covering 300 hectares (740 acres) – the size of more than 400 football pitches – will stretch out from its base, directing sunlight toward the tower’s peak to an area called the boiler, which looks like a giant lightbulb.
The boiler, whose temperature will rise to 600 degrees Celsius (1112 Fahrenheit), generates steam that is channeled towards the foot of the tower, where electricity is produced.
The construction, costing an estimated 500 million euros ($570 million), is being financed by US firm General Electric, with France’s Alstom and Israeli private investment fund Noy also involved.
Israel’s government launched a tender for the project in 2013, committing to purchase electricity from it over 25 years as part of a shift towards renewable energy and energy independence.
Clean at a cost
The country mainly generates electricity using plants fired by coal, natural gas and fuel oil. Its domestic supply of natural gas has grown with the discovery of fields in the Mediterranean.
Solar requires a major investment, though costs are gradually coming down.
Energy from a solar tower is “two to three times more expensive to produce than classic electricity plants using carbon or fuel”, said Eran Gartner, who heads the Megalim consortium managing the project.
The tower should provide 121 megawatts, or two percent of Israel’s electricity needs, enough for a city of 110,000 households.
The country of eight million people is seeking to make renewable energy account for 10 percent of its total consumption by 2020.
Solar power offers a clean alternative to fuel- and carbon-fired electricity plants, which contribute to global warming with their heat-trapping CO2 emissions.
“The government agreed to move ahead with this technology – even though we do not hide the fact that it is more expensive than traditional electricity production – precisely to achieve lower costs over time,” Gartner said at the site.
“The second solar tower will be slightly less expensive, the third much less expensive, et cetera.”
He predicted a futuristic landscape of towers overlooking the desert.
Israel could in theory meet all its electricity needs through solar energy by using only four percent of the Negev desert, said Eitan Parnass, head of the Green Energy Association of Israel.
Field of mirrors
Israel’s offshore gas finds are a major boost toward energy independence, but Parnass said it must continue to diversify to avoid reliance on a single source in the turbulent Middle East.
“We are in a situation where we cannot simply look at the economic aspect,” he said.
“Israel has no choice but to diversify its energy independence, first for reasons of security.”
However, critics have panned the project as too expensive and complex compared to other solutions.
Yael Cohen, an Israeli lawmaker with the opposition Zionist Union alliance and co-chair of the Green Movement political party, said the project has “requirements so demanding and costs so high” that it cannot be replicated.
Solar power has for years formed a part of life in Israel, where rooftop panels are often used to heat the water tanks of homes.
A solar tower and its field of mirrors, a technology known as concentrated solar thermal, is only profitable as part of a large-scale project, unlike a photovoltaic field, where each panel acts as a small generator.
The Ashalim tower will be equipped with 55,000 projecting mirrors, amounting to a total reflective surface of a million square metres (10.8 million square feet).
Like sunflowers, the mirrors will turn toward the path of the sun.
Engineers have developed reservoirs for the task of storing heat when the sun is not out.
“It’s the big plus of solar tower technology… centralization and stockage of energy at nighttime opens the path to massive use of solar electricity in Israel,” said Parnass.
Solar towers have already been built in locations such as Morocco, South Africa and California, where the world’s tallest at present – standing at 137 meters – is located in Ivanpah in the Mojave desert.
“We multiplied the size of the mirrors by three compared to the previous generation,” Gartner said.
“Everything is connected by WiFi instead of by cables. The tower and its boiler are also designed to reduce costs. Everything is done to pursue profitability.” (Arutz Sheva)
Israel and Diaspora Jewry – A Looming Crisis
Address given at Bar Ilan University after Isi Leibler received the award of an Honorary Doctorate of Philosophy
The Jewish world, both in Israel and the Diaspora, is undergoing dramatic demographic and ideological changes.
The past decades have witnessed a steep decline in the power and influence of Diaspora Jews. Israel’s centrality to Jewish life and the ties which link Jews in the Diaspora to Israel are facing considerable stress.
Yet Israel has clearly emerged as the guarantor of the continuity of Jewish life.
It has empowered the Jewish people. It has absorbed Jews from all corners of the world – ranging from Holocaust survivors to Jews from Arab countries, from Soviet Jews to Ethiopian Jews – and miraculously molded them into a resilient nation. The Jewish state has also now evolved into an extraordinary economic power house outperforming most economies throughout the world as well as becoming a major military force.
Despite the media sensationalizing major rifts in Israeli society, there is today a greater consensus throughout the nation in relation to peace with our neighbors than has been the case since the country became bitterly divided over the Oslo Accords. The overwhelming majority seek separation from the Palestinians but recognizes that this cannot be achieved in the absence of security and a peace partner. This is the approach of all Zionist parties.
Aside from the Joint Arab party, those opposed to this approach comprise of a dwindling, now almost fringe group of deluded leftists who attract disproportionate attention with their extremist views publicized by the post-Zionist Haaretz, and right wing radicals seeking to annex the territories, despite the fact that this would transform Israel into a bi-national state – another Lebanon.
In contrast to the accelerating alienation from Judaism amongst Diaspora Jews, Israel, over the past few decades, has – aside from the ultra-orthodox upsurge – undergone a revolutionary revival of spiritual awakening accompanied by increased religious observance. The Sephardi respect for tradition has led to a greater appreciation of religion and Jewish heritage throughout all streams of society. The aggressive secularism and polarization between the religious and secular streams of the early State has abated and there is even somewhat of a renaissance of traditional and religious observance amongst young Israelis.
But major conflicts in the religious arena remain unresolved. The ultra-orthodox ability to exploit the dysfunctional political system to extort concessions and grasp control of the state religious instrumentalities has led to enormous tensions and social conflict.
The hijack of the formerly national religious-controlled chief rabbinate by the ultra-orthodox – who despise the institution – has enabled them to impose their stringent control over major issues of marriage, divorce and conversion. The power of the haredi parties in the government also allow them to maintain an educational system which eschews all secular studies, denying graduates the opportunity of acquiring a meaningful livelihood. Rabbis in the haredi Yeshivot enjoin their students to continue learning full time and discourage joining the national workforce. This has economic implications and dooms most haredim to poverty, dependence on welfare or on the earnings of their wives. Their adamant refusal to serve in the IDF has created enormous tensions and resentment by the majority of Israelis who demand that they share the national burden.
In addition, the excessive stringency and lack of compassion displayed by ultra-orthodox rabbis controlling conversion has not only created enormous bitterness but deters those not halachically Jewish from undergoing conversion. This has awesome long term implications, especially with the large numbers of Israeli-born children of parents who made aliyah from the former Soviet Union.
Regrettably, no rabbinical leader has emerged to replace the late Sephardi Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef whose standing and courage, despite fierce opposition, found a halachic solution which enabled the absorption of Ethiopian Jews. The Ethiopians posed far more complex halachic issues than children of mixed Russian unions who on the basis of Halacha are classified as Zerah Yisrael – and should have been treated more leniently than other applicants for conversion.
What has also frustrated most Israelis, secular and religious alike, has been efforts by the chief rabbinate to restrict the eligibility of rabbis officiating in marriage and conversion. This has been extended to the Diaspora where orthodox rabbis not endorsing the extremist approach are blacklisted and their conversions are rejected as halachically unacceptable in Israel. Such a level of centralized global control of the rabbinate is unprecedented. For 2000 years in the Diaspora, every community formed its own local rabbinical court for such purposes.
The Knesset sought to rectify such issues as the draft and compulsory core curriculum in the haredi school stream. But with the haredim holding the balance of power in the current government, these reforms were jettisoned.
Yet there is light at the end of the tunnel. Many Ultra-Orthodox rabbis today are a far cry from their fanatical pre-state “anti-Zionist” counterparts and realize that the current lifestyle of haredim revolving around study in the Kollel cannot be maintained. They are facing a financial ticking time bomb which can only be diffused by the haredim becoming fully integrated in the work force. And once that happens, the haredim will, in the course of time, likely emerge as a major positive contributor to Israel’s society at all levels.
Notwithstanding all its problems, Israel is at a pinnacle of success and our start-up nation boasts an incredibly strong economy. Ironically, despite being the only nation whose existence remains under threat and faces serious challenges, polls confirm that Israelis are amongst the happiest people in the world. The birth rate is higher than it has ever been with an increase of 195,000 over the past year and a Jewish population now reaching 6,400,000 – about tenfold the number in 1948 when the State of Israel was created.
The burgeoning waves of anti-Semitism are generating aliya which is augmented by those settling in Israel by choice in order to enjoy a full Jewish life. The future of the Jewish people in Israel is assured and will continue to flourish.
In stark contrast, the status of Diaspora Jews is deteriorating. Between dramatically eroding identity and escalating intermarriage, combined with an explosion of global anti-Semitism, all Jewish communities face challenges of differing degrees that, at best, will decimate their numbers and their influence.
Yet, rampant anti-Semitism has not impacted on intermarriage. Indeed, it is clear that in an open society, campaigning against intermarriage on anything other than religious grounds is a lost cause and considered racist.
The statistics are horrendous. In the U.S., levels of intermarriage outside the Orthodox stream run as high as 80%. Only a miniscule number of children from these mixed marriages retain any meaningful Jewish life.
It is clear that if these trends continue – and they almost certainly will – we are witnessing an ongoing dramatic diminution in the number as well as the influence of American and other Diaspora Jewish communities, many of which have already been decimated.
The only exceptions are the Orthodox sectors who currently comprise only about 10% of the American Jewish community. They do not intermarry and have much higher birth rates than other Jewish streams (4.1 versus 1.7 children for the non-orthodox which is below the replacement rate).
Over the next decades as their numbers increase, it is they -– in their manifold approaches ranging from extremely insular ultra-orthodox Hasidim to the radical “open Orthodoxy” – who are likely to emerge as the most dominant sector of Diaspora Jewish life.
The PEW Survey notes a dramatic decline in synagogue affiliation and a major increase in the number of “secular” Jews. But this is misleading because there is no revival of secular culture and this “secular” category is, without doubt, primarily comprised of nominal or totally assimilated Jews.
Even if they classify themselves as Jews, the assimilated or offspring of mixed marriages express their “Judaism” by substituting genuine Jewish values with universal liberal objectives such as social justice, often referred to as “Tikkun Olam” – mending the world. This dispenses with particular Jewish objectives such as “tribalistic” support of Israel and ritualistic Jewish observances and turns to “prophetic Judaism” paying lip service to universal issues with no uniquely Jewish relevance.
Aggravating this is the extraordinary global re-emergence of anti-Semitism, the world’s longest and most enduring hatred.
Those who believed that after Auschwitz, anti-Semites would become an extinct species were deluded. The new round of anti-Semitism has been accelerated by the Islamic fundamentalists who have resurrected the worst Nazi propaganda and initiated campaigns denying the Jewish link with Israel, even condemning Israel for “Judaizing” Jerusalem its holiest site.
They are supported by traditional anti-Semites in Western countries, initially inhibited after the Holocaust, who have now come out of the closet in order to join the renewed Jew baiting.
The most negative force has been the global Leftist movement which adopted the demonization of Israel as a central component of its world outlook. At a time when the Middle East has sunk into a barbaric Dark Age – with countries imploding, millions slaughtered and displaced – progressives and “liberals” turned their wrath on Israel. They have allied themselves with the most brutal Islamic fundamentalist forces, betraying their commitment to human rights, engaging in the greatest slander in history by accusing Israel, the sole democratic state in the region, of having been born in sin, of engaging in the occupation and oppression of Palestinians, creating an apartheid regime and behaving like Nazis.
A witches’ brew of Islamic fundamentalists, the Left, and traditional indigenous anti-Semitic fringes of the extreme right have united in their shrill demonization and delegitimization of the Jewish state – which has today become a surrogate for traditional anti-Semitism. Whereas during the Middle Ages, the Jews were blamed for all natural disasters facing mankind, the Jewish state now occupies that role and is portrayed as one of the greatest threats to peace and global stability. The rapid global dissemination of this hate propaganda has been facilitated by the era of the internet and its social media.
In a pathetic attempt to appease the Moslem extremists in their own ranks and despite the extension of jihadi terrorism in the heart of their major European cities, European governments have intensified their campaigns against Israel.
Indeed, European passivity in the face of these anti-Semitic onslaughts is reminiscent of their indifference in the 1930s when the anti-Jewish campaigns were launched by the Nazis.
In Europe, the anti-Israeli/anti-Jewish campaigns are now a standard staple of the environment – especially in political discourse, demonstrations, and some of the vile media and talkback. There is pressure on youngsters in schools – frequently guarded by military or security personnel – and in universities which have become cesspools of anti-Jewish bigotry. Jews have once again transformed been into pariahs making prospects for any meaningful Jewish life in Europe very bleak.
In the United States – although a far cry from Europe – the status of Jews since Obama assumed the reins of power has also undergone a dramatic transformation. From the outset, Obama was determined to ‘create daylight’ between the U.S. and Israel and blame Netanyahu for the failure to move forward in peace negotiations. On occasions, he treated the Israeli Prime Minister worse than the leader of a rogue state. At the same time, he minimized the PA’s intransigency, incitement and terror. He criticized Israel’s efforts of self-defense during the Gaza war, accusing it of responding disproportionately to missiles launched by Hamas, and even applied moral equivalence to Israelis and those seeking to destroy us. His groveling to the leaders of the Iranian terrorist regime in the course of enabling it to assume regional hegemony and become a nuclear threshold power, created enormous tension with Israel and contributed to the regional chaos which has effectively brought about the collapse of Syria and Iraq.
This has profoundly impacted on the Jewish community, the bulk of whom nevertheless continue to support Obama. This is highlighted by the fact that the majority of the hitherto feisty and robust leadership failed to challenge any of Obama’s outrageous statements against Israel despite American public opinion, strongly influenced by the powerful pro-Israeli evangelical Christians, remains highly supportive of the Jewish state.
In addition, the growing hostility towards Israel emanating from the left wing in the Democratic Party is undermining the prevailing bi-partisan approach towards Israel. Currently, the polls show Republicans favoring Israel to Palestinians by a margin of 75 to 7 percent whilst Democrats favor Israel over Palestinians by only 43 to 29 percent – a substantial difference which continues to widen.
The Obama administration has also legitimized and encouraged the emergence of hitherto marginal Jewish groups like J Street and even more radical anti-Israeli factions promoting the impression that they, no less than the established leadership, represent the Jewish community.
This has encouraged renegade Jews to be at the forefront of the campaign to demonize and delegitimize Israel. They are at the vanguard of the BDS movement and demand the right to use Jewish platforms to promote their hatred. In some campuses they lead the anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic movements. They receive major exposure – disproportionate to their numbers – from the liberal media which fawns on them.
Jewish anti-Semitism is not a new phenomenon and can be traced back to Jewish apostates in the Middle Ages. During the 19th century Jews like Karl Marx were at the forefront of the worst Jew baiting. Russian Jewish Social revolutionaries even praised pogroms as a vehicle to create a revolutionary environment. There were no Jewish apologists for the Nazis because Hitler ejected Jewish collaborators. But Jews in the Yevsektsia – the Soviet Jewish communist cadres – were amongst the greatest persecutors of Jews, and Jewish communists defended and applauded Stalin’s crimes against the Jewish people and sought to deny or defend Soviet anti-Semitism.
Hence, Jews directly or indirectly supporting anti-Semites are not a new phenomenon. But in the past they were marginalized and rejected as outcasts. Their current embrace by liberals has emboldened them and discouraged mainstream Jewish leaders from confronting them. Today, Jewish pro BDS groups, claim that their anti-Israeli campaigns are motivated by their “Jewish” sensitivities and they have the gall to demand representation as an authentic component of the mainstream Jewish community.
Unfortunately, some establishment Jewish groups, most recently the Anti-Defamation League, seek to legitimize and include them “in the tent”. In so doing, they ignore the red lines which have been crossed by Jews having the chutzpa to claim to know better than Israelis what is in their best interests, and canvassing foreign governments to pressure the Jewish state on life and death security issues. There are also Hillel groups which, outrageously, provide campus platforms for these deviants to demonize the Jewish state.
Who are these Jewish anti-Israeli forces? A small percentage are alienated Jews who realize that entry into the citadels of the liberal glitterati obliges them to condemn Israel as an extension of imperialism born in sin. Many are attracted to the anti-Zionist chic because in student circles this approach provides them with social acceptability. Their leftist bona fides as Jews can only be upheld if they condemn Israel, the local Zionist Jewish establishment and the ‘narrow’ particularism of Jewish nationalism.
The majority are youngsters who are only nominally Jewish with no Jewish background. Many are the offspring of mixed marriages and lack any genuine sense of kinship with their fellow Jews. Their Judaism amounts to providing lip service to social justice. This applies especially to the younger, more assimilated elements for whom the Holocaust and the struggle to create the State of Israel are only history lessons. When interviewed in opinion polls, these nominal Jews deny their background because, by any objective criterion, many simply do not think as Jews.
Yet, the vast majority of committed Jews remain faithful to Israel. It is their leadership which has been disappointing. The American people overwhelmingly support Israel and committed Jews represent an influential community. Most of their leadership are devoted Zionists and friends of Israel and they should not have allowed themselves to be intimidated, and merely whisper or mutter about their anguish over the mistreatment of Israel. It is scandalous that today, the Zionist Organization of America is the only representative Jewish organization consistently speaking out against the Obama administration when Israel is being mistreated.
Committed American Jews should be spearheading a massive campaign, urging the US government and Congress to stand by Israel diplomatically in this time of need. The mainstream leadership should publicly condemn Jewish “liberals” who are subliminally or directly blaming Israel or extending moral equivalence to Israel with those seeking its destruction.
They should realize that if they fail to act against the possible abandonment of Israel by any administration and hesitate disassociating themselves from those Jews distancing themselves from Israel, history will record them as cowards who failed to stand up and be counted at what could be a crucial turning point in Jewish history.
To summarize: Israel remains under siege and is globally isolated but is powerful and prosperous. It faces a long term threat from Iran, but is better able to defend itself and deter its adversaries than at any time since it was created.
Internally, despite religious and social challenges and being burdened by a dysfunctional political system, Israel is – by far – the greatest national success story of the last 100 years and all trends signal further progress and national consolidation in the years to come.
In contrastDiaspora Jewry is experiencing various levels of crisis and the future looks bleak.
Conditions for Jews in Europe are likely to worsen as the impact of the new wave of Muslim refugees and immigrants strengthens existing anti-Semitic communities and exerts further pressure on lawmakers to intensify their anti-Israelism. The Jewish communities, which require armed guards for protection in schools and synagogues, will also continue to be the principal targets of Jihadi terrorists in Europe. To raise children to be proud Jews in this environment is an almost impossible task.
Add to this the intermarriage statistics and desire of some Jews to relinquish their identity and merge into their national communities, it is clear that Jewish communities in Europe and South America will become decimated.
The situation in the U.S, Canada and Australia is less acute. But even there, the level of anti-Semitism has risen, the campuses are hotbeds of anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish incitement, and the liberal media has become hostile to Israel.
One can no longer argue that American Jewry is unique and immune from the tensions affecting other Diaspora communities. Despite the support of many evangelical Christians and public support for Israel, many Jews are concerned, insecure and sensitive to accusations of displaying dual loyalties.
More significantly, American Jewry is being decimated by intermarriage, sharply reducing its numbers and influence. There is also a dramatic polarization within American Jewry between the orthodox and reform with rapid erosion of the centrist groups like the Conservative movement.
In a reversal of roles, the future of the Diaspora is dependent on support from Israel. Israel will need to engage in global campaigns to strengthen the eroding Jewish identity. Programs like Birthright must be encouraged and intensified. Investment is required to provide higher levels of Jewish education which today is at an all-time low in communal Jewish literacy.
The fact is, that despite its many challenges, Israel is an extraordinary success story and will determine the future direction of global Jewry.
There will always be Jews living in the Diaspora. Simon Rawidowicz referred to them as “the ever dying people”. But will they continue to enjoy vibrant communities?
Hopefully, aside from turning to Israel as a haven from persecution, increasing numbers of those sensitive to Jewish continuity, will also opt for aliyah or at least encourage their children to do so.