Updates from Israel and the Jewish World
Compiled by Dr Ron Wiseman
Palestinian Islamic Jihad reportedly planning attack on Israel
The Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist group is preparing a “significant” terrorist attack to undermine the ceasefire arrangement between Israel and Hamas, Yediot Aharonot reported on Monday..
According to the report, security forces deployed along the Gaza security fence have noticed “unusual” activity by the group’s military wing, leading security officials to believe that the group might be planning a rocket barrage or breaching of the security fence in the coming hours or days.
Islamic Jihad has denied the report, saying that “there is no truth to these reports. From time to time Israel tries to create confusion in the Palestinian arena, but these attempts will fail.”
Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), the second largest group in the Gaza Strip after Hamas, has been assessed by military intelligence as a factor increasing the risk of an escalation in the blockaded coastal enclave, since it is not under the direct control of Hamas and acts independently for its own interests.
The group is believed to be behind the last rocket barrage towards Israel on Saturday night when five rockets were fired toward southern Israeli communities after a relatively non-violent day when some 40,000 Palestinians rioted along the security fence marking Land Day and the first anniversary of the “Great Return” marches.
PIJ is responsible for several violent attacks on IDF troops during the marches, including the first death of a soldier along the Gaza border since Operation Protective Edge in 2014.
Staff Sgt. Aviv Levi was killed after he was shot in the chest by sniper fire near Kibbutz Kissufim. Another soldier was struck by sniper fire in the area less than a week after Levi was killed. In late January, an IDF officer was lightly wounded in the same area after his helmet was struck by sniper fire along the Gaza Strip security fence, in an attack for which PIJ claimed responsibility.
The IDF has warned that both Hamas and PIJ have restored their military capabilities to their pre-2014 strength, and expect that in the next war the southern communities bordering the Strip would be incessantly pounded with rockets and mortar attacks.
On Monday morning, Israel expanded the allowed fishing zone for Gazans to a range of between 22 km. to 28 km. after it was completely closed last week as the result of a long-range rocket fired by Gazan terrorists, which destroyed a family home in central Israel, wounding eight civilians.
The rocket attack sparked a round of violence between Israel and Hamas and led to Israel deploying three infantry brigades and an artillery unit to enhance the Southern Command, as well as canceling the leave of all combat units currently assigned to the command.
A tense calm has been holding in the South, with reports of a ceasefire deal mediated by Egypt in the works.
According to reports, part of the deal was the expansion of the fishing zone which, according to Yediot is a range not seen since the Second Intifada.
The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) said that the expansion of the fishing zone is part of a policy to prevent humanitarian deterioration in the Gaza Strip and of a “policy that distinguishes between terrorism and the civilian population.”
“The implementation of the move is conditional on the fishermen in Gaza honoring the agreements. It will not be possible to deviate from the ranges that were agreed upon, and any deviation will be handled accordingly,” COGAT said.
In addition to the expanded fishing zone, Israel reopened the Kerem Shalom and Erez border crossings on Sunday after they were closed last Monday. (Jerusalem Post) Anna Ahronheim
Hamas rejects Israeli request to implement ceasefire Memorandum of Understanding after elections
The Egyptian security delegation will announce in the next day or two whether there is progress between Israel and Hamas on reaching a long-term ceasefire agreement or whether these attempts have failed, according to a report by a Palestinian journalist in the Gaza strip. The reporter said it looks like Hamas and Israel may be at a standstill.
Media is quoting a Palestinian reporter as saying that, “Israel is ready to reach understandings and implemented the first part of its agreement on Monday with the expansion of the fishing area.” However, Israel requested “an official postponement of the actual implementation of any other understandings” until after the April 9 election, the report said.
“Hamas rejected this request outright and made it clear that the situation would escalate if Israel did not reach understandings in the coming hour,” according to the Palestinian report.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu previously made clear that the impending elections would not be an obstacle to launching a large-scale military operation against Hamas. (Jerusalem Post) Staff
Through Pompeo, Israel warns Lebanon of new Hezbollah missile plant
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has reportedly conveyed to Lebanon a message from Israel warning Beirut of action by Iran and Hezbollah to covertly construct a new missile production facility in the country.
The covert facility produces precision missiles and constitutes a threat to both Israel and Lebanon, Pompeo said, according to a report Monday from Channel 13.
“Pompeo raised before [Lebanese] Prime Minister [Saad] Hariri his concerns over Hezbollah’s actions in Lebanon. The actions of Hezbollah are a threat to Lebanon,” a senior US official was quoted as saying.
“We made it clear to the government of Lebanon that…the danger of escalation with Israel as a result [of Hezbollah’s actions] is real,” the official said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu informed Pompeo of the factory’s existence during the top US diplomat’s visit to Israel last month, the report said.
Pompeo visited Beirut after Israel, using the trip to highlight his concerns about Hezbollah, which is targeted by US sanctions as a terror group, but holds three cabinet posts in Lebanon.
“Lebanon and the Lebanese people face a choice: bravely move forward as an independent and proud nation or allow the dark ambitions of Iran and Hezbollah to dictate your future,” he said during a joint news conference with his Lebanese counterpart, Foreign Minister Gibran Bassil.
Bassil said he held “constructive and positive talks” with Pompeo but stressed that they had different perspective with regards to Hezbollah.
“Hezbollah is a Lebanese party, not a terrorist group, and it enjoys a wide popular base,” Bassil said.
During his visit to Israel, Pompeo visited the Western Wall with Netanyahu — the first serving secretary to tour the contested area together with a senior Israeli official, in tacit recognition of Israeli rights there.
Pompeo also underscored Washington’s commitment to Israel’s security during a meeting with President Reuven Rivlin, saying that the US bears a “moral obligation” to combat “hostile forces” in the region.
At a press conference following a meeting with Pompeo last month, Netanyahu said he was working closely with the US “to roll back Iranian aggression” in the region and around the world. “There is no limitation to our freedom of action and we appreciate very much the fact that the United States backs up our actions,” he said.
Netanyahu has previously spotlighted Hezbollah missile sites in Lebanon to world leaders.
In a September 2018 speech at the United Nations General Assembly, Netanyahu displayed a map pinpointing the location of the Hezbollah missile sites near Beirut’s airport, and accused the terror group of “deliberately using the innocent people of Beirut as human shields.”
Netanyahu later said that Hezbollah closed the facilities he had revealed to the United Nations. (the Times of Israel) Staff and Agencies
Visiting Holy Sites in Israel in Now a War Crime According to Amnesty International
NGO Monitor has recently exposed the recent Amnesty International report targeting tourism companies that do business in Israel. The AI report singles out Jewish holy and historical sites such as the Western Wall of the Temple Mount, the ancient City of David in Jerusalem, and the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, alleging that those who visit those sites or advertises them are committing war crimes.
Amnesty International claims that Israel “legalizes occupation through tourism”. Only ones who ignore Biblical records of the people of Israel and the history books of Babyonian history, Assyrian history, Roman history etc. can say such a bombastic statement of lies.
These tourist sites are archaeological sites holy to the Jewish people for more than 3,000 years, from the time of the Bible! Even in Roman history, Jews were residing in Judea and Samaria. The whole rebellion against the Assyrian Empire took place in Judea & Samaria! And it was the Romans who destroyed the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem! A people can not “occupy” it’s own ancestral homeland. Yet, Amnesty International spends time and money pushing Israel as a war crime? Shouldn’t they be instead focusing on the thousands of Yazidis, Kurds and Christians the Muslims are massacring across the Middle East and in African countries like Nigeria? No, instead they focus on Israel as a war crime offender for developing ancient historcal sites to our history as tourist sites.
Here are some of the lies that Amnesty International is spreading in their report:
Israel provides a range of financial incentives to businesses operating in settlements as part of its policy to help sustain and expand them. For example, Israel has designated 90 settlements as “national priority areas”, which allows businesses to benefit from reductions in the price of land, grants for the development of infrastructure and preferential tax treatment.
As part of this programme of government support for the settlement economy, Israel has increased support to the tourism industry linked to settlements in recent years. For example, in 2010, it allocated approximately US$110 million to protect and develop visitor infrastructure at historic sites “that reflect the national heritage of the Jewish people” across Israel and the OPT. These sites included 13 in East Jerusalem and 30 in the rest of the West Bank.
Within East Jerusalem, the government is developing ambitious plans to build tourism infrastructure in Palestinian parts of the city. In May 2018, it announced it would spend US$13 million on excavations at the City of David, a settler-managed archaeological site in the neighbourhood of Silwan. In May 2018, the Israeli government also announced a budget of approximately US$54 million for a controversial cable car project that will connect the visitors’ centre at the City of David to West Jerusalem.
In June 2016, the government announced an additional programme of “special financial aid”, with specific provisions to support the development of the tourism industry in settlements in Area C. This resulted in a grant of US$1.3 million for “public tourism infrastructure”. The Prime Minister’s Office also announced subsidies for the “establishment, conversion and expansion” of hotels, B&Bs and guest rooms in settlements in the West Bank. (Israel Unwired) Avi Abelow
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Hate parking in Tel Aviv ? Shrinkable cars offer a solution
With City Transformer cars, drivers will no longer need to worry about wasting valuable time looking for parking.
The Kfar Netter start-up has developed a fully electric light city car – which is also the first car that shrinks.
Municipalities will be able to save up to 75% of parking space, as four City Transformer cars can fit in one parking spot.
Based on a unique patented folding mechanism, its wheel base can shrink to the width of a motorcycle.
The company closed an investment round with Israeli strategic investor ADI Technologies, which in addition to the capital investment is also investing in the development of additional technologies related to the company.
By the end of the year, several City Transformer cars will be doing a pilot run in Tel Aviv.
The company is offering a pre-order option and received lots of traction, especially from Europe and from the US. Based on this, management will select the right cities to launch a bigger pilot of hundreds of cars next year before heading to mass production.
So far, City Transformer has raised $4.5 million and is currently examining both strategic collaborations and strategic investors for their next steps, intending to raise another $35 million for further development leading to mass production.
According to City Transformer CEO Asaf Formoza, the CT cars bridge the gap in urban mobility between two-wheelers and cars.
“We can serve approximately 85% of the total number of personal city rides, which means that the City Transformer is the ultimate solution for personal mobility in European, US and Asian cities,” he said. “The City Transformer vehicles will also provide the optimal sharing service for urban mobility, and therefore, the sales forecast will range from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of City Transformer’s vehicle sales per year.” (Jerusalem Post) Staff
Ancient seal bearing name mentioned in bible discovered in Jerusalem’s Old City
Israeli archeologists recently unearthed a rare and exciting discovery in the City of David in the heart of Jerusalem’s Old City – a 2,600-year-old stamp bearing a name in Hebrew which is mentioned in the Bible.
The seal impression features the words: “(belonging) to Nathan-Melech, Servant of the King” (in Hebrew – “LeNathan-Melech Eved HaMelech”). The name Nathan-Melech appears once in the Bible in the book of Kings II, where he is described as an official in the court of King Josiah who took part in the religious reform that the king was implementing.
“And he took away the horses that the kings of Judah had given to the sun, at the entrance of the house of the Lord, by the chamber of Nathan-Melech the officer, which was in the precincts; and he burned the chariots of the sun with fire,” the Bible states (Kings II 23:11).
The title “Servant of the King” (Eved HaMelech) appears often in the Bible to describe a high-ranking official close to the king. This title appears on other stamps and seal impressions that were previously found. However, this seal impression is the first archaeological evidence of the Biblical name Nathan-Melech.
Bullae were small pieces of clay impressed by personal seals, used in ancient times to sign letters. While the parchment that they sealed did not survive the fires that devastated ancient Jerusalem, the bullae, which are made of ceramic-like material, were preserved, leaving evidence of the correspondence and the authors.
The stamp was discovered inside a public building that was devastated during the Babylonians’ destruction of the First Temple in 586 BCE. The dig at the Givati parking lot, adjacent to the Dung gate, was conducted by archeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) and Tel Aviv University.
Professor Yuval Gadot, of TAU, and Dr. Yiftah Shalev of the IAA, who were responsible for the dig, described how large stone debris, burnt wooden beams and numerous charred pottery shards were discovered in the building, all indications that they had survived an immense fire.
The importance of the building can be discerned from its size, the finely cut ashlar stones from which it was built and the quality of the architectural elements found in the layers of destruction, including remnants of a polished plaster floor which had collapsed and caved into the floor below.
The stamp bulla, which are about one centimetre in size, were deciphered by Dr. Anat Mendel-Geberovich of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Center for the Study of Ancient Jerusalem, who, according to the script, dates them to the middle of the seventh century to the beginning of the sixth century BCE.
Mendel-Geberovich notes that the fact that Nathan-Melech was mentioned by his first name alone indicates that he was known to all, and there was no need to add his family lineage.
“Although it is not possible to determine with complete certainty that the Nathan-Melech who is mentioned in the Bible was, in fact, the owner of the stamp, it is impossible to ignore some of the details that link them together,” she said.
Another stamp-seal, made of bluish agate stone, was also discovered at the site, engraved with the name – “(belonging) to Ikar son of Matanyahu” (in Hebrew – LeIkar Ben Matanyahu). According to Mendel-Geberovich, “the name Matanyahu appears both in the Bible and on additional stamps and bullae already unearthed. However, this is the first reference to the name “Ikar,” which was unknown until today.”
She believes that despite the literal meaning of Ikar which is a farmer, it most likely refers to a private individual with that name, as opposed to a description of his occupation. It is still unclear who this person was. Private stamps were used to sign documents and were often set in signet rings carried by their owners. In ancient times these stamps noted the identity, lineage and status of their owners.
Gadot and Shalev explained that “since many of the well-known bullae and stamps have not come from organized archaeological excavations but rather from the antiquities market, the discovery of these two artifacts in a clear archaeological context that can be dated is very exciting. They join the bullae and stamps bearing names written in ancient Hebrew script, which were discovered in the various excavations that have been conducted in the City of David until today.”
“These artifacts attest to the highly developed system of administration in the Kingdom of Judah and add considerable information to our understanding of the economic status of Jerusalem and its administrative system during the First Temple period, as well as personal information about the king’s closest officials and administrators who lived and worked in the city,” they added.
Moreover, “the discovery of a public building such as this, on the western slope of the City of David, provides a lot of information about the city’s structure during this period and the size of its administrative area.” They said. “The destruction of this building in the fire, apparently during the Babylonian conquest, strengthens our understanding of the intensity of the destruction in the city.” (J Wire) Aryeh Savir
Does Hamas see Israel’s deterrence waning?
It is wholly possible that the main reason for Israel’s perceived failure in deterrence is due to Hamas’s dissatisfaction with the status quo, even though the terror group is fully aware of its military inferiority compared to Israel.
by Israel Kasnett JNS
Israel is officially engaged in the throes of a low-intensity conflict with Hamas.
The March 25 rocket attack on Israel, which destroyed a home and injured seven members of a family in Mishmeret, north of Tel Aviv, demonstrates that this conflict poses a real threat to the citizens of Israel. And even though Israel pounded Hamas targets in Gaza pursuant to that attack, this week’s attacks—one on Saturday night, which saw five rockets fired at Israel, and another one on Sunday—suggest that Israel’s deterrence has lost some of its power.
Eran Lerman, former deputy director of Israel’s National Security Council, suggests otherwise. He told JNS that “Hamas takes us very seriously.”
He explained that there is a paradox here. Hamas’s behavior reflects an understanding that because it is so weak and Israel so strong, Israel will be careful not to obliterate the terror group because “we can do so easily.”
Lerman said this is a “paradox within a paradox.”
“The reason Israel does not feel obliged to go in and destroy Hamas,” he said, “is because Hamas is not a threat to our existence. It gets on our nerves. It’s an irritant.”
Efraim Inbar, president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security, told JNS that “deterrence is a tricky notion. Of course, Hamas is afraid of Israel,” but it tests Israel’s tolerance threshold all the time.
Inbar said Hamas understands that Israel does “not want an escalation, particularly at this time before the elections,” and that Israel does not “object to Hamas rule, which weakens the Palestinian national movement.”
He explained that Hamas launched missiles towards Tel Aviv as a threat to escalate in order to get concessions from Israel, immediately announcing that it was a “mistake,” hoping the Israeli response would be tolerable.
“Bearing in mind that Hamas is not very sensitive to the cost Israel exacted, this is what happened. Once in a while, Israel has to escalate its responses to signal that the brinkmanship game could be very risky.”
‘A complex, psychological equation’
Lerman agreed, pointing out that the Israel Defense Forces and professional defense establishment take this into account in terms of the cost-benefit analysis, which includes the cost in human sacrifice; resources and Israel’s international standing; and what the price would be of “completely destroying Hamas, rather than the cost of these occasional cycles of violence, which comes from the limited erosion of our deterrence [and] in turn is only a function of the fact that they know we are not going to use the full force we have.”
He added that “this becomes a very complex, psychological equation because deterrence is not a physical thing. It is a psychological condition that exists on the other side.”
Lerman conceded that Israel has indeed lost some of its deterrence, but not in the classic sense. He said that while there has been “some erosion of this psychological imprint,” there has also been an attempt by Hamas now “to gain some very specific material outcomes. This is not about Hamas thinking they can destroy us. Hamas is trying to get the best deal they can through Egyptian mediation, using the irritant capacity as a tool of extortion.”
The Egyptians are interested in having Hamas removed, but at the same time, also act as intermediaries, he noted.
He also suggested that Hamas is trying to manage its conflict with Fatah by attacking Israel, in addition to diverting attention from the increasingly overt and noisy protests within Gaza against Hamas rule.
It is wholly possible that the main reason for Israel’s perceived failure in deterrence is due to Hamas’s dissatisfaction with the status quo, even though the terror group is fully aware of its military inferiority compared to Israel.
Lerman supported this idea when he said that Israel finds itself “in a very delicate situation. This is not a straightforward deterrent equation.”
He said that Hamas is “checking how far they can go in irritating us in order to obtain certain limited gains through the negotiating process. And our gain is to send the Egyptians with messages that underline our capacity to do Hamas much more harm than we did already. This is why it was necessary to deploy ground forces down south—to indicate to Hamas that we will not flinch at a territorial maneuver into Gaza if the need arises.
“And therefore, we need the tanks to be very visible, so it can actually underline and help the Egyptians explain the situation to Hamas in good colloquial Arabic,” he quipped.
Beyond Realpolitik: Israel’s Strategic Imperatives
by Prof. Louis René Beres BESA Center (Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies)
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: For all nation-states, but especially the most powerful or influential, success must be measured along two separate dimensions: present and future. Although Israeli leaders may correctly calculate that their country is doing reasonably well under classic geopolitical criteria of realpolitik, that judgment is likely to collapse in the longer term. There is a great need for a new world politics of cooperation and acknowledged interdependence.
The world’s leading states have long believed in certain alleged benefits of realpolitik, or power politics. Although such traditional patterns of thinking would normally appear realistic and pragmatic rather than visionary or utopian, it is also clear that such appearances must prove essentially transient and distressingly short-term. It follows that the leading or “great” states today would be well-advised 1) to acknowledge the inherent limitations of our global threat system, and 2) to begin to identify more promising and durable configurations of international relations and world politics.
Moreover, at some point, this group of powerful states should include Israel. While tiny in terms of both population and land mass, Israel fields one of the most significant military forces in the world, let alone in its own Middle East neighborhood. This means that what might seem promisingly realistic to orthodox strategists in the shorter-term global “state of nature” (a condition dating back to the Peace of Westphalia in 1648) is apt to prove futile for longer-term survival prospects.
Here, context must be understood. Israel, in the fashion of every other state, is part of a much larger world system. This more comprehensive system has diminishing chances for success within the seemingly permanent global anarchy.
Realpolitik world politics has never succeeded for more than very brief and uncertain intervals. In the future, the unsteadiness of this foundation could be further exacerbated by multiple systemic failures, some perhaps involving weapons of mass destruction. Most portentous in this regard would be nuclear weapons.
A zero-sum orientation to world politics has already become so darkly unpromising and corrosively competitive that it is a bewildering chaos. Accordingly, in the shadowy years ahead, one conclusion is reasonably certain. It is that the longstanding Hobbesian universe of a bellum omnium contra omnes – a war of all against all – can never be sustained.
All states that depend upon some form of nuclear deterrence, including Israel, must begin to think more self-consciously and imaginatively about creating alternative systems of world politics, viable configurations that are more war-averse and cooperation-centered. While any hint of interest in such global integration, or what the Jesuit philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin calls “planetization,” will sound unacceptably utopian or fanciful to “realists,” the opposite is far more plausible. It is actually more realistic to acknowledge that our “every man for himself” ethos in world politics is endlessly degrading and destined to fail.
Again and again, Westphalian world systemic failures could become dire and irreversible. In the final analysis, it will not help merely to tinker tentatively at the ragged edges of our current world order, naively forging assorted ad hoc agreements between recalcitrant states or between combative nations and surrogate sub-state organizations. “What is the good,” inquires playwright Samuel Beckett in Endgame, “of passing from one untenable position to another, of seeking justification always on the same plane?”
In the longer term, the only sort of realism that can make any sense for Israel, America, and the other states in world politics is a posture that points toward a higher awareness of global “oneness” and to incremental world system interdependence.
The prophets of a more collaborative world civilization remain few and far between, but this is not because of a lack of need. Rather, it reflects a progressively imperiled species’ stubborn unwillingness to take itself seriously – that is, to recognize that the only sort of loyalty that can ultimately rescue all states must first embrace a redirected commitment (both individual and national) to humankind in general.
At its heart, this is not a complicated idea. It is hardly a medical or biological secret that those core factors and behaviors common to all human beings greatly outnumber those that differentiate one from another. Unless leaders of all the major states on earth can finally understand that the survival of any one state must inevitably be contingent upon the survival of all, true national security will continue to elude every nation, including even the purportedly “most powerful” – and including the State of Israel.
The bottom line? For Israel, the most immediate security task must remain intellectual or analytic; that is, a proper conceptualization and nuanced refinement of national nuclear strategy. Simultaneously, however, leaders of the Jewish State must also learn to understand – together with other far-sighted national leaders – that our planet represents an organic whole, a fragile but intersecting unity that exhibits rapidly disappearing opportunities for war avoidance.
To seize these opportunities, Jerusalem, Washington, and others must quickly learn to build solidly upon the critical foundational insights of Francis Bacon, Galileo, and Isaac Newton, and also upon the much more contemporary observation of Lewis Mumford: “Civilization is the never-ending process of creating one world and one humanity.”
When we speak of civilization we must also speak of law. Jurisprudentially, Israel has no special national obligations in this regard; nor can it afford to build its own security policies upon such vague and distant hopes. Nonetheless, Israel remains an integral part of the far wider community of nations, and must do whatever it can to detach nations from the untenable state of nature. Such willful detachment should be expressed as part of an ultimate vision for more durable and correspondingly just world politics. Over the longer term, and perhaps merely to keep itself alive, Israel will have to do whatever possible to preserve the global system as a whole.
For the moment, at least, there is no need to detail analytic or intellectual particulars, of which there are bound to be many. The task now is to outline a more serious awareness of this basic obligation.
As long as the states in world politics continue to operate as grim archeologists of ruins-in-the-making, they will be unable to stop the next series of catastrophic wars. Although Israel is not one of the leading national players in world politics – that responsibility still falls on the US and Russia – Jerusalem has been compelled to fashion its survival prospects upon the time-dishonored premises of power politics.
Until now, and perhaps for the next several years, this sort of selection has been fundamentally necessary and correct; accordingly, there are no plausible reasons for expressing any regrets. Nevertheless, from the standpoint of longer-term options and security prospects, Israel – like its historic American patron or ally – must open its security imagination to visionary ways of thinking.
In the final analysis, the language of power politics and realpolitik is the delusional parlance of inevitable and unprecedented failure. To survive into the future, therefore, Israel and its adversaries will be ill served by the petrified “wisdom” of security via escalating threats and counter-threats of retaliatory destruction. Over time, what is currently hailed as refined strategic thinking will likely rediscover itself within the ruins of serious thought.
At that point, however, it will be too late to break free from the lethal interstices of endlessly belligerent nationalism.
Anti-Semitism on the Left and Right Brings U.S. Jews Together
At this year’s AIPAC meeting in Washington, familiar disputes about Israel took a back seat to worries that are closer to home.
By Daniel Gordis Bloomberg
In the days prior to the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which took place in Washington this week, the progressive policy organization MoveOn urged Democratic presidential candidates to skip the event. Many, including Senators Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris, said that they would.
The boycott was fictitious in some ways, as AIPAC does not typically invite candidates to speak in non-election years. Yet it attracted notice, mostly because it seemed to buttress complaints from liberals who argue that the leading U.S. pro-Israel lobby leans right and is not hospitable to Democrats and progressives.
Shortly thereafter, former President Barack Obama announced that he would host a reception for freshman House Democrats on Monday evening. The time slot was the same as that of AIPAC’s leadership reception, among its most important events of the year. Between MoveOn, Obama and AIPAC’s perennial critics, it seemed that the organization would be caught in the maelstrom of a divided American Jewish community, between those on the right who are loyal to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and those in the center and left who believe he needs to go. Memories of young people disrupting and protesting the conference in 2017 loomed large.
Matters, though, did not turn out that way. The Iran nuclear deal, once a source of bitter division among American Jews, was hardly discussed. Disagreements persist over Israel’s role in the occupation of the West Bank, the stalled Palestinian peace process, the Chief Rabbinate’s dismissive attitude to non-Orthodox Judaism and Netanyahu’s cozying up to racist parties. Yet those topics hardly created a ripple. Instead, there was one issue that loomed large, and on that issue, American Jews are united. That issue is U.S. anti-Semitism.
When AIPAC chief executive Howard Kohr addressed the convention on Sunday morning, he focused not on threats to Israel’s security, which is what regular AIPAC participants have long been used to hearing, but on threats to American Jews.
“Today, I want to talk to you about our mission and our rights as pro-Israel activists and as proud American citizens,” Kohr said. “Because today things are different. We are being challenged in a way that is new and far more aggressive.” By “we,” he did not mean Israel or AIPAC. He was talking about American Jews.
In a decade and a half of attending AIPAC policy conferences, I have virtually never heard U.S. anti-Semitism mentioned. AIPAC’s annual gathering has long been a celebration of its influence and commitment to Israel.
The focus on anti-Semitism did afford cover to Democrats who had elected to stay away. It gave candidate Harris, for example, a chance to buff her pro-Israel credentials without antagonizing progressives.
“Great to meet today in my office with California AIPAC leaders,” she tweeted, “to discuss the need for a strong U.S.-Israel alliance, the right of Israel to defend itself, and my commitment to combat anti-Semitism in our country and around the world.”
Anti-Semitism seems to have cooled even the passions of seasoned, professional observers of Jewish America. Batya Ungar-Sargon, who as an editor at the left-leaning Forward (which just weeks ago ran an article arguing that U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota should not be accused of anti-Semitism for castigating AIPAC) has disparaged AIPAC in years past. This week, she sang its praises:
There is just one place that I know of where people are determined to get over their differences and work together for a cause that’s bigger than their personal preferences. That place is AIPAC. And at a time when the United States has devolved into the most intense partisan divide in recent memory, AIPAC’s commitment to bipartisanship is nothing short of radical. AIPAC is the last vestige of a better America, a bipartisan America, an America that knows how to put aside its differences and get things done.
I gave a half-dozen presentations at the AIPAC conference on various subjects, but the questions I received were focused on one issue: What is going to happen to U.S. Jews? It’s a question hardly anyone ever asked at an AIPAC conference before, and seemed to reflect a sense that Jews need each other more than ever.
How this new development will play out, it is too early to say. And Omar, the Muslim congresswoman whose critique of U.S.-Israel ties has provoked charges of anti-Semitism and countercharges of Islamophobia, and who was hardly mentioned by name at AIPAC, is certainly not the only cause for American Jewish nervousness.
President Donald Trump ran a 2016 campaign that included familiarly coded warnings about the financial power of financier George Soros, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen and Goldman Sachs chief executive Lloyd Blankfein. His comment while in the White House that there were “very fine people on both sides” of the 2017 white nationalist riot in Charlottesville, after marchers had chanted “Jews will not replace us,” was easy enough to read as an embrace of white supremacism and its anti-Semitic elements. The shootings a year later at a Pittsburgh synagogue illustrated again the power of the social media to put Jews and other minorities in the crosshairs of armed fanatics.
One thing the right and the left have in common is that they have both contributed to a growing discomfort among U.S. Jews, who nevertheless mostly believe that this wave will pass. What can’t be denied, though, is that the worry that was so evident at the AIPAC conference is not one that most Jews thought they would encounter in 21st-century America.