Archive for the ‘Israel’ Category

Obama: Too busy for Israel?

July 28, 2009

Netanyahu and Obama smile for the cameras.  Source:  Google Images

Great op-ed by Aluf Benn, diplomatic editor/correspondent for Haaretz, in today’s NYTimes.  He asks, Where has Obama been on Israel?  Why hasn’t he spoken to Israelis directly, the way he has addressed everyone else from Ghanaians to Egyptians, Europeans to Latin Americans?  For sure, he is really busy, probably busier than any other president since FDR.  As he himself has emphasized, there is the bank bailout, the trillion dollar fiscal stimulus, two wars (one to wind down, one to wind up), a failing state (Pakistan), and health care reform (is that really necessary right now?), not to mention the controversy over the arrest of a Harvard professor who is a friend of his.  Yet he has said he is the one who can untie the Gordian Knot of the Arab-Israeli conflict by the power of his personality and the credibility he has in the Muslim world.  Well, Aluf Benn argues that he is losing credibility with Israelis, a key player in the conflict.  Moreover, he points out something important and elusive to most world leaders.  The difference between playing to American Jews and playing to Israelis.  You don’t have to go on and on about the Holocaust and link it to the Arab-Israeli conflict to placate Israelis.  Just visit Yad Vashem and then deal with the here and now.  American Jews are more interested in politicians reiterating their angst about the Holocaust than are Israelis.  Israelis prefer to hear about a plan to deal with Iran’s emerging nuclear weapons capability, about Hamas rockets in the south and Hezbollah rockets in the north, and about Israel being recognized as a Jewish state by the Muslim world.  Have a read…

Netanyahu’s Speech: Coarse, but airs Israel’s point of view

June 15, 2009

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli Prime Minister   Source:

Well, actually, Israel has several points of view.  The one expressed by Netanyahu is just one of them.  Nevertheless, in the “dialogue of civilizations” launched by expert bridge-builder Barack Obama in Cairo earlier this month, when he raised the Arab-Israeli conflict as an obstacle to dialogue, one voice was not heard.  Israel’s.  It’s like negotiating an end to the global financial crisis without inviting China.

Benjamin Netanyahu is no Barack Obama.  He is no Shimon Peres.  He lacks their diplomatic skill.  I have had extensive meetings with him on a number of occasions, and found him to be a man enthused with his own self-importance.  Just like Barack Obama and Shimon Peres, but a lot less charming.  What a discovery?  Political leaders are vain.  Yet Netanyahu proved an effective leader as Israel’s finance minister, freeing up the economy to realize its potential.  Can he be an effective and visionary prime minister his second time around?  This speech falls short of the mark.

What Netanyahu did in his speech yesterday (see text) was to say, Wait a minute!  Listen to our point of view! 

Obama made efforts to recognize the Arab narrative in his speech in Cairo.  He recognized the Jewish narrative in part by discussing the Holocaust.  Netanyahu gave voice to another part of the Jewish narrative – the claim to the land in Israel.

But the Arab reaction has been sour.  Mubarak is angry, saying that the requirement that Palestinians acknowledge Israel as a Jewish state, a cornerstone of Netanyahu’s speech, “scuttles the chances for peace,” and that no one in Cairo will answer the phone when Netanyahu calls.

It’s not a very radical idea.  Given the Arab insistence on the “right of return” of Palestinian refugees to Israel, an act that would destroy Israel as a Jewish state, it’s not asking a lot.  The Arab Peace Initiative of 2002, which Obama and some Israeli leaders have applauded, called for a just solution to the refugee problem, according to U.N. General Assembly Resolution 194, which many insist calls for a right of return (“Resolves that the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date…”)

Arguably, Obama’s conciliatory speech in Cairo opened the door for this sharp Arab reaction to Netanyahu’s speech.  Bush pushed the Arabs to accept Israel’s narrative; Obama is pushing Israel to accept the Arab narrative.  Obama may have inadvertently created huge expectations on the Arab street for Israeli concessions.

There is a deal to be had in the Arab-Israeli conflict.  But both sides have to make concessions.  The deal is:  the dismantling of most West Bank settlements in exchange for Jerusalem.  Israel gets sovereignty over Jerusalem – because no cities, including Berlin, remain divided over the long term – with substantive measures to ensure that Muslim/Palestinian interests in Jerusalem, especially around the holy sites, are overseen by Muslims and Palestinians, much as the Ottomans allowed the French and Russians to oversee their holy sites in centuries past.  In exchange, Israel dismantles most West Bank settlements, forcing tens of thousands, perhaps over a hundred thousand Jewish people to relocate inside Israel behind agreed borders.  As George Bush agreed to, some Israeli settlement blocks, major cities in place for over forty years, generally in and around Jerusalem and very close to the Green Line, perhaps representing some eighty thousand people, will remain as part of Israel.  The Palestinians get a viable, contiguous state in the West Bank with transportation links to Gaza.

That is a deal in which both sides make concessions.  The Arab Peace Initiative demands one-sided concessions from Israel in exchange for the Arabs agreeing not to make war.  It’s like Vito Corleone making you an offer you can’t refuse.

The only problem with the Jerusalem-for-Settlements idea is that Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims will never go for it.  It’s become too emotional a part of their narrative.  Jerusalem is the third holiest city of Islam.

Putting aside such discussions of what is fair, the key question in all of this is, Whose side is time on?  Given demographic realities, it seems that time is on the Arab/Muslim side.  Peres and others on Israel’s left acknowledge this, which has underpinned their efforts to move quickly to a negotiated settlement.  The right in Israel emphasizes their neighbors’ weaknesses – economic and political — and argue that time is on Israel’s side, a potentially risky misconception. 

Netanyahu, spokesman of the right, basically said in his speech, Here is our position; now come to us.  He has adopted the Arab strategy:  stake out a hard line and let others begin concessions.  Netanyahu has stood up to Barack Obama, maybe not the last foreign leader to do so.  Read Jeffrey Goldberg for insight into how Mr. Netanyahu thinks.

Politics in Israel is dysfunctional, leaving that nation bereft of visionary leadership.  It takes so much effort to make and hold coalitions together there, that politicians have little time for policy making.  Political reform is needed, included raising the minimum for parties to be seated in parliament.  The religious parties must be folded into larger groupings.  If things remain as they are, Israeli leaders will miss opportunities, and for tiny Israel with so few friends in the world, this could be an existential threat.

Photo:  Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s Prime Minister.   Source:

Obama’s Speech to the Muslim World

June 4, 2009

President Obama with Egypt's Hosni Mubarak  Source:  Huffington Post

President Obama’s speech to the Muslim world today, titled “A New Beginning,” was at its best when it explained the grievances of both sides of the Muslim/non-Muslim divide, but much less effective when it dealt with substantive issues, such as Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear weapon. 

Like he did so powerfully for Americans in his famous speech on race of March 2008, President Obama in this speech exhorted the citizens of Planet Earth to bridge our differences, understand each other better, and solve our common problems peacefully.  I applaud his effort at launching a new beginning between what he calls Muslim-majority nations and the rest of the world, especially the United States, in order to build a peaceful “alliance of civilizations.” Barack Obama, in his now-famous speech on race (“A More Perfect Union”), drew tens of millions of Americans to his movement, even though arguably he failed to adequately explain his association with his pastor, whose comments had offended Americans and precipitated the speech.  Nevertheless, this kind of speech, which the president is so good at, can work well.  It helped get him elected; and, he believes the power of his personality can solve Huntington’s clash of civilizations.

In spite of the hubris underlying Movement Obama’s appeal to our better angels (his predecessors were incapable of the moral transformation this singular man and his team believe they can accomplish), we all hope it works.  It is foolish to cynically dismiss such important, yet elusive, building blocks of civilization as legitimacy that can win over hearts and minds to good causes.  Charismatic moral leadership can help us pitiful humans stop the slaughter and evolve.   Yet it is likewise naive, though emotionally satisfying, to discount the risks of disillusionment that underlie a phenomenon such as Barack Obama.

The president outlined seven key issues that Muslims and the West must address: the violence of extremists, the Arab-Israeli conflict, nuclear weapons, democracy, religious freedom, women’s rights, and economic development.  He definitely covered the major issues, though some of them, while not unimportant, appear more the product of a Democratic focus group, or more accurately, an effort to please a number of constituencies, than issues really critical to a new beginning of peace and cooperation between the West and the Muslim world.  I’ll let the reader decide which ones should be high on the priority list.

Here is a transcript of the speech, but it is worthwhile to have a look at what he said specifically about nuclear weapons and Iran.  Of note is how short this section was, especially when compared to issue number two, the Arab-Israeli conflict.

“The third source of tension is our shared interest in the rights and responsibilities of nations on nuclear weapons.

This issue has been a source of tension between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran. For many years, Iran has defined itself in part by its opposition to my country, and there is indeed a tumultuous history between us. In the middle of the Cold War, the United States played a role in the overthrow of a democratically-elected Iranian government. Since the Islamic Revolution, Iran has played a role in acts of hostage-taking and violence against U.S. troops and civilians. This history is well known. Rather than remain trapped in the past, I have made it clear to Iran’s leaders and people that my country is prepared to move forward. The question, now, is not what Iran is against, but rather what future it wants to build.

It will be hard to overcome decades of mistrust, but we will proceed with courage, rectitude and resolve. There will be many issues to discuss between our two countries, and we are willing to move forward without preconditions on the basis of mutual respect. But it is clear to all concerned that when it comes to nuclear weapons, we have reached a decisive point. This is not simply about America’s interests. It is about preventing a nuclear arms race in the Middle East that could lead this region and the world down a hugely dangerous path.

I understand those who protest that some countries have weapons that others do not. No single nation should pick and choose which nations hold nuclear weapons. That is why I strongly reaffirmed America’s commitment to seek a world in which no nations hold nuclear weapons. And any nation – including Iran – should have the right to access peaceful nuclear power if it complies with its responsibilities under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. That commitment is at the core of the Treaty, and it must be kept for all who fully abide by it. And I am hopeful that all countries in the region can share in this goal.”

He alludes to the differing perceptions underlying the mistrust between Iran and the West.  He points out  the danger of a nuclear arms race in the region.  And, as he does throughout the speech, he portrays himself as someone who, unlike his predecessors, understands the other side’s point of view.  He understands Muslim frustration over the fact that some countries are allowed to have nuclear weapons, while others are not. 

What is missing in this speech is anything Churchillian.  What is missing is realism…for example, a statement that the U.S. is determined to prevent the acquisition of nuclear weapons by unstable or radical regimes, be they Muslim or not.  The risk of the Obama phenomenon is that his extended hand and emotional understanding will not be backed up by a steely determination to oppose dangerous regimes.  True, he takes a stab at this in his remarks about Al Qaeda and extremism.  However, just as it was nearly impossible for Bush to establish moral authority, it will be challenging for Obama to convey strength and determination, and to inspire respect and, yes, fear among America’s adversaries.  I understand he was addressing Muslims, but still there were no unequivocal statements against the Iranian acquisition of the bomb.  

He acquiesced to the Arab narrative in many ways.  The most salient example was his putting the Arab-Israeli conflict, or as he termed it, “the situation between Israelis, Palestinians and the Arab world,” as one of his seven key issues causing tension in the region.  It sure is, but why not the India-Pakistan conflict over Kashmir?  The Shia-Sunni divide was noted, but not as a key cause of tension.  Genocide in Darfur was not mentioned.  Saudi Wahhabism and other sources of extremism in Muslim education were not mentioned. 

The Arab narrative suggests that everything nasty that happens in that part of the world is linked to, if not caused by, Israeli actions vis-à-vis the Palestinians.  Never mind how the rest of the Arab World has treated the Palestinians, refusing to settle these refugees in neighboring countries, the way India and Pakistan settled Hindu and Muslim refugees after their 1948 conflict.  What’s more, the language about Israeli settlements was harsher in this speech than in the past.  The United States does not accept the legitimacy of settlements, and the settlements must stop.  This is quite different from Bush’s statement that after forty years of conflict, forty years of woeful Palestinian (and in most cases, Arab) leadership, some of Israel’s settlements have become a reality on the ground and the subject of negotiation.  Of course, Obama may turn around and tell the Israelis he was only talking about the “growth” of settlements, not the full dismantling of all settlements.  The Obama administration has asked the Israeli government for clarification of its views on settlements, when “clarify” is exactly what Team Obama needs to do on this issue.   

Nevertheless, all in all, it was a valiant effort on the part of President Obama.  I hope he can engender understanding and cooperation through the power of his personality.  His administration has orchestrated this overture to the Muslim world quite well.  The president argued as much in his speech.  He has stuck it to Israel on settlements.  He is pulling out of Iraq. He has called for all nations in the region, and in the world, to give up nuclear weapons.  He is giving humanitarian aid to Pakistan and Afghanistan.  He is launching educational and economic initiatives in the region.  This is the change he offers from Bush’s bluster.  And, he says, the Arab world must do its part.  I hope it works.

Great Power Diplomacy: Big Stick or Good Will…What works?

May 5, 2009

It is legitimate in foreign affairs to employ both the carrot and the stick.  Both policies can secure a nation’s interests; the trick (and difficulty) is to employ the strategy a given situation warrants.  In spite of partisan name-calling, whereby stick-wielders are called warmongers and carrot-salesmen weak, all Great Powers, all statesmen (and women), must be prepared to use both.  In the United States, at least since Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, these two camps have savaged each other in the political arena.

The emotional name-calling is unfortunate.  It distorts policy.  President Obama has suggested he will utilize American goodwill around the world far more effectively than did his predecessor.  Maybe he will.  But, George W. Bush had a point – that America could utilize its overwhelming military superiority to further its interests.  Notwithstanding the critique of Bush’s point by the Democrats, it wasn’t Bush or Cheney who said to Colin Powell, “What’s the point of you saving this superb military for, Colin, if we can’t use it?”  It was Madam Secretary, Madeleine Albright, during America’s unipolar moment. 

Further, President Obama, as candidate Obama, vilified Bush for his big stick policies.  He decried neo-con tactics in the war on terror, but has now adopted many of them.  In a blog last month, I noted that Daniel Byman of Georgetown University in a March 18th Foreign Affairs piece, referring to a U.S. Predator strike against militants in Pakistan in early March, wrote, “The strike, the fifth drone attack in Pakistan since late January, demonstrates that the Obama administration is not jettisoning the policies of the Bush administration regarding targeted killings; in fact, it appears to be ramping them up.”  Even those that advocate goodwill on the campaign trail will wield the stick in the Oval Office.

Likewise, in another era, another Obama-esque candidate, Ronald Reagan, vilified a sitting president for weakness, vis-à-vis the Soviet Union.  Exaggerations of Soviet strength were put forth, with Reagan offering us “morning in America,” which was, we the American electorate decided in 1980, change we could believe in.

With regard to Iran, it seems unclear to me today which will work, the carrot or the stick (if either).  Can the threat (or use) of military force or diplomatic engagement stop or slow Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, or can either succeed in changing the nature of the Iranian regime?  Both options have merit.  While Bush wasn’t able to further this objective, the jury is still out on whether Obama, with a mix of engagement and crafty horse-trading with powers such as Russia, will be more effective.  It is not worthwhile, however, for partisans to call each other names. 

And, just as during the Cold War when Soviet capabilities were exaggerated, politics can prevent an accurate assessment of Great Power strengths today.  Secretary of State Clinton’s awkward remark that the engagement of China and Iran in Latin America is “disturbing,” represents just such an exaggeration of the threat of these Rising Powers, not to mention how condescending this must sound to Latin ears (Monroe Doctrine redux) and how belligerent to Chinese and Iranian ears.  Let us not exaggerate the threat of these two nations, especially in regions where it may be difficult for them to project power.  Such exaggeration is just as much folly as was the neo-con overestimation of American power.

On the other hand, the Middle East is somewhere the Iranian threat is real.  If you want to raise emotions over the carrot vs. stick debate, initiate a discussion of Israeli foreign policy.  It appears that the Netanyahu government, fronted in foreign affairs by tough guy Avigdor Lieberman, is reassessing its foreign policy approach (see article in this Sunday’s NYTimes).  The Israelis will raise with their American and European partners the notion that the carrot of Palestinian statehood and land-for-peace has not worked at resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict over the last thirty years, since Israel gave back the Sinai to Egypt.  Netanyahu and company instead believe that Iran is currently fomenting trouble in the region, including by emboldening (and arming) Hezbollah, Hamas and Syria to reject accommodation with Israel.  Ahmadinejad cancelled his worrying trip to Latin America this week in order to go where?  Syria.  Iran is a regional power, a dangerous one, but very unlikely to project power extra-regionally to places like Latin America, though don’t rule out mischief there.

Likewise, the Netanyahu government will argue that Palestinian economic, civic and political institutions must be upgraded before real peace can be negotiated.  This view will seem “war-mongering” to some.  While this blogger is not advocating such a change of direction in Israeli policy – the jury is still out — I believe that considering a new approach, wielding the stick where carrot sales have failed, is worth discussing.  Let the name-calling begin…

Great Powers: Maintain sound public finances

May 4, 2009

Democracies with weak and/or fragmented party systems seem to produce sub-optimal public policies, including heavy government debt burdens.  From Israel to India, Italy to Japan, Brazil to Belgium, governing coalitions held together by paying off key constituencies have yielded chronic deficits and high debt.  By contrast, countries with a small number of strong political parties – usually ideologically-based — that can form stable governments have tended to mind the public purse better (e.g. the U.S., U.K., Germany, and Mexico are examples). 

Some countries with fragmented multi-party systems have been moving in the direction of two or three ideological groupings in recent years, which could be a positive development.  This has been the case in India, Italy and Japan, with some promising signs in Brazil.  This year the financial crisis will continue to unfold, and elections are taking place in such Rising Powers as India and Indonesia.  The conclusion that weak coalition governments produce fiscal irresponsibility will no doubt be tested. 

Recent debt/GDP ratios of selected countries:

India                77%

Brazil               65%

Indonesia        32%

Mexico            31%

Japan              180%

Israel               76%

Italy                103%

Belgium           88%

U.S.                  62%

U.K.                  50%

Germany         64%

Note: Debt/GDP ratios are not strictly comparable, as wealthier countries have a higher “debt tolerance.”

Weimar Germany was the poster child of a weak democratic system.  Electoral and legislative rules hindered the formation of stable governments, and therefore the public had little faith in democratic government.  To avoid the errors of the past, the architects of Germany’s postwar constitution, the 1949 Basic Law, erected a system that balanced fairness with effectiveness.  It was a mixed proportional representation/first-past-the-post system that excluded parties garnering less than 5% of the popular vote from the legislature and produced two large, ideologically-opposed parties of the right and the left.  Stable governing coalitions alternated in power. 

Konrad Adenauer, postwar Germany’s first chancellor


Konrad Adenauer, one of postwar Germany’s architects, and his Christian Democratic Union were able to govern West Germany democratically and effectively from 1949 till 1963, two years longer than his totalitarian predecessor.  His center-right CDU/CSU and the center-left SPD have largely governed Germany ever since.  Currently, these two strong parties cooperate (to some extent) in a grand coalition, but will head back to the polls this fall to see if they can oust their opponents from power.  Germany’s constitution has worked so well that democratic reformers the world over consider adopting portions of it.

The logic of the two-party, or nearly two-party, system is that if one party mucks up the economy while in power, the voters will “throw the rascals out.” Hence, the incentive to mind the public purse.  On the other hand, if a party’s survival in power is based less on success at the polls and more on maintaining complex coalitions, then the dominant coalition partner will be more interested in using the public purse to buy off smaller parties than in maintaining fiscal prudence. 

This is exactly how the State of Israel functions.  In its February 2009 election, the largest party, Kadima, only garnered 22.5% of the vote.  With twelve parties in the Israeli legislature, the six smallest obtained only 2.5%-3.4% of the popular vote apiece.  The German constitution (and by the way, newly reformed Italian electoral rules) wouldn’t even seat these parties.  It can be argued that Israel’s system is fairer, giving voice to the country’s diversity, but it is not very effective.  Only during Ariel Sharon’s popular rule beginning in 2001, when his party reached close to 30% of the popular vote (quite high in Israel), was his strong finance minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, able to implement reforms to public finances that reduced the deficit and got the debt/GDP ratio on a downward trajectory.

Italy functioned in much the same way until the reforms of the mid-1990s.  Belgium, Brazil and India have functioned this way as well, with public debt levels rising as a result.  Although Japanese politics has long been dominated by one party, the center-right LDP has for all intents and purposes engaged in coalition politics and a consequent public spending spree. The LDP is a collection of personality-based factions, interest groups, local constituencies, and patron-client relationships.  As a result, by opening up the public spigot, the LDP holds together these factions, keeping itself in power. 

Interestingly, the U.S. is embarking on a very large increase in its public debt, and this will occur in a two-party system with one party now overwhelmingly dominating two branches of government.  This must be seen as an aberration, however, an exception to the rule, given the size of the fiscal stimulus required to prevent a collapse of the financial system and to support sagging demand.  This unprecedented increase in public outlays is not being implemented in order to keep a coalition together.  Nevertheless, should the Democrats not act quickly, once the economy rebounds, to re-establish fiscal rectitude, an adjustment that will be very painful, then the government’s credibility will suffer, foreign investment will slow, the dollar will fall, interest rates will rise, and American voters will “throw the rascals out.”

As for India’s election, as spelled out by my colleague, David Kampf, the world’s largest democracy is in the midst of a month-long national election that will be tallied on May 16.  Some commentators believe that the two large parties, the center-left Congress Party and the center-right BJP Party, will lose ground to smaller and regional parties.  This will put pressure on the coalition leaders to spend their way into power.  Rulers of Rising Powers be forewarned: history shows that a sustained mismanagement of public finances often precedes the decline of nations.

Military force: Use it and lose your soul

April 6, 2009
IDF soldiers in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead   Source:  Haaretz
IDF soldiers in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead Source: Haaretz

Political scientists study the power of states, looking at the linkages between a society’s economic and political strengths and its capacity to use or threaten military force.   The assessment of a country’s power is made relative to other states in the international system.  Yet the use of military force itself is tricky, because it can subvert the very values that underpin the strength of a people.  Just wars are fought, true, but as Leon Wieseltier of The New Republic said in a recent article, “no just wars are fought only justly.”  He adds, “No state was ever innocent, but not all states are evil.”

History and headlines are full of immoral military actions.  U.S. troops have allegedly committed them in both Iraq and Afghanistan.  Those of us who remember the Vietnam War remember the My Lai massacre.  Going back further, many label the R.A.F.’s firebombing of Dresden in its effort to break Germany’s will a significant moral lapse.  Russia’s actions in Chechnya, Turkey’s against the Kurdish PKK, India’s in Kashmir, all warrant examination.  Rising Powers must deal with this question of morality and the use of military force, increasingly as they rise.

Israel was roundly criticized for Operation Cast Lead in Gaza earlier this year, bearing a very serious diplomatic cost, not to mention the agonizing ethical issues the country faces.  Fighting terror organizations in densely populated cities will by definition involve the unintended killing of civilians.  The argument that the IDF, with enemies on three sides embedding combatants where civilians live, has performed more ethically over the years than almost any other national army would in similar circumstances, while not proveable, may have some merit.  Nevertheless, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz has begun to publish IDF soldiers’ accounts of serious lapses in the conduct of the war in Gaza.  Wieseltier in his article rightly bemoans a “coarsening” of Israel’s conscience – exemplified by some Israeli commentators and politicians arguing that IDF actions are justified by Hamas’s inhumanity.  If anybody doubts the nature of Israel’s enemy in Gaza, a read of the Hamas Covenant is in order.  Wieseltier is encouraged, on the other hand, by the willingness of Israel to examine its moral condition, much as the U.S. did after Vietnam and Abu Ghraib. 

Global powers – both rising and declining — face this test.  President Obama, in spite of his harsh criticism of Bush’s use of military force, will employ much the same tactics.  Daniel Byman, of Georgetown University, in a March 18th Foreign Affairs piece, referring to a U.S. Predator strike against militants in Pakistan in early March, wrote, “The strike, the fifth drone attack in Pakistan since late January, demonstrates that the Obama administration is not jettisoning the policies of the Bush administration regarding targeted killings; in fact, it appears to be ramping them up.” 

Byman, an expert on Israel’s use of targeted killings in the intifada, argues that targeted killings work because they disrupt enemy leadership, but cannot alone defeat an enemy. He notes as well that there is a heavy cost — 40% of the deaths from Israel’s targeted killings from 2000-08 were unintended, usually civilian and sometimes children.  A tough choice for any power to make.

McCain’s Affinity for Israel

October 31, 2008

See the two articles below.  Something to think about before Tuesday.  Not that Israel is the only issue by any stretch.  The Jerusalem Post article, which comes first, describes John McCain’s affinity for Israel and more broadly, for the Jewish narrative.  In the second piece, Alan Dershowitz argues articulately that supporting Obama is consistent with supporting Israel. 

We have seen a surge of Jewish rationalizing — in emails, op-eds and speeches — that Obama will be good for Israel and the Middle East.  Whether this has come from Dershowitz, Dennis Ross, your local rabbi, or a Jewish friend who writes well, this argument will likely produce the 70-80% support that Democrats have counted on from Jews since FDR.  Dershowitz’s piece is among the best in this vein, arguing that support for Israel is already strong on the right, so friends of Israel must cultivate leaders on the left, i.e. Obama.  It is true that Barack Obama’s administration will likely be generally supportive of Israel, his friendship with Rashid Khalidi and others notwithstanding.  Still, read the Jerusalem Post article for insight into John McCain and how he is “instinctively pro-Israel” and have a think.  Especially if you live in Florida or Pennsylvania or any other swing state.  If you’ve already voted, in the words of Emily Litella, “Never mind.”  As for me, I remain, faithfully, yours…undecided.  Happy Halloween…

Roger Scher

Oct 30, 2008 9:08 | Updated Oct 30, 2008 9:14

The Republican phoenix

PHOENIX, Arizona

The stately saguaro cactus is a fitting symbol of the southwestern desert state of Arizona, found on license plates and front lawns and state flora registries, cutting a pitchfork profile both defiant of and shaped by the elements around it. It is also a good symbol for the Arizona senator who hopes to lead the nation, Republican presidential candidate John McCain. He, too, is sometimes considered prickly and defiant. He is known for independence, self-reliance and, above all, survival – both personal and political.

One year ago, McCain’s candidacy had been left for dead. He was trailing badly in the polls, his once hefty cash reserves were gone, his campaign was in disarray. But he carried off one of the more stunning comebacks of American political history, scraping together primary wins until he became his reluctant party’s nominee (his maverick reputation having been earned in large part for going against the GOP grain).

Yet that was far from his most impressive rehabilitation. In 1967, McCain’s plane was shot down over Hanoi and he was taken captive by the North Vietnamese. He was denied proper medical care for his broken bones, humiliated and tortured. He finally made it home five and a half years later, battered and bruised. Though he was never able to lift his arms properly again, he went through painful physical therapy and nursed his way back to health. He eventually launched a political career that spanned four years in the US House, 22 and counting in the Senate and two runs for president.

That political career began in Phoenix, his wife’s hometown but not his own. When McCain began his run and was greeted with the charge of being a carpetbagger, he famously replied that as a military brat he had moved around all his life, so the longest place he’d ever lived had been at the infamous “Hanoi Hilton” POW prison.

Though his response silenced critics enough to let him lay claim to a congressional seat representing the Grand Canyon state, it also meant he soon sped off to Washington. Partly as a consequence, the roots he planted remained akin to those of the solitary saguaro. He is not known for warm and fuzzy constituent outreach; in the Jewish community, his calendar doesn’t overflow with synagogue speeches and JCC dedications. He also eschews the earmarks that often bring in funds for communal Jewish projects.

But that doesn’t mean McCain doesn’t have a connection to his Jewish voters. When people talk about McCain’s ties with the Arizona Jewish community, they use one word: Israel. And they mean that it is not just an issue that he strongly supports, but one for which he has an affinity.

As it happens, Israel is another place that features a cactus as its collective symbol. In the Jewish state, the sabra fruit – prickly on the outside but sweet on the inside – is used to characterize a people, a people who got that way through living in inhospitable climes, cultivating a democracy in a hostile region and serving years in the military under perennial attack.

“I think it’s something that he relates really strongly to his own experience as a POW,” says long-time friend George Weisz of McCain’s perspective on Israel. He recalls McCain telling him after visits there how struck he was by the “tenacity” of a population which shares “the passion that he has for freedom.” He says McCain also recognized a similar bravery in the face of constant aggression.

“Something he would mention specifically is the courage the people of Israel have to continue their lives dealing with the threats around them; that courage stood out more in Israel than almost any country he’s visited,” he recounts. “He’s been impressed that a nation that small has been able to stand up for itself, and stand up strongly in the face of threats from all around.”

Perhaps McCain’s most poignant comments about these shared circumstances came at an award ceremony in Phoenix nearly a decade ago honoring his work to help free IDF soldiers Zack Baumel and Ron Arad. Recalling his own captivity, he told the audience, “If we forget them, then we really betray the freedom and principles that were the foundations of our respective nations.”

MCCAIN HAS said that his experiences at the Hanoi Hilton shaped his worldview, particularly on foreign policy, and it was that perspective that he came to share one night at the Phoenix Kiwanis club in 1980.

Among those gathered to hear him was Sid Rosen, a Democratic political activist and world traveler who had himself spent time in Vietnam, though he admits at the time he “didn’t know him from Adam.” By the end of the night, Rosen had heard enough, particularly on Israel, to tell McCain that he would support him in any election, should he ever decide to run.

“He laid out the most incredible pro-Israel analysis that I’d ever heard,” recalls the 69-year-old Rosen, a lawyer. “The concept effectively was Israel’s right to exist as the nation of the Jewish people, biblically, historically, practically, in every which way. It was tremendously supportive, to the contrary of the impracticality, if not immorality, of the Palestinian [position]. He enumerated how the Arab countries had never resettled the Palestinians, had kept them in these refugee camps, stirred them up as anti-Israel, anti-Zionist all those years, in comparison to Israel taking in her refugees.”

Rosen points out that when McCain gave his speech at the Kiwanis club, it hardly would have been the place for trying to win over the Jewish vote even if he had been campaigning. The national service fraternity had just two Jewish members in its Phoenix chapter, and only Rosen was present that evening.

“He wasn’t addressing a Jewish audience, and [bringing up Israel] was gratuitous. So many politicians would stay away from anything at all controversial.”

And according to Rosen, statements like McCain’s were controversial for Republicans back then. “At that time, it was Democrats and liberal Democrats who were pro-Israel. That’s where the pro-Israel vote was, and it was really rare to find Republicans who were on board,” he says.

“When I came to work in Congress in the 1970s, all the good people were basically on the Democratic side,” says Morrie Amitay, who served as the executive director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee from 1974 to 1981. That was beginning to change by the end of his time there, and was sharply accelerated by the evangelical pro-Israel movement only toward the 1990s. Amitay calls McCain “instinctively pro-Israel.”

Phoenix lawyer and Zionist Organization of America vice president Farley Weiss agrees with the assessment. He was struck by McCain’s criticism of his own party’s president, George H.W. Bush, when Bush made disparaging comments about the Israel lobby in 1991, and then again by the senator’s willingness to tell local Arab audiences what he tells Jewish ones – that he would move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem if he were president.

Weiss adds, “Senator McCain’s best friend in the Senate is Joe Lieberman, and that tells you something already.”

Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew, was the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 2000 but is now campaigning for the Republican presidential nominee. (Weiss also notes, however, they don’t see eye to eye on everything; Weiss has been trying to enlist McCain’s support in freeing Jonathan Pollard, an American convicted of spying for Israel, but “he has not been supportive of the issue.”)

Rosen wasn’t the only Democrat whose attention was caught by McCain’s views on Israel.

Michael Bell, a 66-year-old Jewish resident of Phoenix, says he plans to vote Republican for only the second time in his life this Tuesday.

“He has always been a very big supporter of Israel,” Bell says while enumerating the reasons, primarily related to foreign policy and defense, that he will be supporting McCain over Democratic rival Barack Obama.

He thinks there are many others like him based on conversations with fellow Democrats. “A good percentage has to do with Israel – he’s a proven commodity with Israel.”

McCain’s campaign believes that sentiment resonates nationally, and that the GOP candidate will get near-record levels of Jewish support. While national polls originally supported this assessment, recent surveys suggest his support is falling off and that Obama will get the three-quarters of the Jewish vote typically garnered by Democrats.

There are no reliable polls on how Arizona Jews specifically are likely to vote, and many counter that they expect as strong a Democratic turnout as ever.

“Jewish Democrat is redundant,” quips Arizona National Jewish Democratic Council head Jerry Gettinger. Though he predicts slightly higher Jewish turnout for McCain than other Republican candidates, he says that “the community has been overwhelmingly Democrat and probably will be this time too.”

He cited McCain’s conservative stance on social issues and vice presidential pick of Sarah Palin, who has rubbed many Jews the wrong way.

And many local Jewish Republicans have issues with McCain, too.

A DOZEN Republican Jewish Coalition members gather at a Starbucks among the palm trees and decorative fountains of a swank suburban open-air shopping mall to sip coffee and talk politics as the sun sets. They devote much more of that talk to bashing Obama than praising McCain.

“McCain’s not my first choice,” Alla Rosenfield explains. “But Obama’s my last.” Rosenfield strongly disagrees with McCain’s stance on immigration, which she thinks doesn’t take a hard enough line against illegal immigrants. Others in the circle object to his personality and his temper, the latter of which has been the subject of Democratic attack ads.

Gil Exler saw that temper flare firsthand during a group luncheon with the senator back in 2004. McCain had recently appeared on a morning TV show and attacked President George W. Bush, a fellow Republican in the midst of a reelection campaign. During the Q&A, Exler told McCain he thought he had criticized Bush too harshly at a delicate time, eliciting a barrage from McCain on how the Bush campaign had gone after him during his first run in 2000. “If you knew how they treated me in South Carolina,” Exler recalls him saying, wagging his finger for extra effect. (Bush backers started false rumors ahead of the South Carolina primary that his adopted Bangladeshi daughter was actually a black girl he fathered out of wedlock.) But the senator soon regretted his response, Exler says.

“Right after we broke he came up, put his arm around me, and said, ‘I’m so sorry, no hard feelings, nothing personal. You just hit a nerve.’ I said, ‘Obviously.'”

Exler does give McCain credit for being willing to express his own point of view and not just parrot the position of the person in the crowd, in this case Exler.

Still, hearing so much criticism, RJC chapter head Amy Laff jumps in. “I might be the only one here, but I like McCain.” She mentions that when she set up the local RJC branch, he spent over an hour meeting with her and asking her questions about what she would like him to do for her. And, she concludes, “He shared this connection with Israel.”

All of the RJC group give McCain high marks for Israel, and call it a priority which compensates for other issues they disagree with him on. And they’re willing to overlook the lack of a personal touch from him and his wife in some other areas.

“They’re private individuals, and we don’t see them at events that are social, but when there are issues that are important – on Israel – they’re there,” Rosenfield says.

Sam Coppersmith is less charitable. A former head of the Arizona Democratic Party who served two years in the US House before losing the race for the state’s other Senate seat to Jon Kyl in 1994, he suggests that McCain simply isn’t interested in constituent duties.

“My sense is that McCain doesn’t do a lot of that kind of outreach,” says Coppersmith, “because he hasn’t really wanted to do it.” Coppersmith, whose law office still displays a campaign poster from his ill-fated Senate run, posits that McCain delegated the constituent work to Kyl once the latter won. Coppersmith refers to McCain’s lack of local attention by cracking, “Nobody in Arizona is going to ride on the Straight Talk Express,” the nickname for his campaign bus.

A former Jewish Republican operative, who did not want to be quoted saying something negative about McCain, concurs that “Arizona Jews are more likely to see him on Meet the Press than at the local Piggly-Wiggly [supermarket].”

But Jewish News of Greater Phoenix publisher Florence Eckstein says that her publication has never had a problem with access to McCain when it’s been requested. Instead, she attributes the difference between the Jewish community’s relationship with its two senators to geography.

“Kyl has a much, much tighter connection with many Arizonans than McCain has. [Kyl] lived here, he practiced law here. He was an Arizonan in a way McCain is not,” according to Eckstein, whose paper endorsed Obama. “It may be that John McCain has basically lived in DC. He’s never lived in Phoenix for any length of time.”

“McCain isn’t even in Arizona that often. [He’s] been running for president for a long time,” another Jewish leader remarks. “There hasn’t been an enormous amount of interface except on Israel-related issues… Obviously he has a good record on Israel, and he has a first-name relationship with philanthropists in the Jewish community who are Israel-motivated. He’s not on a first-name basis with the heads of the Jewish community outside of Israel.”

While he adds that McCain “wants to be a friend of the Jewish community,” he sees Kyl more often at events. He describes both senators as enjoying “cordial relations” with the community, but terms Kyl as “more visible.”

Rabbi Albert Plotkin, though, remembers several Jewish-oriented events in which McCain has participated, including fund-raising efforts for the United Jewish Appeal, and awards he’s received from groups like the Anti-Defamation League. Plotkin, a community presence for 53 years, especially recalls his regular attendance at AIPAC meetings. “Whatever he’s been called on to do to support Israel, he’s done.”

AND MCCAIN in turn has been able to call on several Jewish supporters, starting with Rosen.

Rosen describes himself as McCain’s “first supporter of the Jewish faith” and quite possibly his first supporter, period. That’s because when he first encountered McCain at the Kiwanis club, there wasn’t even a congressional seat in Arizona open for the one-time navy liaison to Congress to run for. But that didn’t stop Rosen from enlisting.

After hearing his foreign policy speech – on both Israel and elsewhere – he was so “blown away” that he introduced himself to McCain and said, “When you’re ready to run for federal political office, call me. I’m on the team.”

About a year later, Rosen read that House minority leader John Rhodes, who was from Phoenix, had decided not to seek another term. “The first thought that came to my mind was John McCainJohn McCain is the man for that seat and now is the time.”

Late at night 24 hours later, Rosen’s phone rang. The voice on the line said, “You’re probably not going to remember me. This is John McCain.” To which Rosen replied, “John McCain, I have been waiting for 24 hours for your call. Where have you been? I told you last year I’m on the team!”

Though Rosen was a Democratic political insider – he barely missed winning a seat in Congress himself – McCain didn’t seem to be aware of that when he called. Instead, Rosen attributes McCain’s interest in Rosen’s support to the fact that Rosen was a lone voice of encouragement, pointing out that no one else at the Kiwanis club was pushing him to run for office. When Rosen told him his party affiliation, McCain asked him to chair ‘Democrats for McCain,’ as he has ever since.

That day began Rosen’s “28-year devotion” to McCain’s political rise, one clearly evident in the activist’s historic Tudor residence in central Phoenix. A framed photo of McCain and his wife, Cindy, rests on his coffee table; a large poster of McCain in his navy uniform covers his fireplace. Rosen wears a wristband bearing the campaign slogan “country first” as well as a homemade McCain pin. Even when he knows who’s calling, he answers the phone: ” John McCain for president. Sid speaking. How may I help you?” And there have been a lot of phone calls – 40 to 60 a day, he calculates – as he works 24/6 (no answering on Shabbat) to raise money for the campaign. He’s taken off nearly two years from his law firm to help with the effort, which he says has so far yielded $600,000, among the highest totals for a McCain fund-raiser.

But Rosen wasn’t the GOP presidential hopeful’s only key Jewish supporter back before he’d won his first election. Former Arizona Republican Party chairman Burton Kruglick was particularly important to getting McCain launched on that initial run.

Kruglick, now retired, recalls a young McCain coming to him, eager to get in the political game but lacking a toehold. Kruglick recounts that McCain had studied the places where there wasn’t an incumbent and moved to Rhodes’s district as soon as he found out the minority leader was retiring, but an address was about all he had going for him.

“He had no name ID, nobody knew him. That’s a tough way to run,” notes Kruglick, “so he asked me if I could appoint him to a committee so he would have a title, ‘John McCain, co-chair…’ I thought about it, and I said, ‘Okay John. I’ll be your first friend.'” Kruglick ended up appointing him to a position on the committee that arranged for speakers at party meetings. The speakers were national politicians and McCain’s role let him meet key people quickly.

Kruglick came under criticism from others in line for party posts who felt McCain didn’t deserve the plum position. But Kruglick, who once served as head of the local Jewish National Fund chapter, relates that no other party strivers had made such a direct appeal. “Nobody else came to me that way,” he says, adding that he appreciated McCain’s background and character and was willing to give him some help, which the ambitious McCain ran with. “We just gave him that and he built on it. He made it work.”

Soon after that, Phoenix energy executive Marty Schultz met McCain at a breakfast party held to introduce the political neophyte to key players like himself. Though the primary hadn’t yet been held, what stood out in Schultz’s mind was “the clarity of the handoff,” that “they wanted this man… to be the next member of Congress.”

Schultz soon took to McCain and became a fundraiser. (Schultz recommends the erstwhile naval aviator in part because “he’s a fun guy,” acknowledging it might not be a well-accepted qualification for high office. He recounts the good time they once had shooting craps at a Nevada casino on the way back from a business trip, though he ends up on a serious note: After watching McCain play, Schultz asked his fellow gambler how he knew all the dice combinations so thoroughly, to which McCain replied, a lot of time spent in prison with not a lot to do.)

Steve Chanen, for his part, used to play with Cindy McCain, and the games were much more innocent as they were children at the time. A Phoenix native who went to school with her, Chanen use to hang out at the very family home at which he would later attend fancy campaign fundraisers. He was one of 20 supporters McCain gathered to decide whether to enter the presidential race in the first place. Chanen urged McCain to run. “Our country needs you,” he said.

THOUGH MOST Arizona Jews are Democrats, a disproportionate number of big political donors tend to be Republicans, according to a 30-year local Jewish leader who works for a non-partisan organization.

“Some of the deepest pockets in the Jewish community are Israel-motivated and tend to be Republican in Phoenix, which may be different nationally,” he says. “The largest number of dollars are probably going to Republican candidates.”

He figures that’s probably because there are more Jewish Republicans in this GOP-friendly state than elsewhere.

“Compared to New York or Massachusetts, yeah, there are a lot more Jewish Republicans,” acknowledges the Democrat Coppersmith, pointing out that “the Jewish community’s part of the larger community.”

“This environment is generally more conservative and more libertarian – people want to live their own lives, do their own thing,” says RJC member Mara Kaufman of traits that are typical to Western states which Jews have to some extent picked up. “This is much more of a pragmatic environment. This is not a traditional old-guard liberal environment. There are people who have done real things.”

The RJC, in fact, was founded four years ago – three years earlier than the National Jewish Democratic Council – and now boasts 300 members, five times more than the Democratic group.

And Republican Jews have benefited not only from their surroundings, but also their history. One of the most influential Jewish Republican Party officials ever came from Arizona – Harry Rosenzweig, the life-long friend and ideologue-in-arms of Barry Goldwater.

Rosenzweig, who chaired the state Republican Party during the 1960s, aided Goldwater in his rise from the Phoenix city council to the US Senate to the Republican nomination in 1964 (when he lost to Lyndon Johnson). Rosenzweig was also crucial to developing Goldwater’s political postures, which would shape American conservatism for generations.

“There’s no question that Harry’s position influenced many Jews to the Republican Party,” says Plotkin, 88, rabbi emeritus of Beth Israel.

Plotkin says that Goldwater was an inspiration for the Jewish community, since he was the descendant of Polish Orthodox Jews on his father’s side – Goldwasser was the original family name.

“When Barry Goldwater was running for president, the Jewish community was behind him… because they were proud of him running for president, because his father was Jewish, and he often stood up for Israel,” Plotkin recalls. “Though he was raised Episcopalian, he felt a sense of loyalty.”

Despite that, Kruglick points to Goldwater as McCain’s most significant Jewish supporter. A political hero and ideological inspiration for McCain, Goldwater enthusiastically endorsed him to take his Senate seat after the junior politician spent two terms in the House.

“I think Republican Jews have been very helpful for McCain. Goldwater started it, and he was Jewish,” says Kruglick.

Though Goldwater wasn’t actually a Jew, as his mother was Christian, the favored son of Arizona politics was nearly raised Jewish, according to a childhood friend. Jerry Lewkowitz, who was very close to Goldwater’s brother Bob and served with both of them in local politics, recalls his friend once remarking that they would have been raised Jewish had there been a local synagogue. Since there wasn’t, they went to the Episcopal church.

IT WASN’T until 1921 that the first synagogue was built in Phoenix, and back then most of the city looked like the scraggly strip of desert that serves as Lewkowitz’s backyard. The rest of his modern housing development is covered with manicured gardens and well-watered lawns, but Lewkowitz has preserved a piece of the frontier as it once was – rough, sandy, cactus-strewn.

Starting in the mid-1800s, ranchers, prospectors and miners gradually tamed parts of that frontier, and after them soon followed merchants to supply their expeditions and bring in needed goods.

That’s why the Goldwaters came to what was then still a territory rather than a state, eventually setting up a successful department store that both Barry and Bob worked at for a time.

Some 100 Jews had made their way to Phoenix by the time Beth Israel opened its doors in 1921. “For Phoenix, that makes it one of the oldest buildings in town,” according to Larry Bell, who runs the Arizona Jewish Historical Society.

The population grew enough in the ’30s to split over observance – one group felt it was too expensive to support the kosher slaughterer during the Great Depression, while the other felt it was religiously necessary. A scratchy black-and-white photo of the shohet and his family now hangs in Bell’s makeshift office, stuffed with history books and mementos.

But the population really exploded a few years later.

The key moment in Arizona’s history was World War II,” Bell explained. “After the war there was a massive influx of people.”

That included Jews, and the old synagogues became a victim of that success, as the population rapidly expanded to the suburbs. Now the former Orthodox synagogue sits in an abandoned lot waiting to be sold and torn down; the Conservative shul has been turned into a pawnshop. (Bell’s organization managed to purchase the original Beth Israel site and is now carrying out a $4 million restoration project with help from the city and state. The current Reform synagogue is thriving in neighboring Scottsdale, where Steve Chanen had it relocated when he headed the congregation.)

In fact, the city is considered to have one of the top three fastest-growing Jewish populations in America, according to Greater Phoenix Jewish Federation CEO Adam Schwartz. He estimates that more than 100,000 Jews are living in the area, more than double the number from a generation ago. Then again, Phoenix is also one of the fastest-growing cities in the country, period.

“The state is growing so fast that we’re keeping up with our minority status,” Coppersmith says. At 1.5 million inhabitants, Phoenix is America’s fifth-largest, a phenomenal rate of growth from just 65,000 in 1940.

The rapid postwar growth helped turn the state reliably Republican. After World War II, many of the military men – a Republican demographic – who had trained in Arizona’s bases decided to stay, while urban expansion brought in developers and entrepreneurs, who were also of a Republican bent. At the same time, the area became an attractive retirement destination, and older voters are generally more conservative. And they were all influenced by Goldwater.

But the current wave of rapid growth is turning the state gradually toward the Democrats – part of the shift that has made the southwest a key battleground region for this election – and Jews are emblematic of that trend.

Phoenix’s relatively cheap housing prices, good weather, growing technology sector and low taxes are drawing in throngs of educated new people at the same time that the local Hispanic population has taken off.

Diversity favors the Democrats, including diversity of state origin.

And where Phoenix once drew heavily on Midwesterners, now East Coasters, who tend to be Democrats, are increasingly migrating south and west, particularly Jews.

Bell has seen a dramatic change in the Jewish population, “In the last 10 years you’ve seen a diaspora of New York City,” he says.

And another factor in the Democrats’ favor, according to Coppersmith, is how unrooted the population is.

“We’re very susceptible to national trends,” the Pennsylvania native says – the current trend now being pro-Democrat – because the local culture doesn’t have a firm hold. “Everyone moved here from somewhere else.”

In a way, perpetual motion amidst an immutable landscape is what has created today’s Phoenix, from the pioneers who founded it to the postwar developers who put it on the map. The name Phoenix was originally chosen in reference to the mythical bird that regenerates itself.

That environment has given rise to a politician who is known for being a maverick willing to work across party lines, for surviving in difficult circumstances and for regenerating himself when necessary.


Why I Support Israel and Obama

Alan Dershowitz

October 17, 2008  Huffington Post

I am a strong supporter of Israel (though sometimes critical of specific policies). I am also a strong supporter of Barack Obama (though I favored Hillary Clinton during the primaries). I am now getting dozens of emails asking me how as a supporter of Israel I can vote for Barack Obama. Let me explain.

I think that on the important issues relating to Israel, both Senator McCain and Senator Obama score very high. During the debates each candidate has gone out of his and her way to emphasize strong support for Israel as an American ally and a bastion of democracy in a dangerous neighborhood. They have also expressed support for Israel’s right to defend itself against the nuclear threat posed by Iran which has sworn to wipe Israel off the map and the need to prevent another Holocaust.

There may be some difference in nuance among the candidates, especially with regard to negotiations with Iran, but supporters of Israel should not base their voting decision on which party or which candidates support Israel more enthusiastically. In the United States, Israel is not a divisive issue, and voting for President is not a referendum on support for Israel, at least among the major parties.

I want to keep it that way. I want to make sure that support for Israel remains strong both among liberals and conservatives. It is clear that extremists on both sides of the political spectrum hate Israel, because they hate liberal democracies, because they tend to have a special place in their heart for tyrannical regimes, and because they often have strange views with regard to anything Jewish. The extreme left, as represented by Noam Chomsky, Ralph Nader, Cynthia McKinney, Norman Finkelstein and, most recently, Jimmy Carter has little good to say about the Jewish state. But nor does the extreme right, as represented by Pat Buchanan, Robert Novak, Joseph Sobran and David Duke. When it comes to Israel there is little difference between the extreme right and the extreme left. Nor is there much of a difference between the centrist political left and the centrist political right: both generally support Israel. Among Israel’s strongest supporters have always been Ted Kennedy, Harry Reed, Nancy Pelosi, Barney Frank, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. The same is true of the centrist political right, as represented by Mitt Romney, George W. Bush, Oren Hatch and John McCain.

Why then do I favor Obama over McCain? First, because I support him on policies unrelated to Israel, such as the Supreme Court, women’s rights, separation of church and state and the economy. But I also prefer Obama to McCain on the issue of Israel. How can I say that if I have just acknowledged that on the issues they both seem to support Israel to an equal degree? The reason is because I think it is better for Israel to have a liberal supporter in the White House than to have a conservative supporter in the oval office. Obama’s views on Israel will have greater impact on young people, on Europe, on the media and on others who tend to identify with the liberal perspective. Although I believe that centrists liberals in general tend to support Israel, I acknowledge that support from the left seems to be weakening as support from the right strengthens. The election of Barack Obama — a liberal supporter of Israel — will enhance Israel’s position among wavering liberals.

As I travel around university campuses both in the United States and abroad, I see radical academics trying to present Israel as the darling of the right and anathema to the left. As a liberal supporter of Israel, I try to combat that false image. Nothing could help more in this important effort to shore up liberal support for Israel than the election of a liberal president who strongly supports Israel and who is admired by liberals throughout the world. That is among the important reasons why I support Barack Obama for president.

Alan M. Dershowitz is a Professor of Law at Harvard. His most recent book The Case Against Israel’s Enemies: Exposing Jimmy Carter and Others Who Stand In The Way of Peace which has recently been published by Wiley.

Why I started blogging…

May 2, 2008

Actually, this piece explains why I started sending around my opinions to an email list in October 2001…which has now morphed into this blog.  Nervous about sending around my opinions on issues as diverse as film, the Middle East and American politics, I have been lucky that many of my readers have been supportive, saying they find my pieces “smart” and “insightful.”  I’m always late to technology, like when I first bought a VCR in the late 90s, and a friend said, “Welcome to the 80s!”  

Writing opinion really isn’t that new to me.  (And being opinionated started in the womb, I think.)  I edited a journal of political opinion at Tufts University in the eighties with big-time Democrat, Simon Rosenberg (more on that in another piece), but had a bit of a hiatus while doing other odd jobs.  Nevertheless, this latest bout of political-opinion writing began for me in September 2001, driven by my support of Ariel Sharon’s speech warning the freshly-installed President Bush, only weeks after 9/11, not to treat Israel the way the Western democracies treated Czechoslovakia in 1939. 

Sharon gave a speech (see excerpts below in a BBC article), after Bush, crossing a line no president had crossed before him, said he backed a “vision” of a Palestinian state.  This was something Bush wasn’t willing to stay until after 9/11, when he was trying to build a coalition to invade Afghanistan to chase Osama bin Laden and the Taliban out of there (and unfortunately into Pakistan, where they have since remained.)  Arafat, his people dancing in the streets after the 9/11 attacks, took advantage of the times to unleash a wave of attacks on Israelis, against which Sharon launched IDF actions.  The Bush administration sought to restrain the IDF, Colin Powell making a number of forceful telephone calls.  So, these developments, in conjunction with the first-ever US pronouncement in support of Palestinian statehood, compelled Sharon to make his rhetorical flourish that Israel will not be Czechoslovakia. 

Bush’s spokesman, Ari Fleischer, retorted that Sharon’s remarks were “unacceptable.”  Bush, who views himself as a Churchillian, was truly pissed off.  In subsequent years, Israeli political analysts have told me that Sharon’s speech was viewed by the Israeli political class as a mistake, requiring significant subsequent sucking up on the part of Sharon to reinstate the “special relationship” between the Israeli PM and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. 

So, I wrote a couple of Op-ed articles and submitted them to the New York Times, which didn’t publish them.  So, I began sending my views around to an email list.  Anyway, after W’s “successes” in Afghanistan and Iraq, he became much more sensitive to Israeli concerns, which was his natural Churchillian position.

The article at the end of this “Why I started blogging” section was a BBC report on the October 2001 nadir of recent US-Israeli relations.  Before that are the two Op-eds I submitted and a paragraph I wrote about the double standard Israel must face in its fight against terrorism.

Op-ed I wrote in October 2001 on Bush’s “Vision” of Palestinian statehood:

President George W. Bush’s “vision” for a Palestinian state could not come at a worse time for international relations.  In the twisted minds of terrorists across the world, it will be viewed as a victory for the perpetrators of the crimes of September 11.  The lesson they will learn is that by leveling buildings in American cities and killing more than six thousand people, more than one-tenth the number of America’s Vietnam War casualties, they altered the foreign policy course of the world’s only superpower.  This will lead to pressure on Israel to give in to violence as well.  Bush’s statement and assumed policy shift is the most recent example of a policy of “appeasement”, so tragically followed by the opponents of Hitler in the 1930s and so thoroughly repudiated by the president’s father in the Gulf War. 

By refusing to let the invasion of a sovereign nation stand in 1991 during the Gulf War, President George H.W. Bush (Senior) proved that he had learned something as a fighter pilot in the skies over the Pacific during World War II.  Appeasement never works.  It emboldens those who would use violence to achieve their ends.  In the ten years since that war, global peace has been maintained.  In one careless statement, coming so soon after the tragic attacks last month, H.W.’s son has cast doubt on this principle.    

So, Israel has become the latest casualty of the World Trade Center attack. Western nations appear ready to exert their considerable pressure on Israel’s leaders as part of their efforts to bring Arab and Islamic nations into the anti-terrorism coalition.  Secure in Israel’s supposed invincible military might, the West could ask Israelis to make concessions that would probably cause a war in the Middle East, far bloodier than the Intifada.  

Western nations wish the Arab-Israeli conflict would just go away.  Especially when some argue that it is the root cause of terrorism in the West.  It has lead to everything bad from high oil prices, to terror in the skies and in our cities, to falling stock markets and attacks on our men and women in uniform.  Can’t the Arabs and Israelis just solve their own problems?  The president of the United States apparently thinks a Palestinian state would solve things, even prevent terrorism against the United States. 

Oslo”, the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians begun in Norway in the early 1990s, gave guns to Palestinians where previously they had stones.  And, they are firing these guns right now at Israeli soldiers and civilians.  Last year, Arafat rejected the peace deal offered by Barak, preferring to hold on to his maximalist demands and to throw Palestinian boys with guns at the Israeli military. 

Arafat’s demands, including a return to the 1967 borders, a Palestinian state with the right to fully arm itself, half of Jerusalem, and the right of return to Israel of Palestinians who fled the land after 1948, constitute nothing short of dismantling the State of Israel.  Barak’s offer itself would have put Israel’s survival at risk, by cutting Jerusalem, the heart of Israel, in half.  But still, this was not enough for the Palestinian leadership.   

Several years ago, Yossi Beilin, the Israeli Labor Party politician, outlined the crux of a workable peace deal between Palestinians and Israelis.  It was a simple trade.  A Palestinian state for Jerusalem.  That is, Israel would get Jerusalem with certain assurances for Muslim holy sites, and the Palestinians would get their sovereign state on the West Bank and Gaza, with certain assurances for Israeli security. 

One day, hopefully, a Palestinian “F.W. DeKlerk” or “Mikhail Gorbachev” will have the courage to accept such a deal.  Sad to say, Arafat, who himself can’t kick the habit of using terror for political gain, is not the man.   Hopefully, such a leader will emerge among the Palestinians, a leader who will accept the Beilin formula and who would do more. 

For starters, by educating Palestinians in history.  It is not true that the Holocaust was a hoax created by Jews to steal Arab land.  And, Arab and Islamic children should not be reading “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion”, that lamentable anti-Semitic diatribe from the 19th century that was excerpted in Arab and Islamic textbooks for years.  Until and unless such leadership emerges, Israel has the right to fight the suicide bombers and their masters and to demand a cessation of violence in the territories before talks begin.   

A radicalized, sovereign Palestinian state, fully armed, would likely go to war with Israel.  With enemies like Hamas, which is really a Palestinian government-in-waiting, the Islamic Jihad, the Lebanese Hezbollah, and their sponsors in the Islamic world, including Osama bin Laden, Israel must stand firm in the face of terror attacks and the propaganda barrage (remember the U.N. conference on racism).   And, if the West believes that a Middle East war will not spill over into their countries, they will be sorely mistaken. 

So, President Bush made a gaffe with his statement, and the Arab world applauded.  Hopefully, his vision of a Palestinian state will be a mirage.  It is not too late for him to explain that before a Palestinian state can be established, Palestinians must give up their most extreme claims, including Jerusalem, and must disarm and arrest the terrorists in their midst.  It is not too late for Bush to correct this first step toward a policy of appeasement of terrorists and extremists. As for Israel, let us hope that if America and the rest of the West do succumb to Arab and Islamic pressure, that Israel will have the courage and stamina to resist. 



Op-ed I wrote one week after 9/11 on Implications of the attack for Israel:

The world is coming together to fight terrorism and that is good.  George W. Bush, like his father before him, is putting together an international coalition, including Arab and Islamic nations.  This time, it is to break the terror networks and “smoke out” the terrorists, as the president so colorfully put it this week. 

These efforts should be commended, but friends of Israel should hope that there will be no unforeseen negative consequences for the Jewish state. After Prime Minister Sharon called here last week to offer his condolences, President Bush told him to get to work with the Palestinians on the peace process.

With French President Jacques Chirac at his side this week, Bush said that, as regards the Middle East, he hoped some good would come out of this evil.  His Majesty Abdullah of Jordan told Larry King this week that the acts of terror in the United States stemmed from anger and frustration in his part of the world.   These comments sound innocuous enough.  But, they could be an indication of the kind of pressure the international coalition, including moderate Arab states, Pakistan and Europe as well as the United States, once it has disposed of Osama bin Laden, could bring to bear on Israel. 

Heavy pressure could be exerted on Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians that would endanger the long-run viability of the Jewish state. Western nations are getting tired of the Middle East conflict.  Especially when some in these countries argue that the Arab-Israeli conflict is the root cause of terrorism in the West.  Westerners wish the conflict would just go away.  It has lead to everything bad from high oil prices, to terror in the skies and in our cities, to falling stock markets and attacks on our men and women in uniform.  Can’t the Arabs and Israelis just solve their own problems?   

Oslo”, the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians begun in Norway in the early 1990s, gave guns to the Palestinians where previously they had stones.  And, they are firing these guns right now at Israeli soldiers and civilians.  Last year, Arafat rejected the peace deal offered by Barak, preferring to hold on to his maximalist demands and to throw Palestinian boys with guns at the Israeli military. 

Arafat’s demands, including a return to the 1967 borders, a Palestinian state with the right to fully arm itself, half of Jerusalem, and the right of return to Israel of Palestinians who fled the land after 1948, constitute nothing short of the dismantling of the State of Israel.  Barak’s offer itself would have put Israel’s survival at risk, by cutting Jerusalem, the heart of Israel, in half.  But still, this was not enough for the Palestinian leadership.   

Several years ago, Yossi Beilin, the Israeli Labor Party politician, outlined the crux of a workable peace deal between Palestinians and Israelis.  It was a simple trade.  A Palestinian state for Jerusalem.  That is, Israel would get Jerusalem with certain assurances for Muslim holy sites, and the Palestinians would get their sovereign state on the West Bank and Gaza, with certain assurances for Israeli security. 

One day, hopefully, a Palestinian “F.W. DeKlerk” or “Mikhail Gorbachev” will have the courage to accept such a deal.  Sad to say, Arafat, who himself can’t kick the habit of using terror for political gain, is not the man.  Until such a leader emerges among the Palestinians, Israel has the right to fight the suicide bombers and their masters and to demand a cessation of violence in the territories before talks begin.   

 The World Trade Center attack could change things for Israel. Western nations may try to exert their considerable pressure on Israel’s leaders.  Secure in Israel’s supposed invincible military might, the West could ask Israelis to make concessions that would probably cause a war in the Middle East, far bloodier than the Intifada.

A radicalized, sovereign Palestinian state, fully armed, would likely go to war with Israel.  With enemies like Hamas, which is really a Palestinian government-in-waiting, the Islamic Jihad, the Lebanese Hezbollah, and their sponsors in the Islamic world, including Osama bin Laden, Israel must stand firm in the face of terror attacks and the propaganda barrage, which was most vividly seen in the U.N. conference on racism in Durban, South Africa, earlier this month.  

And, if the West believes that a Middle East war will not spill over into their countries, they will be sorely mistaken. When a country has peaceful intentions and is on the side of right, its leaders should never shrink in the face of evil and terror. 

President Bush understands this.  This was clear in the days following the attacks in the United States, when he explained over and over again that America is a peace-loving nation and that the perpetrators are enemies of freedom, not freedom fighters for the oppressed.  Let us hope that President Bush does not check his sense of right and wrong and his quest for justice at the door when he comes around to the Arab-Israeli conflict.  And let us hope that if he and the rest of the West do succumb to inevitable Arab and Islamic pressure on Israel, that Israel will have the courage and stamina to resist. 

My email from October 2001:



It seems as though George W. Bush has discovered Israel on the map.

In September, U.S. President George W. Bush demanded that the Taliban government hand over terrorists who had perpetrated an attack on the territory of the United States.  The Taliban refused, and the U.S.-led coalition forces entered Afghanistan with troops, not to rule over Afghans, but to apprehend the criminals, and to replace the govt harboring them.  On October 19, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon asked PA President Yasser Arafat to hand over the terrorists who assassinated an Israeli minister.  He sent tanks into Palestinian towns, towns relinquished to the Palestinian Authority as part of the Oslo negotiations, in order to pressure the PA to hand over the criminals.  Yet the U.S. govt has demanded that Israel pull its forces back, while coalition forces make mincemeat out of Afghanistan in pursuit of Osama bin Laden.  That is a double standard.  I guess might makes right in the mind of the misguided leadership of the world’s only superpower.

BBC article on Sharon speech, October 6, 2001:

Analysis: Sharon’s appeasement warning


The United States and many countries in the Middle East are now reflecting on the significance of a speech made on Thursday night by Israel’s Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.In his speech, following the death of three Israelis in an attack in northern Israel, Mr Sharon compared Israel’s situation to that of pre-World War II Czechoslovakia.

Do not repeat the dreadful mistake of 1938 when Europe sacrificed Czechoslovakia
Ariel Sharon

It was, in the words of some analysts here, an astonishing speech – a speech which has pleased right-wingers but which has surprised, even horrified, others. In the key passage Mr Sharon said: “I call on the Western democracies, and primarily the leader of the Free World, the United States, do not repeat the dreadful mistake of 1938 when Europe sacrificed Czechoslovakia. Do not try to appease the Arabs at our expense.”“Israel will not be Czechoslovakia. Israel will fight terrorism,” he added.Clear messageMr Sharon’s message could hardly be more clear – Israel will not sit quietly on the sidelines during the international war on terror. It will respond when it is attacked.This is a direct challenge to US policy in this region.



Since the attacks on the United States, the Bush administration has worked hard to contain the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.It has tried to make a shaky ceasefire work and it has made conciliatory approaches to many Arab states, knowing that America needs their active support in its campaign against Osama Bin Laden.Rejecting his roleThese approaches include Mr Bush’s remarks earlier this week in which he talked of a vision of a Palestinian state.In the American script of events, Ariel Sharon must keep quiet, act with restraint – even if Israel is attacked – and not jeopardise the coalition.But Mr Sharon does not like the role he is being asked to play, which is why he spoke as he did last night.And we now wait to see what effect Mr Sharon’s words and actions will have on US coalition-building efforts.CNN article on Bush’s new “vision” of a Palestinian state in October 2001, conveniently just after 9/11:

WASHINGTON (CNN) — President Bush said Tuesday that a Palestinian state was always “part of a vision” if Israel’s right to exist is respected. He said the two parties needed to get to work “on the Mitchell process” which he said provides a clear path to solving the crisis in the Middle East.


He refused, when asked, to say whether he had been prepared to announce his support for a Palestinian state prior to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on Washington and New York.


The president’s statement at a meeting with congressional leaders, follows news that the administration is considering a series of high-profile steps related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to secure much-needed Arab support for the international coalition against terrorism.


State Department and other senior administration officials told CNN on Monday that drafts of a major policy speech on the Middle East, to be delivered by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, are circulating in the State Department for review.


Officials said the speech will “clarify its [U.S.] views on an end result” of the peace process, which would lead to the eventual “creation of a Palestinian state.”






Obama’s Position Statement on Israel…

February 13, 2008
There was some negative reaction to my sending around that NYTimes article which described Barack Obama’s faith and his pastor, who reportedly has said that Zionism has elements of white racism and whom Obama has looked to for inspiration.  My sending that around did not come from a bigoted place.  In fact, I posted on my website several weeks ago Obama’s position paper on Israel in which he expresses his support for the basic tenets of a pro-Israel foreign policy.  I didn’t send that around in an email yet, so I am doing so now.  Also below the link to the Obama position statement are two opposing opinion pieces on Obama’s likely policies toward Israel. 
If there is any axe I have to grind with the Obama campaign, it is a recoiling I experience in the face of charisma and movements that seem to quickly capture the imagination of the masses.  History is full of blind following, so I recoil at such phenomena and find refuge in his boring, uncharismatic, but competent opponent.  Having said that, I believe he is a good person (though with the narcissistic and hubristic flaws typical of most politicians) with a very compelling, eclectic background; and, like many, I am truly moved by his speeches.  But to quote myself from an earlier piece:
Why can’t we find someone who may be a little clumsy behind the lectern, but authoritative, knowledgeable, and decisive behind the desk? 
Anyway, please have a look at the Obama campaign position statement on Israel below and the related articles. 
Obama’s Israel Position Statement
Two articles from JPost:

In the first article, Alon Pinkas argues that it is a myth that Obama is not sufficiently pro-Israel.  In the second article, Saul Singer argues that while Obama says all the right things on Israel, he is too mild in his approach to Iran, unlike Hillary, and therefore too mild in countering Israel’s number one existential threat. 

I would add that it is no accident that Obama hews to the conventional US line in support of Israel.  Because although Jews don’t control American politics and American foreign policy, as Walt and Mearsheimer and others would have it, we can say that in national races, Jewish financial contributors can have an impact.   National candidates raise money with large Jewish contributors from Wall St. and Hollywood (and elsewhere), in addition to the many, many other large donors with other agendas (though Obama seems to be doing fine lately with a more fragmented donor pool, buttressed by  The latter donors just don’t have as much focus policy-wise as the large Jewish donors.  Many of the large Jewish donors, in addition to asking about a liberal policy agenda, want to know, “So buddy, what do you think about Israel?” 

We can say that wealthy Jewish contributors can influence candidates without saying there is anything wrong with that, that it is an overwhelming influence, or that Jews control the US government.  Let’s not get paranoid, okay?  Finally, just because a national candidate makes pro-Israel noises, doesn’t mean he/she will always remain that way once safely in office.  Remember Jimmy Carter. And, it does concern me that Obama hangs around with the likes of Zbig Brzezinksi (not the most pro-Israel member of the foreign policy establishment) and  But, I’m not such a big fan of Richard Holbrooke either, a Hillary foreign policy adviser, though for other reasons.

What’s more, it seems that Jewish-American voters have been split between Hillary and Obama in recent races (see an article on this on my website).  And, in spite of the Republicans’ arguably more staunch support of Israel, Jewish voters still consistently poll around 70% in support of Democrats.  So, in spite of what some may think, Jewish-Americans are not single issue voters; they back the candidate that supports their liberal tendencies in spite of a somewhat less staunch support of the Jewish state (a point Dems may dispute).

Obama is not ‘bad for Israel


A dumb, misinformed, misguided and vicious accusation is circulating lately in cyberspace. According to anonymous commentators, Barack Obama is “bad for Israel“. He has an Islamic chapter in his biography (“radical” says one expert on both Obama and fundamentalist Islam), he called for talks with Iran, Syria and whomever else the US defines as an enemy and has never expounded what are commonly regarded as “Pro Israel” comments.

So troubling and critical were the accusations and their implications, that one Israeli newspaper, Maariv, took this lunacy one step further and sprinted to announce in a page-one headline that there are “Concerns in Jerusalem about an Obama Presidency”. Quoting “officials in Jerusalem“, the paper explained that Obama’s foreign policy inexperience (compared to George W. Bush’s extensive experience in managing relations between Texas and Oklahoma prior to his presidency) and calls for a diplomatic dialogue with Iran may result in policies inconsistent with Israeli security interests, hence the “concern”. I used to be an “Official in Jerusalem“.

There is no way in the world that anyone remotely involved in foreign policy or US policy ever expressed any concerns. At worst, Obama may have been described as a question mark we know little about as were, before him, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush in 1992 and 2000 respectively. The paper fell just short of recommending that Israel withhold the $2.6 billion military grant it provides the US with annually or refrain from vetoing anti-American resolutions in the UN Security Council.

For due diligence, I am not an American citizen and therefore I cannot vote in US elections. In fact, despite having friends who both work for and support Senator Obama, I’m not sure I would have necessarily voted for him had I had the right to vote. I can vote in elections in Israel every 18 months for patently pro-Israeli candidates, so I probably just don’t have the urge.

Trying to refute the ridiculous allegations on their merits is relatively easy: Obama’s voting record on issues pertaining to Israel is impeccable. Amongst his supporters and contributors are prominent Chicago and New York Jewish community and civic leaders, and I assume there are many more in Los Angeles, Miami and elsewhere. He has never outlined a policy that Israelis may find incompatible with what they believe a pro-Israeli Mid-East policy should be. In fact, Sen. Obama’s essay in Foreign Affairs is balanced and contains absolutely no policy prescriptions anyone in their right mind can define as “anti-Israeli”.

This leads me to question the very premise of the argument. What constitutes “Pro-Israel”, and who appointed or commissioned anyone to cast a judgment on the issue?

Does it constitute being “Pro-Israel” to support settlements? Is it pro-Israeli to pressure Israel into signing some peace agreement and dismantle settlements?

An American presidential candidate repeatedly pledges his eternal love for and belief that a united Jerusalem should and will remain Israel‘s capital. He then proceeds, as president to refuse to move the US embassy to Jerusalem. Is he then considered pro-Israeli or just a pandering politician? (Answer: when he said it, he was genuinely pro-Israeli and of course he meant it, as he said in Boca Raton to Cohen and Levy during the campaign. When he didn’t move the embassy, it was because of the Arab-loving pencil pushers at the State Department and the corrupt Saudis who control Washington).

But the issue deserves a more elaborate answer. So let’s take a brief, broad-brush look at several past presidents who are case studies.

Richard Nixon for example. His background, education, early years in Congress, loathing of the northeast liberal establishment, borderline anti-Semitic remarks made while in the White House hardly made him a prime candidate for centerfold in “Pro-Israel Monthly’ magazine. 85% of US Jews voted for Humphrey and McGovern. So was Nixon “Anti-Israeli”? No.

History will judge him as the president who rehabilitated the Israeli Defense Forces after the 1973 Yom Kippur war, launched the annual military grant to Israel and pulled Egypt away from Soviet orbit. Jimmy Carter, now there is a real anti-Israel president. Oh really? His involvement in the Camp David negotiations was critical and indispensable in enabling Israel and Egypt to sign a peace agreement that has ever since been a pillar of stability (not much “peace” though) and part of Israel’s national security posture.

Ronald Reagan, now there is a true Zionist, a man who embodies and defines pro-Israelness. No kidding.

Who sold F-15 jets and AWACS planes to Saudi Arabia? Who consolidated the US-Saudi alliance which in turn contributed to the emergence of Islamic fundamentalism and Wahabi extremism? It sure wasn’t Barack Obama. Yet Jews voted for Reagan in unprecedented numbers for a Republican (35%). So Carter facilitates a peace deal between Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat, and Jews vote for Reagan. They did so for perfectly legitimate reasons. They did so for “American” reasons because they thought he’d be a better president than Carter was.


Ah, you say, then came George H.W. Bush, AKA “41″. He really hated us. Didn’t his secretary of State, James Baker say: “F**k the Jews, they don’t vote for us anyway.” And didn’t he complain about the pro-Israel lobby? And didn’t he impede the loan guarantees?


But Bush 41 presided over the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the elimination of Iraq as a viable threat against Israel from the east and invaluably assisted Israel (and never asked for credit) in bringing Ethiopian Jews to Israel.


Bill Clinton was the greatest friend Israel ever had. Until he involved himself in the Israeli-Palestinian process which included recognizing the PLO, establishing a Palestinian Authority and would have entailed, had Camp David in July 2000 produced an agreement major territorial concessions. Then he was somewhat less pro-Israeli in the eyes of some.


And then there is the new greatest friend Israel ever had, the big W. himself. Contrary to all presidents before him since Truman, he called for the establishment of a Palestinian state, an end to Israeli occupation (his words, last week in Jerusalem) and further strengthened ties to the Saudis. He also attacked the wrong menace in the region. Iraq instead of Iran. Of course it’s Colin Powel’s fault, then Condi Rice’s infatuation with Palestinian “suffering”.


The point is, an American president is “Pro-Israel” when he profoundly appreciates the basic friendship with Israel, when he respects Israel as a democracy, when he truly believes in Israel as an idea and an enterprise. When his core value system and strategic outlook is similar to that of Israelis.


In this respect, if Barack Obama is not “pro-Israel”, then neither are most Israelis. Jan 21, 2008 9:48 | Updated Jan 21, 2008 19:43

Obama’s mixed record on Iran



I agree with Alon Pinkas that the rumor campaign against Barack Obama is unfair. He is not a Muslim, nor is there anything in his voting record or statements to suggest that he is anti-Israel. He is, from what I can tell, well within the “pro-Israel” mainstream of the Democratic party today. The problem is more with the narrowness of the definition of “pro-Israel,” as that label is normally used. The truth is that a candidate’s voting record and position paper on Israel (here’s Obama’s) tells the voter little about what the presidency of that candidate would mean for Israel, or for
US, for that matter.


There are two reasons for this. First, thank goodness, the position papers of candidates and Members of Congress are now so uniformly pro-Israel, regardless of party (with some exceptions) that it is almost impossible to distinguish between them.


Second and more importantly, what matters most for Israel right now is not a candidate’s stance on foreign assistance or the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, or even more controversial issues such as settlements and targeted killings of terrorists. Much more significant is the candidate’s position on the wider threat of radical Islamism and its potential nuclear epicenter, Iran.


Here Obama’s record is mixed. On the one hand, he has co-sponsored a bill to impose further sanctions on Iran, and has spoken out on the seriousness of the Iranian threat. On the other, while he supported the sanctions that the Administration eventually imposed on the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, he opposed the amendment that Hillary Clinton voted for because, “it tied our presence in Iraq to an effort to counter the Iranian threat, which he felt could 1) give a green light to premature military action against Iran, and 2) provide a rationale to keep our troops in Iraq, when of course, he believes we need to end our presence there,” as his staff explained to me in an email.


In other words, Obama placed the risk of a US military response to Iran and the risk of lengthening the US stay in Iraq as higher and more important than the risk that international sanctions will be too weak to stop Iran from becoming a nuclear power. Such logic is warped and mistaken.


It also reveals Obama’s talk about sanctions and the need to stop Iran as lip service, rather than a serious, thought-through policy designed to succeed. It is all well and good to be for sanctions, but if this position melts away in the face of extremely tenuous excuses based on extraneous issues, than the “tough” position on Iran is meaningless.


It is not possible to be “pro-Israel” without a serious policy for preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear power, because a nuclear Iran – besides threatening Israel directly – would substantially ramp up its support for all the forces that are arrayed against Israel and the US:
Hamas, Hizbullah, and al-Qaida.


Iran is the primary foreign policy challenge not just for Israel, but for the United States. The presidential candidates need to be measured first and foremost by the seriousness and coherence of their prescriptions on this issue. By this measure, all the major Democrats are currently fairing worse than all the major Republicans, but this could change as the campaign moves toward the general election.

Profile of an Israeli Basketball Coach…

February 12, 2008


When Robi Balinko took charge of Ironi Ramat Gan in the summer the club had just one goal – avoid relegation.

On Sunday, Balinko takes his team to the Malha Arena to face Hapoel Jerusalem with both sides tied for third position in the league, each with 25 points after 16 games.

Despite having one of the smaller budgets in the BSL at his disposal Balinko has managed to build a team capable of pushing for a Final Four berth.

Balinko’s men have already proven their potential this season by beating each of the Final Four favorites, Maccabi Tel Aviv, Hapoel Jerusalem, Bnei Hasharon and Hapoel Holon.

Another win against Jerusalem on Sunday will give Ramat Gan a massive advantage in the race for a top four finish, but the 46-year-old coach is not getting ahead of himself just yet.

“I’m optimistic, but cautious. I know Jerusalem is a very good team and is the favorite. I think we have a 20 percent chance of winning,” Balinko tells The Jerusalem Post .

“Playing Jerusalem in Malha is no simple task, but we’re entering the game with the aim of claiming a win.”

Ramat Gan is coming off a heartbreaking loss to Ironi Ashkelon, a defeat that ended a three game win streak.

“The defeat to Ashkelon was very disappointing and very frustrating.

“This was a game we had to win. If we aspire to compete for a Final Four berth we have to win these kinds of games. Every game from now on is essentially a playoff game,” the coach says.

Balinko is the main reason behind Ramat Gan’s success this season, building a balanced roster in which every player knows his place.

“The key to our success is the lack of ego on the team. The players put their egos aside for the greater good. “We manage to get the maximum out of our players. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” Balinko says.

“Through the years all the sides I coached were typified by the fact that they played as a team and were not too dependent on any one player. With this system you can’t stop the team by stopping a single player.

“This also allows the team to overcome injuries and the absence of players.

“We were without the injured Ori Itzhaki for a while and Jerome Beasley had to go to the US for personal reasons, but the team still functioned.”

Balinko began his basketball career older than most coaches after serving as a company commander in the paratroopers 890 regiment.

“I think my leadership skills come from my army service,” he says. “A coach is the leader of the team and there are some similarities between being an officer in a fighting unit and a coach of a team.

Of course there’s a huge difference because in the army you’re fighting for you life.”

Balinko had to wait longer than most of his colleagues to finally get a real chance in the top flight, but after so many years in basketball wilderness he’s at least making the wait worth while.

“I always believed I could coach at these levels. There were years I believed more and years a believed less, but I always knew that if I get the right chance I’ll be able to display my abilities.”

Balinko used the fact that almost everybody wrote Ramat Gan off even before the season began to his advantage, motivating his players to prove their critics wrong.

“We were spurred on by the fact that we were labeled as a relegation favorite at the start of the season.

“I told the players that the only thing we can do about the fact that commentators and journalists are saying we’re going to be relegated is to prove them wrong on the court,” Balinko stresses.

Despite claiming wins earlier on in the season over Bnei Hasharon, Hapoel Jerusalem and Maccabi Tel Aviv the coach admits that he only truly believed that his side can achieve more than just BSL survival after the 99-77 victory at Hapoel Afula/Gilboa on January 13 .

“I think that I understood what we’re capable of after the win in Afula. We won by 20 or so points, recording our fifth win of the season, and I felt the team was gelling well. This win came after the victories over Maccabi Tel Aviv and Hapoel Jerusalem and was a test of our character,” he says.

One of the biggest surprises in Ramat Gan and for that matter in the entire league is the play of Nir Cohen. The 26-year-old, who spent the last two seasons at San Diego University, is averaging 10.4 points and 4.5 rebounds in 24 minutes on court.

“I thought Cohen was a good player, but I’d be lying if I said I thought he’d be this good,” Balinko says. “I knew all about his abilities, having trained him in the past. He came to train with Ramat Gan in the summer only because he couldn’t find a team to sign for.

“After two training sessions I told the chairman that Cohen is not leaving this arena. We didn’t plan to sign him, but I told the chairman that Cohen can make the difference. The truth is that I never dreamt he would make such a significant difference.”

Another key member of Ironi’s unlikely success is Jerome Beasley.

“I was surprised that we managed to sign Beasley,” Balinko admits. “Part of being a coach is knowing how to take decisions under pressure on the court and off the court.

“We were given the option to sign Beasley and I immediately called three coaches, David Blatt, Erez Edelstein and Sharon Druker, and after talking to them I decided to sign him. I didn’t even have a chance to watch his DVD.”