Archive for the ‘Jewish’ Category

How do you say W in Hebrew: Bibi

June 7, 2010
When is tough effective?

Benjamin Netanyahu subscribes to the George W. Bush school of anti-diplomacy.  It’s nice to blow off steam, especially when you are in the right.  But does brandishing your sword make an effective foreign policy?  Ask Kaiser Wilhelm II, the arch-villain of World War I, whose bluster and belligerence led to the encirclement of Germany, his gravest fear.  Ask most Americans after W left office — did W’s shooting from the hip help America’s image in the world?  Improve America’s security? 

I had meetings with Netanyahu in my capacity as a sovereign analyst for Israel several years ago.  He was then finance minister and a very effective one.  I always came away with the belief that his Achilles’ heel was his hubris.  His narcissism was always the elephant in the room, and more so than the average politician.  I can’t help but believe that his leadership has had something to do with such recent diplomatic fiascoes as the Biden visit and the Gaza flotilla.

Netanyahu, though ineffective, may be right about Gaza.  If you don’t understand why Israel is touchy about Hamas and Gaza, please read the Hamas Covenant in this link, as translated by the Yale University Avalon project, especially Art. 22.  It reads like Der Stuermer.  Here are a few snippets (out of order):

“Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it…

The Zionist plan is limitless. After Palestine, the Zionists aspire to expand from the Nile to the Euphrates. When they will have digested the region they overtook, they will aspire to further expansion, and so on. Their plan is embodied in the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion”, and their present conduct is the best proof of what we are saying…

The Prophet, Allah bless him and grant him salvation, has said:

“The Day of Judgement will not come about until Moslems fight the Jews (killing the Jews)…”

In their Nazi treatment, the Jews made no exception for women or children… 

With their money, they took control of the world media, news agencies, the press, publishing houses, broadcasting stations, and others. With their money they stirred revolutions in various parts of the world with the purpose of achieving their interests and reaping the fruit therein. They were behind the French Revolution, the Communist revolution and most of the revolutions we heard and hear about, here and there. With their money they formed secret societies, such as Freemasons, Rotary Clubs, the Lions and others in different parts of the world for the purpose of sabotaging societies and achieving Zionist interests. With their money they were able to control imperialistic countries and instigate them to colonize many countries in order to enable them to exploit their resources and spread corruption there.

They were behind World War I, when they were able to destroy the Islamic Caliphate, making financial gains and controlling resources. They obtained the Balfour Declaration, formed the League of Nations through which they could rule the world. They were behind World War II, through which they made huge financial gains by trading in armaments, and paved the way for the establishment of their state. It was they who instigated the replacement of the League of Nations with the United Nations and the Security Council to enable them to rule the world through them. There is no war going on anywhere, without having their finger in it…

There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad…

Initiatives, and so-called peaceful solutions and international conferences, are in contradiction to the principles of the Islamic Resistance Movement…

Israel, Judaism and Jews challenge Islam and the Moslem people…

…the ferocity of the Zionist offensive and the Zionist influence in many countries exercised through financial and media control, as well as the consequences that all this lead to in the greater part of the world…”

There you have it.  That’s who’s in power in Gaza.  Hence, the blockade (to prevent the flow of weapons and to pressure Gazans to kick the genocidal extremists out).  History has shown that civilized people should believe what extremists write in their books and manifestos.

As for Turkey, the AK Party did a nice job cleaning up its image in recent years in order to appear to the world as a sort of Islamic version of a European Christian Democratic party.  This has kept Turkey’s secular generals from kicking them out, as they did to the Islamists not long ago. Now, ensconced in power, Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan and his cronies are trying to reorient foreign policy in a more “Islamist” direction, putting ideologues in key foreign policy posts, taking on Israel, championing the oppressed Muslims of Gaza.  Yet, he shows he either hasn’t read the Hamas Covenant or doesn’t care, when he says that Hamas is not a terrorist organization, but a resistance movement (see article).  Sir, is the PKK terrorist or a resistance movement (the PKK is the Kurdish “liberation” movement on Turkish soil that the Turks believe is “terrorist”)?  Were the Turks who murdered masses of Armenians in the early 1900s, which Hitler later said was his inspiration for the Final Solution, genocidal killers?  C’mon, it’s not so hard to tell right from wrong in this world!  Turks should have a re-think about how moderate the Islamism of the AK Party really is.

Israel’s blockade of Gaza could be counterproductive.  It certainly has become a diplomatic liability.  If there is a better way to staunch the flow of weapons to Gaza that Iran is ready to send, if there is a better way to empower those that would topple the would-be committers of genocide running Gaza today, then I say scrap the blockade.  Israel certainly needs to scrap its bunker mentality and engage with the rest of the world, before, like Wilhelmine Germany, it becomes encircled.  P.R. should be a top Israeli priority; and, in order to clean up the country’s global image, Israelis should perhaps start by voting Netanyahu out of office at the next opportunity.  Read about his vehement defense of the Gaza flotilla raid. He may be right, but he certainly is not very diplomatic.  

Israel: IDF aids Haitian victims

January 22, 2010
A birth this week in Haiti at the field hospital of the Israel Defense Forces.  Source: IDF
A birth this week in Haiti at the field hospital of the Israel Defense Forces. Source: IDF

Israel has a comparative advantage in medical care and specifically in treating trauma victims, which comes not only from its advanced human capital, especially in technology and health care, but also from vast experience treating victims of terror and war.  Read the NYTimes article  published yesterday on the subject.  Israel has been treating Haiti’s earthquake victims in its mobile tent hospitals set up in the last week in the impoverished Caribbean nation. 

The Times article discusses the ambivalence Israelis are experiencing, concerned about how they treat Palestinians in Gaza, while offering help to Haitians.  There is a difference.  Rockets have rained down on Israeli towns from Gaza for years, where Hamas was elected to office not long ago and where IDF Staff Sgt. Gilad Shalit, 23 years old, has been held hostage for over 3 1/2 years.  Read the hate for Israel contained in the Hamas Covenant to understand the difference between helping Haitian earthquake victims and maintaining a blockade of the Gaza Strip.  This document has been translated and published at the Yale Law School’s Avalon project, where you can go as well for a fairly full documentary history of the Middle East conflict (1916-2010).

Israel’s economy: weathering the storm

November 10, 2009
Source: Google Images
Source: Google Images

Much news and commentary you hear about the State of Israel has to do with geopolitics and the Arab-Israeli conflict (see my colleague Ben Moscovitch’s blog on this site for a nice selection.)  Settlements, will Abbas run or not, Iran’s plans to wipe Israel off the map, Israel’s thoughts about taking military action against Iran, the Goldstone Report on the war in Gaza, films about the war in Lebanon, and on and on. 

Not that this hyper-news about Israel is not important and interesting.  But, let’s step back and look at Israel from a “rising power” perspective — half highly indebted socialist country/half cutting-edge hi-tech and health sciences capitalist upstart.  Its economy has proven itself resilient to the intifada, to the tech bust of nearly a decade ago, and now to the US-led global meltdown. 

How so?  It’s about policy, stupid.  Sound economic policy, begun in the 1980s with a classic monetary stabilization program that reduced inflation, and deepened only a few years ago, by none other than Benjamin Netanyahu, as finance minister, with his Thatcherite restructuring of the economy (e.g., increasing the labor force participation rate by creating incentives for the religious to work) and his shift to a rules-based fiscal policy.  Israel still has a high government debt burden — above 80% of GDP.  But that is down from above 100% not long ago.  Meanwhile the rest of the world has caught up to Israel’s debt levels (with the U.S. now surging higher). 

On the external front, the country couldn’t look better — $60 billion in foreign exchange reserves, a current account surplus, and “net external creditor” status, that is, Israel’s claims on foreigners exceed foreigners’ claims on Israel (oh, how the U.S. would love to have that balance sheet!)

So, in spite its modest size, constrained by the country’s small population, the Israeli economy dwarfs those of many of its much poorer and poorly run neighbors.  Have a look at the Fitch press release below referencing a recent report on Israel and its sovereign credit outlook.

Fitch Affirms State of Israel at ‘A’/’A+’; Outlook Stable   
06 Nov 2009 8:22 AM (EST)

Fitch Ratings-London-06 November 2009: Fitch Ratings has today affirmed the State of Israel’s Long-term Foreign and Local Currency Issuer Default Ratings (IDR) at ‘A’ and ‘A+’ respectively with Stable Outlooks. The Short-term Foreign Currency IDR is affirmed at ‘F1’ and the Country Ceiling at ‘AA-‘.

“Israel has fared better than many other small, open economies in the recent global economic and financial downturn, suffering only a mild recession compared to rated peers in Europe and Asia,” says Paul Rawkins, Senior Director in Fitch’s London-based Sovereigns team. “Nonetheless, the downturn has exposed Israel’s key vulnerability to shocks, namely a high public debt ratio that looks set to exceed 80% of GDP in the wake of wider fiscal deficits in 2009-10.”

Fitch says an improved macroeconomic policy framework, coupled with structural reforms since the last recession in 2001-02, laid the foundations for strong growth in 2004-08, in line with the ‘A’ median of 5%, rendering the economy markedly more resilient to shocks. With the exception of Bahrain, China and Poland, Fitch expects Israel to be the only country in the ‘A’ range to escape an outright recession in 2009. This performance is attributed largely to aggressive monetary and exchange rate policies, aided by a relatively trouble-free banking sector and an absence of asset price bubbles. Structurally, Israel’s high-tech manufacturing and services sectors have proved unexpectedly resilient to declining global investment demand, presaging a near record current account surplus in 2009.

Israel’s high public debt ratio remains the key constraint on its sovereign ratings. The adoption of rules-based fiscal policy in the wake of the last recession has served Israel well; limits on the growth of public expenditure and a ceiling on the state (i.e. central government) deficit facilitated a contraction in general government debt to 78% of GDP at end-2008 from a peak of 100% in 2003. Even so, this ratio remains high relative to the peer group median of 37%, although it is not the most extreme (‘A-‘ rated Greece exceeds 100% of GDP). Moreover, considering the mildness of its recession and an absence of financial sector-related support, the current external shock has taken a heavy toll on the public finances, chiefly on the revenue side. Fitch expects Israel’s general government deficit to widen to 6%-7% of GDP in 2009-10, on a par with rated peers Malaysia and the Czech Republic, which have experienced much steeper recessions, while pushing general government debt up to over 84% of GDP by end-2010.

While Israel’s experience with fiscal rules has been mixed, the current framework has entrenched fiscal discipline and together with signs of a strong economic recovery, suggests Israel’s powerful public debt dynamics could reassert themselves by 2011, forestalling any further deterioration in the public debt/GDP ratio. The government envisages a sharp narrowing in the state deficit to 3% of GDP in 2011 (from 6% in 2009), but still hopes to adhere to tax cuts over the medium term. Fitch expects some revision to the fiscal rules, with greater prominence being given to the Maastricht public debt/GDP ratio of 60% of GDP. From a rating standpoint, a positive rating action would require a decline in the debt/GDP ratio to a level nearer to the ‘A’ median. Conversely, a prolonged rise in the debt/GDP ratio and/or sustained fiscal easing would prompt a negative rating action.

Externally, the Government of Israel became a net external creditor for the first time in 2008, although it still falls short of ‘A’ norms on this measure. Burgeoning international reserves – these have more than doubled to USD60bn since end-2007 – have been the key factor behind this status change for the sovereign, facilitated by a strong current account surplus and buoyant net capital inflows. The economy as a whole also passed a new milestone in 2008, registering a surplus of external financial assets over liabilities for the first time. Israel expects its standing on the international stage to be further enhanced by OECD membership in the near future.

Contact: Paul Rawkins, London, Tel: +44 (0) 20 7417 4239; Richard Fox, +44 (0) 20 7417 4357

Media Relations: Peter Fitzpatrick, London, Tel: + 44 (0)20 7417 4364, Email:

Additional information is available on

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.

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.

Article on Culture and Education in New York City…

February 8, 2008
Published: February 8, 2008
Junior High School 22, in the South Bronx, had run through six principals in just over two years when Shimon Waronker was named the seventh.

A Bronx School Revives

On his first visit, in October 2004, he found a police officer arresting a student and calling for backup to handle the swelling crowd. Students roamed the hallways with abandon; in one class of 30, only 5 students had bothered to show up. “It was chaos,” Mr. Waronker recalled. “I was like, this can’t be real.”

Teachers, parents and students at the school, which is mostly Hispanic and black, were equally taken aback by the sight of their new leader: A member of the Chabad-Lubavitch sect of Hasidic Judaism with a beard, a black hat and a velvet yarmulke.

“The talk was, ‘You’re not going to believe who’s running the show,’ ” said Lisa DeBonis, now an assistant principal.

At a time when the Bloomberg administration has put principals at the center of its efforts to overhaul schools, making the search for great school leaders more pressing than ever, the tale of Mr. Waronker shows that sometimes, the most unlikely of candidates can produce surprising results.

Despite warnings from some in the school system that Mr. Waronker was a cultural mismatch for a predominantly minority school, he has outlasted his predecessors, and test scores have risen enough to earn J.H.S. 22 an A on its new school report card. The school, once on the city’s list of the 12 most dangerous, has since been removed.

Attendance among the 670 students is above 93 percent, and some of the offerings seem positively elite, like a new French dual-language program, one of only three in the city.

“It’s an entirely different place,” Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein said in a recent interview. “If I could clone Shimon Waronker, I would do that immediately.”

Not everyone would.

Mr. Waronker has replaced half the school’s teachers, and some of his fiercest critics are teachers who say he interprets healthy dissent as disloyalty and is more concerned with creating flashy new programs than with ensuring they survive. Critics note that the school is far from perfect; it is one of 32 in the city that the state lists as failing and at risk of closing. Even his critics, though, acknowledge the scope of his challenge.

“I don’t agree with a lot of what he’s done, but I actually recognize that he has a beast in front of him,” said Lauren Bassi, a teacher who has since left. “I’m not sure there’s enough money in the world you could pay me to tackle this job.”

Mr. Waronker, 39, a former public school teacher, was in the first graduating class of the New York City Leadership Academy, which Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg created in 2003 to groom promising principal candidates. Considered one of the stars, he was among the last to get a job, as school officials deemed him “not a fit” in a city where the tensions between blacks and Hasidic Jews that erupted in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, in 1991 are not forgotten.

“They just said he may be terrific, but not the right person for that school,” Chancellor Klein said.

Some parents at J.H.S. 22, also called Jordan L. Mott, were suspicious, viewing Mr. Waronker as too much an outsider. In fact, one parent, Angie Vazquez, 37, acknowledged that her upbringing had led her to wonder: “Wow, we’re going to have a Jewish person, what’s going to happen? Are the kids going to have to pay for lunch?”

Ms. Vazquez was won over by Mr. Waronker’s swift response after her daughter was bullied, saying, “I never had no principal tell me, ‘Let’s file a report, let’s call the other student’s parent and have a meeting.’ ”

For many students and parents, the real surprise was that like them, Mr. Waronker speaks Spanish; he grew up in South America, the son of a Chilean mother and an American father, and when he moved to Maryland at age 11, he spoke no English.

“I was like, ‘You speak Spanish?’ ” recalled Nathalie Reyes, 12, dropping her jaw at the memory.

He also has a background in the military. Mr. Waronker joined R.O.T.C. during college and served on active duty for two years, including six months studying tactical intelligence. After becoming an increasingly observant Jew, he began studying at a yeshiva, thinking he was leaving his military training behind.

“You become a Hasid, you don’t think, ‘Oh my God, I’m going to suppress revolutions,’ ” Mr. Waronker said. But, he said, he drew on his military training as he tackled a school where a cluster of girls identifying themselves as Bloods stormed the main office one day looking for a classmate, calling, “We’re going to get you, you Crip.”

He focused relentlessly on hallway patrols, labeling one rowdy passageway the “fall of Saigon.” In an effort to eliminate gang colors, he instituted a student uniform policy.

He even tried to send home the students who flouted it, a violation of city policy that drew television news cameras. In his first year, he suspended so many students that a deputy chancellor whispered in his ear, “You’d better cool it.”

In trying times — when a seventh grader was beaten so badly that he nearly lost his eyesight, when another student’s arm was broken in an attack in the school gym, when the state listed J.H.S. 22 as a failing school — Mr. Waronker gathered his teachers and had them hold hands and pray. Some teachers winced with discomfort.

At first Mr. Waronker worked such long hours that his wife, a lawyer, gently suggested he get a cot at school to save himself the commute from their home in Crown Heights.

He also asked a lot from his teachers, and often they delivered. One longtime teacher, Roy Naraine, said, “I like people who are visionaries.”

Sometimes teachers balked, as when Mr. Waronker asked them to take to rooftops with walkie-talkies before Halloween in 2006. He wanted to avoid a repetition of the previous year’s troubles, when students had been pelted with potatoes and frozen eggs.

“You control the heights, you control the terrain,” he explained.

“I said, if you go on a roof, you’re not covered,” said Jacqueline Williams, the leader of the teachers’ union chapter, referring to teachers’ insurance coverage.

Mr. Waronker has also courted his teachers; one of his first acts as principal was to meet with each individually, inviting them to discuss their perspective and goals. He says he was inspired by a story of how the late Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitch spiritual leader, met with an Army general, then inquired after his driver.

“That’s leadership,” he said, “when you’re sensitive about the driver.”

Lynne Bourke-Johnson, now an assistant principal, said: “His first question was, ‘Well, how can I help you, Lynne?’ I’m like, ‘Excuse me?’ No principal had ever asked me that.”

The principal enlisted teachers in an effort to “take back the hallways” from students who seemed to have no fear of authority. He enlisted the students, too, by creating a democratically elected student congress.

“It’s just textbook counterinsurgency,” he said. “The first thing you have to do is you have to invite the insurgents into the government.” He added, “I wanted to have influence over the popular kids.”

These days, the congress gathers in Mr. Waronker’s office for leadership lessons. One recent afternoon, two dozen students listened intently as Mr. Waronker played President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s address after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, then opened a discussion on leadership and responsibility.

When an etiquette expert, Lyudmila Bloch, first approached principals about training sessions she runs at a Manhattan restaurant, most declined to send students. Mr. Waronker, who happened to be reading her book, “The Golden Rules of Etiquette at the Plaza,” to his own children (he has six), has since dispatched most of the school for training at a cost of $40 a head.

Flipper Bautista, 10, loved the trip, saying, “It’s this place where you go and eat, and they teach you how to be first-class.”

In a school where many children lack basic reading and math skills, though, such programs are not universally applauded. When Mr. Waronker spent $8,000 in school money to give students a copy of “The Code: The 5 Secrets of Teen Success” and to invite the writer to give a motivational speech, it outraged Marietta Synodis, a teacher who has since left.

“My kids could much better benefit from math workbooks,” Ms. Synodis said.

Mr. Waronker counters that key elements of his leadership are dreaming big and offering children a taste of worlds beyond their own. “Those experiences can be life-transforming,” he said.

So when Emmanuel Bruntson, 14, a cut-up in whom Mr. Waronker saw potential, started getting into fights, he met with him daily and gave him a copy of Jane Austen’s “Emma.”

“I wanted to get him out of his environment so he could see a different world,” Mr. Waronker said.

Mr. Waronker has divided the school into eight academies, a process that has led to some venomous staff meetings, as teachers sparred over who got what resources and which students. The new system has allowed for more personalized environments and pockets of excellence, like an honors program that one parent, Nadine Rosado, whose daughter graduated last year, called “wonderful.”

“It was always said that the children are the ones that run that school,” she said, “so it was very shocking all the changes he put in place, that they actually went along with it.” Students agree, if sometimes grudgingly, that the school is now a different place.

“It’s like they figured out our game,” groused Brian Roman, 15, an eighth grader with a ponytail.

Back in Crown Heights, Mr. Waronker says he occasionally finds himself on the other side of a quizzical look, with his Hasidic neighbors wondering why he is devoting himself to a Bronx public school instead of a Brooklyn yeshiva.

“We’re all connected,” he responds.

Gesturing in his school at a class full of students, he said, “I feel the hand of the Lord here all the time.”

Jewish vote in America…

February 6, 2008

From Haaretz, Feb. 6, 2008:

The Jewish vote: Obama carried Massachusetts, Connecticut
By Shmuel Rosner
Majority of Jewish Democrats will go along with the nominee, be it Clinton or Obama.
The Illinois Senator also came close in all states but New York and New Jersey. Some Jewish voters might be more apprehensive about him than others, but the majority of Jewish Democrats will go along with the nominee, be it Clinton or Obama.


In New Jersey, where the Jewish vote was 9 percent of the total. Hillary Clinton won, as she did among Jews in almost all states in which the Jewish voters were analyzed separately before Super Tuesday: 63 percent for her, 37 percent for Obama.


And there’s the more important New York. There was never a question that Clinton would win this state, but how about the large Jewish constituency?

16 percent of the vote was Jewish, and it went, also as expected, to Clinton. 65 percent voted for her, only 33 percent for Obama. This is better for Obama than he did in Nevada, but there’s an important difference: John Edwards is no longer in the race.

Since Jews in Nevada – and in Florida too – voted for Obama in similar numbers (in Florida, just last week, it was 26 percent for Obama), one might assume that the Jews who supported Edwards moved to Obama, and not to Clinton (she got 58 percent of the Jewish vote in Florida).


And how about Massachusetts?

In this state, especially in Boston and the area around it, there are also many Jews. They constituted 6 percent of the total vote. But there’s a surprise here. Or maybe not. The more liberal Jewish community is the one that voted for Obama and not for Clinton. The margin is small, but nevertheless, it is the first time that he wins among Jewish voters – 52 percent for Obama, just 48 percent for Clinton.

Clinton was happy today to be able to win Massachusetts, a state in which both Senators Kennedy and Kerry, who endorsed Obama, reside. But she wasn’t so lucky with Jewish Massachusetts. An achievement for one of the most visible of Obama’s Jewish supporters, Alan Solomont (I mentioned Solomont in Democrats woo Jewish, minority vote as primaries heat up a month ago.


This article was originally written before the predictions for California were made (update: Clinton won), but after the exit polls were made available on the web. And Obama came very close in California.

The Jewish vote in this state was 5 percent of the total, and also went to Clinton, but the margin was small – 48 percent for her, 44 percent for Obama (8 percent voted for no-longer-a-candidate Edwards).

A long while ago I wrote that many Jews would vote for Obama, especially the younger generation. With all the brouhaha about him and Israel, and Farrakhan, and the smear campaign, and the emails and all the rest, Obama has many Jewish followers, and will have even more if he wins the nomination.

Some Jewish voters might be more apprehensive about him than others, but the majority of Jewish Democrats will go along with the nominee, be it Clinton or Obama.


Need more proof? Massachusetts is not the only state in which Clinton lost the Jewish vote. Take a look at Connecticut. Obama won the race, and the Jewish vote. In fact, he won impressively.

Jews were 10 percent of the vote in Connecticut, and Obama got 61 percent of it. Clinton got only 38 percent. An Obama campaign aid reacted to these numbers tonight in this fashion: “We are proud of our support across the spectrum of all voters, including the Jewish community. Barack Obama’s message of bring change to Washington, ending the War in Iraq and strong support of Israel resonates well in the Jewish community.”

And here is why they can be proud: In Arizona, Obama also came closer to winning the Jewish vote than he did in the past (this means he lost). 51 percent to Clinton, 44 percent to Obama (the Jews made up 5 percent of the vote).

And here is another way to look at it: Clinton won the Jewish vote handily in her backyard (New York and New Jersey), but did not have such luck in other places. She won some, and lost some, but the margin in all places but those two backyard states was not significant.


Did you wonder about Jewish Republicans?

They are more a myth than a reality.

In New York, they make up 4 percent of the voters (Jewish Democrats are 16 percent). In California 2%. In New Jersey, 3 percent of the total vote (Democrats 9 percent) are Jewish. In Massachusetts, the number is also 3 percent (6 percent for Jewish Democrats). We had similar percentage in Florida (3 percent).

Exit polls don’t deal with such small numbers of voters, so we do not know who they voted for. But we know they could barely make a difference.

Good news for Catholic-Jewish relations…

February 4, 2008
Pope nixes reference to Jews` `blindness` over Jesus in prayer
By Reuters
Pope Benedict has ordered changes to a Latin prayer for Jews at Good Friday services by traditionalist Catholics, deleting a reference to their “blindness” over Christ, the Vatican said on Tuesday.

The Vatican newspaper l’Osservatore Romano published the new version of the prayer in Latin and said it should be used by the traditionalist minority starting this Good Friday, March 21.

Apart from the deletion of the word “blindness,” the new prayer also removes a phrase that asked God to “remove the veil from their hearts”.

But the new prayer hopes that Jews will recognize Christ.

Jewish groups had protested against the old prayer and had asked the Pope to change it.

According to an unofficial translation from Latin, the new prayer says in part:

“Let us also pray for the Jews. So that God our Lord enlightens their hearts so that they recognize Jesus Christ savior of all men.”

It also asks God that “all Israel be saved.”

Jewish groups complained last year when the Pope issued a decree allowing a wider use of the old-style Latin Mass and a missal, or prayer book, that was phased out after the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, which met from 1962 to 1965.

Good Friday is the day Christians commemorate Christ’s death.

Only some several hundred thousand traditionalists follow the old-style Latin rite and will use the Latin prayer.

The overwhelming number of the world’s some 1.1 billion Catholics attend mass in their local languages.

They would use a post-Second Vatican Council missal, which includes a Good Friday prayer for Jews which asks that they “arrive at the fullness of redemption”.

Benedict’s decree, issued on July 7, authorized wider use of the old Latin missal, a move which traditionalist Catholics had demanded for decades but which Jews and other Christian groups said could set back inter-religious dialogue.

Implementation of the decree has been difficult. The Pope’s number two, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, said recently the Vatican was preparing a document on how it should be introduced around the world.

Before the Second Vatican Council, Catholic mass and prayers were full of elaborate ritual led in Latin.

Many traditionalists missed the Latin rite’s sense of mystery and the centuries-old Gregorian chant that went with it.

Some denounced Council reforms that included a repudiation of the notion of collective Jewish guilt for Christ’s death and urged dialogue with all other faiths.