Ronny Sofer: Netanyahu spokesman slams protesters

ISRAEL POLITICAL BRIEF

Ronny Sofer: People can’t make ends meet? Take away their credit lines.

Source: Globes, 7-31-11

After 150,000 Israelis took to the streets on Saturday night in protest, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s spokesman Ronny Sofer says that the protesters’ demands are overblown and Israel’s social conditions are not so bad.

Sofer participated in Channel 10’s morning current affairs program, which discussed the proliferating protests against the high cost of living. Although Sofer admitted, “There are segments of the population that suffer distress,” he did not spare his criticism of the protesters. “We also raised children, and we had a very hard time. We chose our homes on the basis our means,” he said.

In his perspective on Israel’s socioeconomic conditions and the protest of the middle class, Sofer said, “We should put things in proportion. When you travel along the Ayalon Highway in the morning, you see something like 10,000 cars. You look around, and the only construction and building standards are luxury apartments. You see 1.3 million people heading abroad this summer. So things aren’t so bad.”

As for the protesters’ demands for “social justice”, Sofer implied that they were communists who want equality for everyone. “Everyone wants to be equal, and they want to feel more equal; in other words, they want greater purchasing power. These things should be put in proportion. I’m afraid we’re not a communist country. We don’t all have the same standard of living. Some people have more and some people have less.”

Sofer said that Netanyahu was listening and denied that he was alienated. In the same breath, however, Sofer rushed to say, “He understands that there is a process that is growing stronger. A kind of exaggeration. But he is listening.”

Sofer also compared the Israeli economy to the economies of countries such as Greece and the US. He said, “Gentlemen, Israel is in excellent economic shape. Leave it alone, let’s talk about something greater. Do you know what’s happening in the US? In two days, it could be insolvent. If you act irresponsibly with the economy, you’re liable to end up like Greece, which will become insolvent.”

As for claims that many protesters cannot make ends meet, even with above average salaries, Sofer offered a solution. “There are people who claim that they can’t make ends meet? … Maybe their credit lines should be cancelled.”

Sofer cited his own life to remonstrate against the protesters: don’t live beyond your means, in utter insouciance of many of the protesters’ demands.

“Talk to me. I want complete honesty,” said Sofer. “The difficulties are tough. Raising a family today, enabling children to go to university, is not easy. When my kid – and she’s 25 and a university student – comes to me and says, ‘Daddy,’ I do what I can to help her. But if she says, ‘I want to live in Tel Aviv’ I reply, how much does that cost? I can’t help. If you manage to do it yourself, wonderful. Great. If not, lady, get a job, live somewhere you can afford.”

Over 150,000 Israelis Protest Housing Costs in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Rest of Country

ISRAEL POLITICAL BRIEF

More than 150,000 take to streets across Israel in largest housing protest yet

Source: Haaretz, 7-31-11

Demonstrations held in more than 10 cities across Israel in bid to lower spiraling costs of living; joint Jewish-Arab protest held for first time since demonstrations began 16 days ago.

More than 100,000 people took to the streets Saturday to protest the spiraling costs of living in Israel. Marches and rallies took place in eleven cities across the country, with the largest ones taking place in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Be’er Sheva and Haifa. The protesters chanted “the people demand social justice” and “we want justice, not charity.”

The biggest protest was in Tel Aviv, where tens of thousands march from HaBima Square to the Tel Aviv Museum. “We are very happy to see the Israeli people go out into the streets,” said Yonatan Levy, one of the organizers. “We were amazed to see throughout the day that the issues that were raised on the different stages and tent cities are not so removed from each other after all.”

Tens of thousands march through central Tel Aviv in protest at the high cost of living in Israel, July 30, 2011.
Tens of thousands march through central Tel Aviv in protest at the high cost of living in Israel, July 30, 2011.Tal Cohen
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In Haifa, 8,000 people marched through the city. In Jerusalem, 10,000 protesters marched from Horse Park to the house of Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. In Be’er Sheva, 3,000 protesters marched carrying banners saying “Be’er Sheva is shouting times seven.” (Sheva is the Hebrew word for the number seven)

In Ashdod, protesters marched from City Park. Around 150 people gathered at Ashdod’s tent city on their way to the march. Students from Beit Barl marched from the tent city at Kfar Sava to central Ra’anana junction.

For the first time since the beginning of the protests 16 days ago, a protest involving both Jews and Arabs took place in central Nazareth. In Kiryat Shmona 1,000 protesters marched in the city’s main road, towards the southern exit of the city.

Many prominent Israeli musicians performed at the rallies, including Hemi Rodner, Dan Toren, Yehuda Poliker, Barry Sakharov Yishai Levi, Aviv Geffen, and others.

Housing protest - AFP - July 30, 2011 Israelis hold up banners as they march in Tel Aviv on July 30, 2011.
Photo by: AFP

Israel Economic Protests: Tent Cities Pop Up in Protest of Housing Crisis

ISRAEL POLITICAL BRIEF

Source: Virtual Jerusalem, 7-29-11

On Rothschild Boulevard, Tel Aviv’s version of Park Avenue, a burgeoning tent city has sprung up amid crowded cafes and its canopy of ficus trees.

The squatters are protesting soaring housing prices in the country, and they have galvanized a sudden full-scale national protest, from Kiryat Shemona in the North to Beersheva in the South, that has plunged the government into crisis mode.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu canceled a planned trip to Poland this week and the interior minister has called for ttel aviv housing crisis tent citieshe Knesset to cancel its summer recess. Tent cities are swelling in cities across Israel, protesters are blocking roads and activists have practically besieged the Knesset. On Saturday evening, an estimated 20,000 marchers filled the streets of Tel Aviv calling for affordable housing.

“For years, Israelis have been like zombies because of the security situation and did not speak out when other areas were ignored, like education and the economy,” said Amir Ben-Cohen, a 30-year-old graduate student camping out on Rothschild Boulevard. “Enough. We are a new generation.”

Some are hailing the protests as Israel’s version of the Arab Spring. This Israeli Summer movement is being led by university students and young professionals in their 20s and 30s who until now have shown little interest in demonstrations or activism. One sign strung between tents in Tel Aviv read, “Rothschild, corner of Tahrir,” a reference to the Egyptian uprising that centered in Tahrir Square.

With a recent Haaretz poll showing 87 percent of Israelis supporting the housing protesters, their grievances appear to be striking a chord nationwide.

Like much of the world, Israelis recently have seen cost-of-living metrics rise across the board, especially for food and gas. But unlike in the United States, where real estate prices are in retreat, housing prices in Israel have skyrocketed, on average doubling since 2002.

With the average Israeli salary at $2,500 a month and modest-sized apartments in Jerusalem and the Tel Aviv area selling for $600,000, many Israelis feel priced out of their own neighborhoods, particularly young people who live in places where there is a dearth of rental properties….READ MORE

Israel Economic Protests: Protesters Reject Netanyahu’s Housing Plan

ISRAEL POLITICAL BRIEF

Source: Virtual Jerusalem, 7-27-11

The leaders of the Rothschild Blvd. tent protest in Tel Aviv reject Prime Minister Netanyahu’s proposals on how to end the crisis, and vow to escalate their struggle. In a press conference yesterday at the encampment, the protest leaders accused Netanyahu and his ministers of failing to understand the depth of the people’s distress, and that this was reflected in the prime minister’s proposals.

Dafni Leif, one of the protest leaders, said, “Netanyahu remembered this morning that he had something small and marginal to take care of – a people. We have heard his plans and we want to tell him that we weren’t born yesterday. What he is offering us all is a huge fraud. He is continuing with, and even exacerbating, his and his government’s cynical policies.”

We say NOnetanyahu housing

Leif said that the prime minister, “is lying to all of us when he presents these solutions, whose masterpiece is that the state will give land for free to the contractors, who happen to be friends with the prime minister. They will get to build them, but the buildings will not be sold for free. This is what he calls affordable housing. This plan is a direct continuation of this government’s privatization plans. We say no to Netanyahu’s proposals.”

Yigal Rambam, another of the Rothschild Blvd. protest leaders, said, “The ground is heating up. There are 1,000 tents spread around the country. There are demonstrations every day, displays of strength. The spontaneous blocking of intersections two days ago was a reaction to the prime minister’s attempt to hijack the protest and pass the National Housing Commissions Law. We have shown the prime minister that the people are powerful.” Rambam added, “We will continue with our struggle until they return to us our right to live in dignity and to see a future.”

Stav Shafir, another protest leader, bitterly criticized the housing law. “This is more of a vandal’s law than anything else. It is violence against the people. How can they present this law as a step that will bring about affordable housing? Who will receive this affordable housing?”

Protesters living at the Tel Aviv encampment explained their resentment over Netanyahu’s promise to reduce the price of public transportation for students by 50%. They accused his policy of “divide and rule” while at the same time not providing solutions for distress in the broader sectors in society. “And what about the single mothers and the elderly?”

We don’t want cake, we want bread

Protest leaders promised to continue with their wide-range protest activities over the next few days, which will reach a peak on Saturday night, when large protests will take place simultaneously in many cities around the country. “We demand that Bibi does social justice here,” Leif said.

“Our revolution began on the same day as the French Revolution. There too the ruler failed to understand what he was up against. We don’t want cake, we want bread. We would like to tell the Minister of Taxes Yuval Steinitz that we do not wish to live in penthouses, we want to live in apartments,” Leif proclaimed.

A the start of the press conference, there was a confrontation between some of the tent protesters, who claimed that the protest leaders were operating on their own and did not represent all the participants in the protest. One of them, Eyal Tsafadiya, said, “The leadership is operating on its own and is not including all the protesters in its decisions, and in our opinion does not represent the overall group. There is no coordination between all the protesters.”

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news – http://www.globes-online.com

Tevi Troy: Response to Steve Rothman’s Politico op-ed arguing Obama is a pro-Israel president:

ISRAEL POLITICAL BRIEF

Source: Politico, 7-26-11

Rep. Steve Rothman’s attempt to convince people that President Barack Obama is pro-Israel (“Obama’s Pro-Israel Record,” POLITICO, July 25) fails on many levels. While he claims it is Republicans who “label the president as anti-Israel,” concerns with Obama’s problematic stance on Israel extend beyond the ranks of the GOP, in the U.S. and beyond. As The Wall Street Journal noted, even “Jewish fund-raisers for Mr. Obama say they regularly hear discontent among some supporters.” Furthermore, a Jerusalem Post/Smith Poll found that only 12 percent of Israelis consider Obama to be pro-Israel.

On the substance, the weakest part of Rothman’s argument is that it is predicated on U.S. military cooperation with Israel. Most of this cooperation, however, started long before Obama, and much of the credit belongs to Congress — where Israel is far more popular than at the White House. In addition, this cooperation is not some kind of favor that presidents bestow on Israel. It benefits both sides, and it is dangerous for the future of the relationship to suggest that military collaboration depends on a president’s largesse.

Rothman focuses on military cooperation with Israel because he knows how strong the case that Obama is hostile to Israel is in other areas. Obama had Vice President Joe Biden criticize Israel during a visit to Israel. He tried to undercut Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the eve of his visit to Washington. Obama has pushed Israel on construction of housing projects and tried to establish the start of negotiating efforts with the Palestinians at the 1967 borders — which Israel argues are indefensible.

Rothman notes the pressure President George H.W. Bush put on Israel in the early 1990s. American Jews noticed — and Jewish support for Bush dropped by 24 points between the 1988 and 1992 elections.

Perhaps Rothman’s piece is evidence of his concern that American Jews could give Obama similar treatment.

Tevi Troy

Senior Fellow

Hudson Institute

Troy was a senior White House official under President George W. Bush.

Israel Political Brief July 26, 2011: Weiner’s Exit Sets Off a Race to Be Israel’s Better Friend

ISRAEL POLITICAL BRIEF

Source: NYT, 7-26-11

Ty Cacek/The New York Times

Assemblyman David I. Weprin, center, is a Democrat running against Bob Turner for the House seat Anthony D. Weiner gave up.

 

Assemblyman David I. Weprin, the Democratic candidate to replace former Representative Anthony D. Weiner in a special election on Sept. 13, is a Modern Orthodox Jew who keeps kosher, observes the Sabbath and has been to Israel at least eight times. So it comes as a surprise that, at this early stage of the short campaign, New York’s Ninth Congressional District finds itself talking about an unlikely subject — whether Mr. Weprin, who is unabashedly pro-Israel, is the best pro-Israel advocate.

Uli Seit for The New York Times

Former Mayor Edward I. Koch, in jacket, with Mr. Turner, a Republican, whom Mr. Koch endorsed for Congress on Monday.

Just as a May special election in a conservative district of western New York turned into an unexpected referendum on the Republican Party’s proposals about Medicare, the coming special election in a heavily Jewish district of Brooklyn and Queens is, at least for that district, emerging as a potential referendum on President Obama’s proposals about the Middle East.

“It will be a one-upsmanship on who is more pro-Israel,” said Chris Malone, an associate professor of political science at Pace University.

On Monday, former Mayor Edward I. Koch, a Democrat, endorsed the Republican candidate in the race, Bob Turner, a retired cable television executive, at a press conference at which he stood next to an Israeli flag. Mr. Koch has acknowledged that Mr. Weprin is a strong supporter of Israel, but argued that the election of Mr. Turner would serve as a rebuke to Mr. Obama for saying that Israel’s pre-1967 border should be the basis for a peace agreement.

Both Mr. Weprin, 55, and Mr. Turner, 70, have criticized the president’s position on Israel, and both promote their support for Israel on their campaign Web sites.

But Mr. Koch said that although he and Mr. Weprin had similar political ideals, he had concluded that Mr. Weprin could not be “an effective messenger” to Mr. Obama.

“I said to him that it’s not a personal matter, but I want you to understand that it’s an issue that’s bigger than you and that’s bigger than me,” Mr. Koch said. “The president is not likely to be offended or feel threatened by David Weprin, Democrat from Queens, saying something critical of him.”….READ MORE

Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Yaalon: Israel minister rules out flotilla apology to Turkey

ISRAEL POLITICAL BRIEF

Source: AFP, 7-21-11

Israel will not “take responsibility” for the deaths of nine Turkish nationals by apologising to Ankara over its botched 2010 raid on a ferry heading for Gaza, a senior cabinet minister said on Thursday.

“We are not ready to apologise, as apologising is taking responsibility,” Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Yaalon told reporters in Jerusalem.

“There is no room in my mind for any kind of apology that means taking responsibility,” he said of the pre-dawn raid on a six-vessel flotilla that attempted to sail to Gaza in May 2010 in a bid to break Israel’s naval embargo.

Yaalon’s comments come after several failed attempts by Israel and Turkey to patch up ties that frayed almost to breaking point after commandos stormed the Turkish-owned Mavi Marmara ferry that was leading the flotilla.

He said Turkish representatives continued to insist that relations could only be restored if Israel apologised for the raid, compensated the families of those killed and the injured, and lifted its blockade on the Gaza Strip.

“We tried very hard to bridge the gap … (but) as long as they insist on this position I can’t see any agreement between the two sides,” he said.

“We are ready to regret the loss of lives, we are ready to create a kind of humanitarian voluntary fund,” he said, explaining that if such a fund were set up by Ankara, Israel would be prepared to pay money into it.

But he said there would be no official apology nor direct compensation offered to the families of those killed and the injured.

“A voluntary fund is acceptable, but compensation … means that you are responsible.”

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has repeatedly said the Jewish state will not apologise for the raid, although privately officials acknowledge that upgrading relations with Ankara would be desirable.

Media reports suggest there is increasing pressure on both sides for a final agreement that would restore once-strong ties between the two countries…. READ MORE

Related articles

Israel Political Brief July 21, 2011: Flotilla activists sent packing from Israel

ISRAEL POLITICAL BRIEF

Source: JTA, 7-21-11

The activists aboard the lone Gaza-bound flotilla ship intercepted by Israel were deported.

Some 15 activists, journalists and crew members were deported throughout the day Wednesday, a day after the French-flagged Dignity al-Karama was boarded by Israeli commandos near Gaza waters and towed to Israel’s Ashdod port. One activist was an Israeli journalist and was not deported.

The ship reportedly had declared a port in Egypt as its final destination in order to be able to leave Greek waters. At least seven other flotilla ships were detained and remain in Greek ports for safety violations.

The Dignity was carrying about 10 French and Greek activists, as well as three journalists and three crew members.

After boarding the ship, Israeli troops checked the condition of the passengers and offered them food and drink, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

The passengers were turned over to officials from the Israel Police, the Immigration and Population Authority and the Interior Ministry. They could be denied entrance to Israel for the next 10 years because they are being deported.

Israel Political Brief July 21, 2011: Israel minister rules out flotilla apology to Turkey

ISRAEL POLITICAL BRIEF

Source: AFP, 7-21-11

Israel will not “take responsibility” for the deaths of nine Turkish nationals by apologising to Ankara over its botched 2010 raid on a ferry heading for Gaza, a senior cabinet minister said on Thursday.

“We are not ready to apologise, as apologising is taking responsibility,” Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Yaalon told reporters in Jerusalem.

“There is no room in my mind for any kind of apology that means taking responsibility,” he said of the pre-dawn raid on a six-vessel flotilla that attempted to sail to Gaza in May 2010 in a bid to break Israel’s naval embargo.

Yaalon’s comments come after several failed attempts by Israel and Turkey to patch up ties that frayed almost to breaking point after commandos stormed the Turkish-owned Mavi Marmara ferry that was leading the flotilla.

He said Turkish representatives continued to insist that relations could only be restored if Israel apologised for the raid, compensated the families of those killed and the injured, and lifted its blockade on the Gaza Strip.

“We tried very hard to bridge the gap … (but) as long as they insist on this position I can’t see any agreement between the two sides,” he said.

“We are ready to regret the loss of lives, we are ready to create a kind of humanitarian voluntary fund,” he said, explaining that if such a fund were set up by Ankara, Israel would be prepared to pay money into it.

But he said there would be no official apology nor direct compensation offered to the families of those killed and the injured.

“A voluntary fund is acceptable, but compensation … means that you are responsible.”…READ MORE

Pastor John Hagee: Obama ‘not pro-Israel’

ISRAEL POLITICAL BRIEF

Source: JTA, 7-20-11

Pastor John Hagee, the founder of Christians United For Israel, accused President Obama of not being pro-Israel.

“The truth that many Americans do not want to face is President Obama is not pro-Israel,” Hagee said Tuesday at the annual Washington meeting of his group, which this year drew more than 5,000 activists.

Hagee, who endorsed Obama’s 2008 opponent, U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), accused Obama of “waiting for Iran to extend a friendly hand” and suggested that the president may force Israel to divide Jerusalem and relinquish territory to the Palestinians.

Obama has coupled an offer for dialogue with Iran with an intensified campaign to isolate the Islamic Republic, and has said that final-status decisions involving Israel and the Palestinians are a matter for negotiators.

Also speaking at the event was talk show host Glenn Beck, who spoke about what he said were the ever-present dangers posed by anti-Semitism.

CUFI activists visited Capitol Hill on Wednesday to advocate for pro-Israel legislation.

Israel deporting 15 foreigners aboard Gaza-bound boat

ISRAEL POLITICAL BRIEF

Source: CNN, 7-20-11

Dignite enters the Israeli port of Ashdod flanked by Israeli naval vessels after being intercepted in international waters
Dignite enters the Israeli port of Ashdod flanked by Israeli naval vessels after being intercepted in international waters
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • “Some of them have already left,” official says
  • The Dignite was carrying 10 activists, three crew members and three journalists
  • One of the journalists is Israeli

Fifteen foreigners aboard the Gaza-bound boat Dignite were being deported out of Israel on Wednesday, Israeli officials said.

“Some of them have already left this morning and the rest will fly out during the day,” said Sabin Hadad, spokeswoman for the Israeli interior ministry.

The Dignite — carrying 10 activists, three crew members and three journalists — is affiliated with the Free Gaza Movement.

One of the journalists is Israeli.

Israeli naval forces Tuesday successfully took over the boat, which was intent on breaking what the activists call the “siege of Gaza,” without violent resistance.

The forces “operated in line with procedures and took every precaution necessary while using all operational tactics determined prior to the operation, and avoid causing harm to the activists on board while ensuring the safety of the soldiers,” the Israel Defense Forces said.

After the boarding, “the passengers’ health was examined and they were offered food and beverages.”…READ MORE

Herman Cain to Iran: ‘If you mess with Israel you’re messing with the USA’

ISRAEL POLITICAL BRIEF

Source: LAT, 7-19-11

Cain

Herman Cain loves deep dish pizza, but he may love Israel more. How do I know? I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t go to war with a man who stole a  pepperoni slice; but if he were president and if a country, even one with a huge army like Iran’s, caused problems with an ally like Israel, there’d be trouble.

“If you mess with Israel you’re messing with the United States of America,” the Georgia businessman laid out plainly in his “Cain Doctrine.”

“Option A is, ‘Folks, we are not going to allow you to attack Israel,’ ” the GOP presidential hopeful told the Washington Times.

“If they call my bluff, they already know — they will know — what Option B is,” Cain said….READ MORE

Christian Zionists unite in D.C. to express support for Israel

ISRAEL POLITICAL BRIEF

Source: Haaretz, 7-19-11

Prime Minister Netanyahu, speaking via satellite, and news commentator Glenn Beck encourage audience to think of themselves and Jews, Israelis, as one and the same.

CUFI Summit 2011

Over 5000 Christians, mainly Evangelicals, gathered this week at the Convention Center in Washington for the annual conference of the organization CUFI, Christians United For Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the Christian Zionist conference via satellite, telling them, “When you support Israel, you don’t have to choose between your interests and your values; you get both.”

cufi - Natasha Mozgovaya - July 20 2011 Christians United For Israel conference, July 19, 2011.
Photo by: Natasha Mozgovaya

The prime minister encouraged the conference attendees to not only think of Israel as an ally of the Unites States, but as indistinguishable from it. “Our enemies think that we are you, and that you are us,” added Netanyahu. “And you know something? They are absolutely right.”

Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren compared the participants’ support of Israel to British military officer Orde Wingate’s training of Jewish paramilitary units before the establishment of the State of Israel. “We thank you for carrying out this vision,” Oren told the CUFI conference participants.

News commentator Glenn Beck worked the audience into a frenzy, decrying the historical persecution of Jews, insisting that Israel cannot cede control over territories it controls, and calling upon the conference attendees to declare that they, too, are Jewish.

“Jews have been chased out of every corner of this planet,” said Beck. “Enough is enough.” Beck said that new states can be established, but not at the expense of other states, and that Israel is historically the ‘Land of the Jews’, implying that Israel should not relinquish control over the West Bank in order to create a State of Palestine.

Beck repeated a refrain that Netanyahu had introduced earlier, appealing to audience members to self-identify as Israelis and Jews themselves. He exhorted, “When we see Israelis not as part of us, but as us, we can move to the next level as human beings,” adding, “Let us declare ‘I am a Jew,’ they cannot kill all of us”.

The conference attendees learned that Pastor John Hagee, the founder of CUFI, would be joining Beck for his planned rally in Jerusalem in August.

Hagee told the audience, many of whom were waving both Israeli and American flags, “We gathered here with one message: Israel today, Israel tomorrow, and Israel forever.” He added, “President Obama is no friend of Israel”.

“The truth is not what you think that it is – it’s what the Bible says”, Hagee proclaimed. “There are two ways to live your life – the Torah way and the wrong way.”

“If the US Administration forces Israel to divide Jerusalem – God will turn his back to the United States of America. The G-d of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is watching America,” Hagee continued. “Mister President, go tell Russia and the Chinese what to do.”

“Iran will soon become nuclear. Our President is waiting for Iran to extend a friendly hand, and it’s not going to happen,” Hagee added. “Mister Ahmadinejad, don’t threaten Israel. What you do to the Jewish people, history proves, will be done to you.”

We’ve Got It Backward: Israel Education Should Come First, Then Advocacy

JBUZZ: ISRAEL/JEWISH CULTURAL BUZZ

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The evidence is growing that we may be fighting the wrong battle in the struggle to support Israel these days.

The situation is grim, if not alarming: Jerusalem is increasingly on the defensive diplomatically, faced with a United Nations vote for a Palestinian state in September, and a range of outside efforts aimed at undermining the legitimacy of the Jewish State, from boycotts to flotillas. What’s more, there is concern that the circle-the-wagon response in Jerusalem to these threats can lead to more problems; witness the recent passage of anti-boycott resolution in the Knesset that has been widely criticized as undemocratic, even among mainstream Jewish organizations.

True, Israel advocacy groups are proliferating, offering programs, websites and curriculum, many of them first-rate in presenting Jerusalem’s case and countering critics. But at the same time the number of Americans who care about the Jewish State in a more than superficial way is decreasing.

Polls continue to indicate that Americans favor Israel over the Palestinians by wide margins. But the findings also suggest that most Americans would not be willing to have the U.S. involved with either side in the event of a Mideast war. Other surveys find increasing indifference on the topic.

There is a growing recognition among some American Jewish leaders that Israel advocacy is not enough because it provides answers to questions that most people aren’t asking. We need a fresh and creative approach.

First, let me be clear. I am a believer in Israel advocacy and have seen its positive impact, particularly through Write On For Israel, the program sponsored by The Jewish Week with funding from the Avi Chai Foundation. Now in its ninth year, it continues to provide a select group of high school juniors and seniors with the Mideast facts and moral confidence to be effective supporters of Israel on campus. The program has a proven track record of success as our graduates have taken on leadership roles as freshmen and sophomores at colleges around the country.

But the foundation for effective advocacy is education, and there is far too little Modern Israel education in our community. Even top day schools spend far more time focusing on ancient Jewish history than on the complex Mideast events of the 20th century that frame the current conflict.

Could it be that because of our long history as a people, the curriculum never quite makes it to modern times?…READ MORE

Israel Defense Forces’ Navy Intercepts, Boards French Flotilla Yacht Bound for Gaza

ISRAEL POLITICAL BRIEF

The Israeli boarding came “after all diplomatic channels had been exhausted”

On Tuesday, July 18, IDF soldiers boarded a French yacht heading to the Gaza Strip, in order to ensure it did not break Gaza’s maritime security blockade.

The yacht – the MV Dignite/Al Karama – was intercepted by Israel before being towed to shore in what is being described as an “uneventful takeover”.

The Israeli boarding of the vessel by IDF navy soldiers came after “after all diplomatic channels had been exhausted and continuous calls to the vessel had been ignored,”  according to a military statement. The yacht’s16 passengers were offered food, drink and medical exams.

Prior to intercepting the yacht, four Israeli military boats flanked the vessel and warned its crew not to attempt to breach the sea blockade off Gaza.

The yacht left the Greek island of Kastellorizo on Saturday evening after Athens imposed a ban on the departure of any ships involved in the flotilla. Early on Tuesday, activists on board tweeted via @BateauGazaFr that they were still determined to reach Gaza.

Israel insists the Gaza blockade is both legal and vital in ensuring that the terrorist organization, Hamas, does not gain access to incoming funds and/or weapons that would be used to attack Israel.

Israeli navy takes over Gaza-bound ship

ISRAEL POLITICAL BRIEF

Source: AP, 7-19-11

Israeli naval commandos on Tuesday seized control of a French ship attempting to break Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip, reporting no resistance during the takeover in international waters.

The navy boarded the ship after the pro-Palestinian activists on board ignored calls to change course.

The military had warned it would stop any attempt to break the sea blockade of Gaza, which Israel imposed four years ago in what it says is a measure to prevent arms smuggling to Gaza’s ruling Hamas militant group.

It said the vessel, the Dignity al-Karama, would be taken to a southern Israeli port, Ashdod. The international passengers are likely to face deportation….READ MORE

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn visitng Israel this week with JUF

ISRAEL POLITICAL BRIEF

Source: Jewish United Fund, 7-19-11

Gov. Quinn

State of Illinois Governor Pat Quinn arrives in Israel today for a week of meetings with a number of high-ranking Israeli officials along with briefings from experts on a range of issues of interest to the people of Illinois, including hi-tech development, energy, environmentalism, education, security, and disaster preparedness. Early stops include visits to the “Solutions” facility maintained in Israel by Motorola, one of the largest Illinois-based companies, and the offices of Better Place, a battery-operated car innovator.

On Thursday the Governor will participate in a ceremony at Ben Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheba at which officials of Ben Gurion University and the University of Illinois at Chicago will sign a formal Agreement on Academic Cooperation to establish a wide-ranging relationship. The agreement will promote faculty exchange, student exchange, joint research projects, and other academic activities of joint interest.  The agreement grows out of and greatly expands joint efforts in which the two universities have already been involved in the field of Public Health.  Rivka Carmi, President of Ben Gurion University, will preside over the ceremony, and the University of Illinois at Chicago will be represented by the Dean of the School of Public Health, Paul Brandt-Rauf.

On Sunday Quinn will join Dr. Uzi Landau, Minister of National Infrastructures, in signing a Memorandum of Understanding establishing a “Sister Lakes” relationship between Israel’s Lake Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee) and Lake Michigan. The latter entity borders the state of Illinois and is the fresh water source for Chicago and its surroundings. The agreement references joint concerns regarding water purification, invasive fish species, and other issues.

Quinn will visit sites along the Kinneret itself, on a tour led by key figures in Israel’s Oceanographic & Limnological Research.

The Governor’s Educational visit to Israel is organized by the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago and made possible by a generous donor. The visit is part of a JUF initiative that for years has brought influential non-Jewish leaders to Israel. Joining him on the visit are Illinois State Senators Jeffrey Schoenberg and Ira Silverstein, along with Skip Schrayer, Chairman of the Jewish United Fund, Michael Kotzin, Executive Vice President of the Jewish United Fund, and several Illinois business leaders.

Israel’s Boycott Bill and the U.S.-Israel Alliance

ISRAEL POLITICAL BRIEF

Source: The Atlantic, 7-19-11

Is Israel’s step away from free speech also a step away from its most important ally?

koplow july19 p.jpg

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a Likud party meeting in Jerusalem / Reuters

The vote last week by the Israeli Knesset to pass the “boycott bill,” which subjects anyone calling for a boycott of Israel or the settlements to lawsuits and severe penalties, was intended, according to its sponsor, Likud member Zeev Elkin, to make it easier to fight back against those seeking to delegitimize Israel and to ensure Israel’s accepted place in the global community. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted on Wednesday that the ban on calls for a boycott is not a violation of democratic principles and does not tarnish Israel’s reputation. He called the condemnations of Israel over the law unfair “attacks on a democracy’s attempt to draw a line between what is acceptable and what is not.” Netanyahu and the law’s supporters may indeed believe that banning Israeli citizens from calling for boycotts will strengthen Israel’s standing in the world by eliminating what they see as a potential fifth column of enemies within, but the unfortunate reality is that this law will have the exact opposite effect of that which Elkin intended. By enacting a law with such anti-democratic overtones, and that explicitly embraces the settlements as equivalent with Israel proper, Israel is putting its global status in peril by endangering its crucial support from the United States….READ MORE

Simcha Katz: OU president slams US Jewish groups over anti-boycott law

ISRAEL POLITICAL BRIEF

Source: Jerusalem Post, 7-19-11

Orthodox Union head urges US Jews, who don’t pay Israel taxes or serve IDF, to keep from criticizing Israeli policy.

OU President Simcha Katz
Photo by: Marc Israel Sellem

The president of the Orthodox Union on Monday slammed the US Jewish groups who recently chastised Israel over the anti-boycott law.

“We live in the United States, we haven’t served in the army, we don’t pay taxes [in Israel], so it would be inappropriate for us to publicly, in some fashion, criticize Israel on what they do to protect themselves,” said Simcha Katz.

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The new law, which passed in the Knesset last Monday, enables citizens to file civil suits against people or organizations that call for economic, cultural or academic boycotts against Israel, Israeli institutions or regions under Israeli control, and prevents the government from doing business with companies that initiate or comply with such boycotts.

American Jewish groups ranging from J-Street to Zionists of America, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the ADL, Americans for Peace Now and the New Israel Fund all spoke out against the law.

“On a personal level,” Katz noted, “I fully agree with the anti-boycott legislation. It was based on US legislation, which has criminal components to it. This doesn’t have criminal components to it; essentially, it’s a financial potential component.

“I was reading that Telrad, one of the companies in Israel, was selling products to the Palestinians – but part of the deal was that they couldn’t buy from Judea and Samaria. I find that outrageous,” said Katz.

“On a personal level, I’m fully in support of that particular law. Generally we support the Israeli government per se. The OU hasn’t taken a position, and generally we are supportive of what the Israeli government in power does,” he reiterated.

The OU was notably silent on last year’s conversion bill controversy as well, a topic Katz said his movement was not an expert in, so there was no point in getting involved.

“Look, we’re into tachles, to accomplishing things, we do things in the field – that’s what we’re interested in. So we want to be very supportive of the Israeli government, [and] meanwhile we’re involved in a lot of activities.

Press releases are not what we’re interested in.”…READ MORE

The Brouhaha over Israel’s Boycott Bill

ISRAEL POLITICAL BRIEF

Source: Gill Hoffman, Jerusalem Post, 7-15-11

Both the Left, the Right had an interest in keeping the bill at the top of the news, but only the PM had a vested interest in keeping quiet.

The penalties for violating the anti-boycott law are severe. They include a fine of up to $50,000 or five times the value of the product boycotted – whichever is greater – and imprisonment for up to five years and in some cases up to 10. Companies that comply with boycotts can also lose their export privileges and be barred from operating.

It is no wonder the law that passed in the Knesset Monday night attracted so much attention and dominated the headlines this week. There’s only one problem. The penalties referred to above are part of the Export Administration Act of 1979 – in the United States, not in Israel.

The American law was intended to prevent US companies from supporting the boycott of Israel instituted by the Arab League. The US Department of Commerce website lists examples of violations of the law by companies, based in several Muslim countries, that were punished.

Netanyahu at the weekly cabinet meeting, Sunday.
Photo by: Ronen Zvulun / Reuters
The Israeli law, by contrast, has no criminal element or stated penalty. It merely allows citizens to bring civil suits against people and organizations that call for economic, cultural, or academic boycotts against Israel, Israeli institutions, or “regions under Israeli control.” It also prevents the government from doing business with companies that initiate or comply with boycotts.

So why was there such a brouhaha over the boycott bill? The answer – as usual – comes down to politics. Both the Left and the Right had an interest in keeping the bill at the top of the news.

There was just one man who had a vested interest in keeping things quiet: Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

The Left has an interest in painting Netanyahu as a right-wing extremist who conspires with the settlers against the legal establishment, the rule of law, and the international community. They want the public to think the world is upset at the Israeli government and that the Jewish state is becoming increasingly isolated. Left-wing organizations intensified their efforts against the boycott bill after it had already passed, in an effort to create a public atmosphere that would encourage the High Court to reject the bill and discourage wavering MKs from supporting bills that would take action against those organizations, which will come to a vote next week. The ultimate goal of the Left is to persuade centrists that Netanyahu has resumed his battles against the elites, which helped end his first term prematurely.

Netanyahu was toppled by the Right following the Wye River Accord, but it was the centrists who laid the foundation for his downfall. The Right has an interest in targeting those very same elites in the legal establishment, who are extremely unpopular among that constituency, and the international community, which is seen by the Right as hopelessly anti-Israel. Sponsors of such legislation would be more popular among the hawks loyal to Likud activist Moshe Feiglin, who dominate the party’s membership that will choose its next Knesset slate.

Coalition chairman Ze’ev Elkin (Likud) initiated the bill following reports that companies had accepted contracts to build the new Palestinian city of Rawabi that were contingent on accepting boycotts of Israeli settlements.

Efforts by actors to boycott a new cultural center in Ariel also inspired the bill. But Elkin blames the media attention on the Left. Had the Kadima MKs who initially sponsored the bill with him not been persuaded to turn against it, he said, he would have been able to pass it by consensus without making waves.

Stuck in the middle, between media-hungry politicians and non-governmental organizations on both the Left and the Right, was Netanyahu, who apparently tried unsuccessfully to hide. On Sunday afternoon, he told Elkin that he wasn’t sure whether the bill should be postponed because of the Quartet meeting taking place in Washington and because of the legislation’s legal ramifications. Elkin told him he was willing to wait a week to prevent diplomatic damage to Israel, but that delays would only increase pressure.

Hours later, Netanyahu’s associates briefed Hebrew newspapers ahead of their deadlines, without his knowledge, that he would likely support a delay. But when he emerged from a late-night inner security cabinet meeting about the Quartet, the prime minister said he had made no such decision.

The newspapers were forced to spend vast sums on printing second editions with opposite headlines in the middle of the night. Only The Jerusalem Post had the right headline from the start, because a different Netanyahu aide had provided correct information. When the Post objected to not being given the same late-night briefing as the other newspapers, the prime minister’s spokesman said it was the first time a reporter had complained about being the only one with the correct headline.

Netanyahu did not delay the vote, but he also didn’t show up for it. A source close to him said he was visiting his father-in-law, Shmuel Ben-Artzi, on his death bed at Hadassah-University Medical Center, Ein Kerem, but the mystery of the prime minister’s whereabouts was perpetuated by his spokesman saying he “could not address the issue” of Netanyahu’s absence. The prime minister didn’t show up at the Knesset at all that day, missing a vote of no-confidence in his government for the first time.

In his Knesset speech Wednesday, Netanyahu came out firmly in support of the bill and said it never would have passed without his blessing. But he also made a point of defending the High Court in his speech and later leaking that he would not back Israel Beiteinu’s bill to form a parliamentary inquiry committee for investigating NGOs, or Elkin’s new proposal to initiate hearings for High Court judges.

Netanyahu was careful to not open up a front against the legal establishment and elites, but also to not be seen as being dragged behind hawks in his coalition. When he returned to the Prime Minister’s Office two years ago, he vowed to learn from the mistakes he made in his first term. But two of those mistakes – fighting the elites and not keeping his coalition strong – clashed this week.

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