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New Year; Old Hope


As we welcome the new Jewish year, 5780, I’d like to wish you all a healthy, happy, meaningful year. And as we look ahead to the new year, there’s a new—old, in my opinion—hope of renewal in Israel. The elections of September 17 are still fresh and far from settled. Many questions still remain. But it is safe to say that a new wind is blowing. And that maybe—just maybe—the rule of Bibi Netanyahu, a rule that was based on incitement, on subversion of democracy, on extremism and racism, on undermining the rule of law, and on solidifying the occupation and the endless conflict with the Palestinians, might finally be over.

This new wind is, in many ways, an old wind. It brings with it the smell of Eretz Israel of old. Of principles of justice for all, of separation of state and religion, of equal rights before the law. Of the essence of the declaration of independence. There’s chance of going to seed; to the old seed that gave birth to the state of Israel as we knew it and loved it. There is an opportunity now, even if a narrow one, to go back to what made the country so great in its first years of existence.

Don’t get me wrong, though; I’m not so naïve as to believe that all of Israel’s problems can now, suddenly and miraculously, be solved. Far from it: I’m well aware that the leaders of the Blue and White party, which had a narrow win – as indeed I predicted in my talk in Davis—in the elections, are not knights with shiny armor, riding on white horses. They have their faults, like all of us, and in term of the chances for peace, and a way to resolve the eternal conflict with the Palestinians, they are not so different from Mr. Netanyahu and his Likud party.

But I do believe that the probable successor—whether in this round or the next one—to the current Crime Minister, Benny Gantz, the leader of the Blue and While party, is a principled, old-time Rabin-like Israeli. (On the second night after Election Day he was in the audience at the Cultural Hall in Tel Aviv, at a concert by Israeli singers, and was invited on the stage to sing one of these good-old Israeli songs.) His immediate fight—what caused him to throw his hat into the ring in the first place—was to save Israel’s democracy. It seems safe to say that this battle, at the essence of these two rapid elections, is still going on. Maybe far from over. But for now, Israel survived the gravest threat since independence of turning into an autocracy. And that, in and of itself, is a major win.

The other threat, to be followed soon had Netanyahu won the elections, was the promised annexation of the West Bank, an end to any chance of peace-agreement with the Palestinians, and thereafter Israel turning not only into dictatorship, but an Apartheid state as well. This threat is still very real, make no mistake, but at least the new leader, together with his co-leaders, has a chance to change direction. Whether they will take this road; whether they will even have the chance to go this way, still remains to be seen. But the possibility is there.

On the ground things have changed so much since the 67 war, especially during the last twenty years or so, that it seems very unlikely that the Two-State solution—which I declared dead in another talk I gave in Davis seven years ago—can be resurrected. Yet one can still believe in miracles. In old Israel itself. Believe so even though the gap between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv; between the fanatic, religious Israel and the secular, liberal Israel, has widened so dramatically lately. So much so that the ‘War between the Jews’ is again a real threat and possibility. The gap between the haves and have nots has also widened. These problems and others must be addressed by the new government, however shape it’s going to take. The job ahead of that government is real, and not easy, but doable.

Of course, as I write this, it’s not clear at all—after the attempt at unity government has failed, it’s Netanyahu who is getting a first crack at building a coalition—whether Benny Gantz and his Blue-and-White party will be given the chance to build a coalition, should Netanyahu, as expected, fail. And yet, one can hope. One can hope that—again, in this round or the next—the wind of old Israel would take over and bring a change in government and direction. Because Israel and its citizens, and with them Jews the world over, have a lot to be thankful for. And be proud of, too. And be able to believe again that corruption can be replaced by hard and principled work. That occupation can be replaced, for both sides, by liberation. And that glory days might be in sight again. Shana Tova!

* The ‘Leave a Comment’ link is the last tag below, in blue.


Why “I Told You So” Matters!

by António Moreira Antunes*

(*Cartoonist: “Caricature was not antisemitic.” Printed first in the NY Times, and then in many other major world and Israeli newspapers. H.D.)

When it was announced in mid-July that PM Netanyahu will be the one to decide whether to allow Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) to enter Israel for a visit, it immediately made me think, and question: What the Israeli Prime Minister would do? I felt strongly that he won’t allow them in. If so, I realized, it would be contrary to diplomatic procedures established since Israel’s independence, to welcome all USA government officials and representatives—whether staunch supporters of Israel or its fierce critics—to visit the country and see for themselves the “only democracy in the middle-East.”

So strong was my conviction in such an outcome that, when I shared the story from an Israeli newspaper about it (i.e. Netanyahu being the final arbitrator on the matter) in our ‘Conservative Jews in Sacramento’ Facebook page, I added that: “Just for the fun of it—realizing that the Talmud says “prophecy has been given to the fools!”—my bet is on Netanyahu preventing Talib and Omar from visiting Israel.” There were some comments, if I remember correctly, but no one challenged me on going out on a limb like that so bluntly.

It’s important to stop here in the chronicle of events—though some interesting, unexpected developments are coming—and reflect on WHY I had such a strong feeling that Netanyahu won’t allow them to enter. For one, following Netanyahu’s political career for so long, and watching in dread how all democratic principles, common-sense values of justice and decency have long left him, all in the pursuit of the ultimate goal—authoritarian-power—I figured that both as a person and a politician he won’t allow these two fresh, American democratic voices of dissent to enter.

For second, realizing how close the visit of the two Congresswomen would be to the Israeli election, I figured Netanyahu—a supremely adroit, capable political animal—would rather do the wrong thing for Israel’s future and for American Jewry’s future, in order to safeguard the support of his electoral base; who vehemently hates all Arabs, and cannot fathom that there are two Muslim women in the American Congress. For Netanyahu, winning the coming election is almost a question of ‘life and death’. No kidding. As I pointed out in talks and on this blog not once, his need to win the elections—far outweighing the importance of Israel’s democracy—is not a political question. It’s not a chance to make peace with the Palestinians. It’s not a chance to improve the lives of poor Israeli citizens. NO: he wants to save himself from going to prison.

For third, President Trump. I realized instantly that Trump won’t allow this visit to take place. Like Netanyahu, Trump’s interests don’t include democracy, human rights, agreed upon diplomatic procedures, or the Jewish American public wellbeing as a whole. His sole interest is winning reelection, and if possible—again, like Netanyahu—remain president for ever. To achieve that, he not only needs the support of his regular republican base, where Israel is regarded as a ‘saint nation’, but the support of all evangelicals. He needs them to win the next election for him. And they demand of him in return to support Israel unconditionally. Hence the move of the embassy to Jerusalem; hence stopping all financial aid for the Palestinians; hence withdrawing from the international nuclear deal with Iran; hence recognizing the Golan Heights as Israeli territory.

Now back to what happened. Just a few days after I shared the story on Facebook, and made my ‘outlandish’ prediction, the Israeli papers reported that Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the United States and one of Netanyahu’s closest confidants, declared that Reps. Omar and Talib will get their visas and will be allowed into Israel, in line with Israel’s long-established tradition. Immediately, I thought to share the story on our Facebook group’s page, admit that I was wrong, and gladly so, since I truly believed they should be allowed in.

But a little voice inside me instructed me to wait a while. Indeed, for about a month, report after report, all the way to the Prime Minister’s office, confirmed that they will be allowed in to visit Israel. So much so that up to the final days, there were Israeli politicians, including Jerusalem’s mayor, who announced that they would be willing to meet with them. But I stuck to my guns, and remained quiet. I decided that until they are not only on the plane flying to Israel; not only even when they are touching down in Ben Gurion Airport —but only when they are through border customs and on their way to Jerusalem, only then would I admit I was wrong.

Alas, I was right. Trump tweeted; Netanyahu backed down; the rest is history. And talking about history, let’s go back some 38 years. That when, as reported in the Washington Post by Gershom Gorenberg, Israeli PM Menachem Begin said this: “Are we a vassal state of yours? Are we a banana republic?” He said that to U.S. Ambassador Samuel W. Lewis in response to a series of punitive measures against Israel by then President Ronald Reagan, the latest in response to Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights. Begin was so incensed by what he perceived as Reagan’s attitude toward Israel, and that he had to follow instructions from Washington.

But now, on a lesser important matter by far, all it takes is a tweet from the American President in the morning, for the Israeli Prime Minister to put his tail between his hinder legs and cower at noontime. So down goes long standing procedure. Down goes the solidarity of republican and democrats alike towards Israel. Down goes Israel’s relations with the Democrats in Congress. Down goes American Jews, the vast majority of them democrats, and very much opposed to trump. Even AIPAC—Holy Moly!—condemned Netanyahu’s decision, which brought about this public-relation nightmare for Israel, democrats, and Jews. And down goes also any chance of getting closer, even if by just a few steps—such as this visit and visitors—towards understanding the complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian issue, and one day maybe solving it.

That’s why, in this case, “I told you so” matters so much. Because it makes clear that a decision such as this trip’s cancellation was not a whim, a momentary blindness; rather, it was deep-rooted, long-reaching, and wrong.

* The ‘Leave a Comment’ link is the last tag below, in blue.

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