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Where Israel & Jewish America Go From Here

timesofisrael.com

The two momentous announcements that took place this month in the space of four days, one in America and one in Israel, might bring a drastic change not only to Israel, but to the Jewish people the world over, especially here in America. These two announcements, though unrelated ‘supposedly,’ seem to this observer not only to be very much related, but also to pose grave questions both to the people of Israel and to American Jews. How the people in both countries will answer these questions, how they will react to the existential problems that they present, might determine the future of the Jewish State, and with it the destiny of American Jewry.

These are major statements, I’m aware of it. So allow me to explain, starting with America, where on November 18—seemingly out of the blue—Secretary of State Pompeo announced suddenly that USA no longer sees Israeli settlements in the West bank as illegal. This short announcement, clearly to my mind another Trump’s ‘assist’ to PM Benjamín Netanyahu, meant to derail his main rival to the premiership, Mr. Benny Gantz, last-minute’s efforts of forming a governing coalition, and to give Netanyahu another boost in his fight to retain his grip on Israel’s political power.

It succeeded, this move, on both fronts (in the short term, anyhow). By doing so it has also reversed the official American long-held policy, according with the Article 49 of the Geneva Conventions, which prohibits an occupied power from transferring its own population into the territory it occupies. It flies in the face of numerous UN resolutions, which see the Israeli occupation as illegal, forbidden the occupier from settling a land. As with the other two ‘assists’ Netanyahu has received from Trump—moving the American Embassy to Jerusalem and recognizing the Golan Heights as an Israeli territory—the European Union, the United Nations, and 99% of all other countries don’t recognize this announcements and resolutions.

What gives then. It gives Netanyahu—who for almost a year now is serving only as a ‘transitional’ Prime Minister, and who has failed to win a majority in the Knesset and build a governing coalition in two consecutive elections—the permission from the super power that America is to continue the occupation, and to put in motion legalizing what is now a ‘de-facto annexation’ of the West Bank, which the Palestinians claim as their future state. Whether he is a Prime Minister in transition for another 6 months, or in a unity government for longer, he’ll make sure these trends, going on since the aftermath of the Six-Day War of 1967, are irreversible for good. Which, in effect, will render Israel an Apartheid state.

How the world, and especially American Jews will react to this development will determine the future not only of Israel, but of the Jewish people at large. Even more so: A second announcement came on November 21 by Israel’s Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, indicting PM Benjamin Netanyahu for bribery, fraud and breach of trust. It puts Israel in a critical moment in its short modern history. A critical moment like no other before that puts a big question mark on the future of the state as a democracy. The struggle now taking place in Israel, which will surely intensify in the coming weeks and month, will most definitely transform and determine the country’s future for years to come.

This announcement in Israel, charging a sitting Prime Minister—a first in Israel’s history—of serious crimes, launched Israel into a major crisis. The crisis is between sheer political power and the rule of law. It’s between Netanyahu’s desperate attempt of hanging on to power, at all costs, threatening the rule of law and democracy itself. It’s clear now to all, what was clear to many before: Netanyahu is set on continuing ruling Israel, avoiding prosecution by all means necessary, even if Israel will crash into ruins with him in the process.

Latest polls in Israel show a clear majority of Israeli citizens in favor of Netanyahu resigning as Prime Minister. By law, he doesn’t have to yet. Though by law, he does have to relinquish the four other ministerial positions he currently holds. This is uncharted territory for Israel. For instance, when Netanyahu’s predecessor, PM Ehud Olmart was investigated by the police for such crimes, Netanyahu, his rival for the leadership of the party said this: “A prime minister neck deep in investigations has no moral or public mandate to make fateful decisions for the State of Israel.”

Of course, now that he is the Prime Minister, the longest to serve in this role in Israel’s history, and being indicted already—not just investigated—on much more serious charges, he looks the other way. Blaming the investigators instead. He continues to hold an iron grip on his party, and continues to appoint his cronies (regardless if they are qualified or not) to positions of power in the government. Still, there are some signs of revolt in his party, which will determine much of the outcome.

The leader of the Blue and White party, Benny Gantz, which has one more seat in the Knesset than the Likud (Netanyahu’s party), spoke to the nation and offered a most generous solution: A unity government with himself as Prime Minister first. And in two years, should Netanyahu be found not guilty, the coalition agreement will grant him the opportunity to return as Prime Minister for the remaining two years of a government four-year’s term.

It will not happen. There will be blood. Figuratively and (possibly) literally. Which brings me to say this: On both these crucial, critical issues—settlements, occupation, annexation, the rule of law, democracy—American Jews cannot allow themselves to remain on the sidelines. Since the future of the Jewish State as a democracy is now at stake, they cannot allow themselves—they individually, and also their established organizations—to remain quiet. It’s time to take a stand and speak up.

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

New Year; Old Hope

972mag.com

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.

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