Along with the usual globalizing 1980s pop fare of Duran Duran, Thompson Twins, and R.E.M., the soundtrack to my teen years included a heavy dose of Israeli rock. Of the many Israeli artists I and many others of my generation listened to growing up—Shlomo Artzi, David Broza, Shalom Hanoch, and bands like Kaveret and Mashina—Arik Einstein, who died yesterday at age 74, is the first to depart. The loss is significant.
I’m aware that there is both pride and regret in these feelings of mine: pride at being one of a slice of Diaspora Jews to have forged their own memories of Arik Einstein’s music, and regret that when it comes to deep, cultured and textured connection with Israel, Diaspora Jews have a long way to go.
Arik Einstein on the cover of Prague, his 1969 album (YouTube screenshot)
Writing in these pages, Emily L. Hauser suggests that “It’s hard to explain to Americans, even those familiar with his work, who Arik Einstein...was...in Israeli culture.” Certainly, she’s correct, and cultural gulfs across our checkered globe are natural and understandable. But when it comes to the cultural—not necessarily political, for a change—relationship between Israel and Diaspora Jews, it shouldn’t have to be this way.
MILAN--Maybe you should worry about the Iran deal, but not for the reasons Benjamin Netanyahu says you should. A this stage, it's really about Syria, not Israel.
A military ceremony to inaugurate the Free Syrian Army's Tawahid Brigade on November 3 in Aleppo(Salih Mahmud Leyla / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images)
The Israeli prime minister has famously described the interim agreement reached between world powers and the government of Tehran as a “historic mistake.” What he fears is that Iran may use the deal to keep pursuing a nuclear weapon, putting in danger the security of Israel and other neighboring countries. Saudi Arabia was not enthusiastic about the news that a deal had been reached, either.
But some say this deal might not be such bad news for the Jewish state. Since Israeli efforts to halt Iran's nuclear program have failed so far, part of the Israeli Defense establishment favors the idea of containment: “Their message has been that an agreement which slows down but does not dismantle Iran’s nuclear project is far preferable to the alternative—which is not, as Bibi would have it, more Iranian concessions, but rather Iran’s departure from the negotiations and no Iranian concessions,” wrote Larry Derfner for +972 Magazine.
Ever since the U.S. and its partners inked an interim agreement with Iran in Geneva, many commentators on the right have been engaging in overwrought denunciations of the deal. The criticisms often rely on distorting the terms of the agreement. But the distortions of the deal's terms aren't only of the "Munich Katrinas" variety, and don't only emanate from the neoconservative right.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (L) reacts next to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton (C) as US Secretary of State John Kerry (2nd R) embraces French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius after a statement on early November 24, 2013 in Geneva. (Fabrice Coffrini / AFP / Getty Images)
One example of such a distortion appeared in the liberal magazine the New Republic, authored by Robert Satloff, head of the pro-Israel think tank the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP). Satloff's criticisms were less strident, but no less misplaced. He used an apt analogy for the deal: a cop yelling at a perp to "freeze." Only he misinterpreted how the analogy played out in Geneva: "[T]he culprit wasn’t being told to 'keep moving, just more slowly,'" Satloff writes.
This was the premise of his entire piece: that Iran hasn't been made to stop progress on its nuclear program. It's understandable that he thought so, because he didn't apparently understand the Geneva deal: the initial version that went up online contained several factual errors. I wrote a polite note to the editors outlining the errors. A few hours later, the piece was updated, but only one of the errors was corrected; the text of the other two were simply altered to, in one case, fix the error and, in the other, to dismiss it by sleight of hand. These latter two updates, though they changed the meaning of Satloff's text, were only noted with a sentence after the correction that said, "This piece has also been updated for clarity." (I've published online my e-mail to TNR editors and a comparison of the original statements versus new versions.)
Quote of the day:
- Horizon 2020 crisis: Israel and EU compromise on terms of joint initiative, following rift over settlement funding ban - Livni and Ashton draft agreement following day-long marathon telephone negotiations. EU agrees to give loans to companies that work with people and businesses over the Green Line, but Israel will have to insure money is invested solely within Green Line. (Haaretz+ and Ynet)
- Israel faces new power in West Bank: Growing Salafist group with Al-Qaida leanings - Rise in popularity attributed to the increased activity of factions with similar ideology in Egypt's Sinai and the Syrian civil war. (Haaretz+)
- Palestinian workers crowding West Bank buses, right-wing activists complain - Pro-settlement protests target two of the most right-wing Likud MKs - Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz and his deputy, Tzipi Hotovely. (Haaretz+)
- Financial straits: 20% of Israelis can't afford food - Study findings reveal despair among many layers of society. Rabbi: 'Poverty in Israel a strategic threat on our existence.' (Ynet)
- Report: Mossad spy ring uncovered in Egypt - Kuwait's Al-Rai newspaper says 17 people implicated in espionage for Israel have been detained by Egyptian security forces. Report alleges some of the suspects are diplomats. Cairo sources say case has been placed under a comprehensive gag order. (Israel Hayom)
- Israel's ex-security chiefs stand with the international community on Iran deal - The dilemma facing Israel is whether to continue to clash publicly with the U.S. or try to rehabilitate relations, influence the quality of supervision at the nuclear sites, and help craft a final agreement. (Haaretz+)
Israeli cultural icon singer-songwriter Arik Einstein (74) died late Tuesday after being hospitalized in critical condition with an aortic aneurysm. Speaking on Israeli Army Radio soon after the announcement of his death, friends recalled speaking with Einstein on Monday and noted that he had not been ill and had in fact been good spirits; it had just been announced that the typically media-shy singer was to begin writing a weekly column for Israeli daily Ma’ariv.
Arik Einstein on the cover of Prague, his 1969 album (YouTube screenshot)
It’s hard to explain to Americans, even those familiar with his work, who Arik Einstein is (was, how can it be that I’m writing in the past tense?) in Israeli culture. He was McCartney, he was Dylan, he was Springsteen, all rolled into one, with a singular voice that immediately wrapped the listener in its warmth. No Israeli artist has been untouched by Einstein’s work; every Israeli has a favorite Einstein song; it almost impossible to imagine an Israel without him.
Earlier this month, Hillel president and CEO Eric Fingerhut and AIPAC’s leadership development director Jonathan Kessler wrote about the need for effective Israel advocacy on college campuses in response to “hostile environments.” But their failure to mention the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or the ongoing negotiations to resolve it was conspicuous. Campus environments that are hostile towards Israel do not exist in a vacuum. With negotiations ongoing, real support for Israel must include building an American constituency ready and willing to support U.S. leaders in holding both parties accountable to the necessary and difficult compromises.
Israel’s problem is not a lack of hasbara; rather it is the lingering conflict itself that is endangering its Jewish and democratic future. Effectively countering critics of Israel means offering not just advocacy tools and high-level speakers, but addressing the underlying concern of many progressive student leaders: the need for serious leadership to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Participants applaud in a plenary session of the J Street national conference on September 28, 2013 in Washington, D.C. (J Street)
AIPAC’s policies state that it “strongly supports a two-state solution” brought about by direct talks between the Israelis and Palestinians. Likewise, Hillel International’s Israel Guidelines also state its commitment to “Israel as a Jewish and democratic state with secure and recognized borders.” Many campus-level guidelines explicitly support the two-state solution.
Early Sunday morning, the real details of the U.S.-Iranian negotiations came to light. It is cloak-and-dagger stuff: American and Iranian delegations have, for the last year, been meeting in Oman under the auspices of Sultan Qaboos, the country's aging, understated leader. The negotiations were heavily compartmentalized, the teams hand-picked, the stakes high.
At first blush, this is a triumph of backroom diplomacy, a deft escape from the influence of clients who have sought to undermine rapprochement. It was with fawning adoration that the New York Times ran the story on Monday: “Nuclear Accord With Iran Opens Diplomatic Doors in the Mideast.” It was with predictable disdain that the Weekly Standard published a piece by John Bolton accusing the administration of “Abject Surrender.”
A picture obtained from Iran's ISNA news agency shows Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (C) arriving at Tehran's Mehrabad Airport after talks in Geneva in which world powers reached an agreement with Iran over its nuclear programme on November 24, 2013. (ARASH KHAMOOSHI / AFP / Getty Images)
What this is, really, is a triumph of narrative engineering. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif's so-called “historic tweet” set the tone for the applause that followed: “We have reached an agreement” — this is a message that is conclusive by virtue only of concision. There is certainly no room in Twitter's 140 characters for the cavalcade of caveats that trail the so-called “agreement.”
Quote of the day:
"The government does not like Israel, but the people don't care. They just want to live well."
--S., a religious Jewish Iranian young woman who recently immigrated to Israel and joined the Israeli army.
- From the streets of Iran to the Israeli Border Police
Until one and a half years ago, S., 23, lived with her religious Jewish family in Iran and dreamed of immigrating to Israel. She followed her dream, left behind her family with the help of the Jewish Agency, and today she finished basic training and will be certified as a Border Police fighter. Her family does not want to immigrate, she says. "We talk by phone and internet. I hope in the future they will come here, too. I miss them very much."
- Israel-EU rift deepening after talks over settlement funding ban hit impasse - EU representative rejects Israel's conditions concerning European funding for institutions operating beyond the Green Line; Horizon 2020 joint project in question. (Haaretz+)
- Twins born in Bethlehem from smuggled sperm of prisoner - For the first time in Bethlehem, the wife of a Palestinian prisoner delivered two healthy twins after successful fertilization using sperm smuggled from her jailed husband, Ahmad al-Mughrabi from Duheisha refugee camp. (Maan)
- Battle of religions over King David's Tomb - The holy compound, which attracts thousands of believers, turned into focus of conflict between Christians and Jews. At Dormition Abbey next door they say the (Jewish) worshippers spit on the priests and curse them. The Jews claim: The Christians remove our mezuzahs and throw prayer books. (Maariv, p. 1)
- Shin Bet considering including film "Bethlehem" in training courses - The film, which depicts the relationship between a Shin Bet agent and his 'source,' gets much praise from the Shin Bet. A new initiative seeks to use the film as an illustration of its activities. (Maariv back page/NRG Hebrew)
- Norway: "We will stop calling for the boycott of Israel" - New Foreign Minister Borge Brende: "A minister who proposes boycotting Israel will not be a cabinet member for long." (Maariv, p. 6/NRG Hebrew)
- Joint Israeli-Jordanian Employment Park to be established in Jordan Valley - Ministerial Committee on Development of the Negev and Galilee approved Monday establishment of the park where Jordanians and Israelis will work together. Construction cost: 120 million shekels. (NRG Hebrew)
- Apple confirms acquisition of Israeli 3D sensing company PrimeSense - PrimeSense is best known for its advanced body-movement tracking technology originally used for the Xbox 360, a popular gaming device. (Haaretz)
Almost a year to the date of one historic U.N. General Assembly vote, the Palestinians took another small step toward a recognized place in the international community.
On November 18, Palestine’s U.N. delegation cast a vote for the first time as a non-member observer state. One year ago, the General Assembly voted to upgrade the Palestinians’ “entity” status, much to the chagrin of the U.S. and Israel.
Riyad Mansour (right), the Palestine Observer Mission's Ambassador to the United Nations, speaks at a press conference on November 27, 2012 at UN headquarters. (Stan Honda / AFP / Getty Images)
“It's a symbolic [step]," the chief Palestinian U.N. observer, Ambassador Riyad Mansour told reporters after the vote last week. “But it is an important one because it reflects that the international community, particularly the General Assembly, is hungry and waiting for the state of Palestine to become a full member of the United Nations.”
Look, I’m going to say something shocking: I’m a J Street supporter.
I know, you didn’t see that coming. But I’ll also let you in on a secret: I don’t always agree with every single utterance that emerges from J Street’s offices, or from J Street president Jeremy Ben-Ami, or the Twitter accounts of its various employees. As, I presume, they do not always agree with me. People are funny that way.
And having gotten that out of the way: What is up with Jeffrey Goldberg?
As news of an interim U.S.-Iran deal broke on Saturday night, a J Street employee retweeted (from his personal account) a tweet from Zbigniew Brzezinski, which read: “Obama/Kerry = best policy team since Bush I/Jim Baker. Congress is finally becoming embarrassed by Netanyahu’s efforts to dictate US policy.”
A J Street Conference in September 2013 (J Street)
Now. One could argue about the relative qualities of the two policy teams in question. One could argue with the premise that Congress is “finally becoming embarrassed” by anything. One could even argue as to whether or not Israel’s Prime Minister has tried to “dictate” U.S. policy, but given the multitudinous times that Benjamin Netanyahu has done things like a) stood before Congress and said point-blank that his country would reject stated U.S. foreign policy on Israeli-Palestinian negotiations; b) endorsed a Presidential candidate; c) sent a senior cabinet minister to lobby Congress against President Obama’s efforts with Iran; and d) said things like “I know what America is. America is a thing you can move very easily”―I think we can all agree that he has certainly tried to shape American policy. I would go so far as to say that he probably wishes he could dictate policy (as I suspect many leaders wish they could do to other countries: “Trade sanctions? These are not the trade sanctions you’re looking for.”
On Friday, November 15, I put on my favorite Palestinian-themed T-shirt and shimmied over to the Ritz Theatre in Elizabeth, New Jersey to witness Mohammed Assaf perform live. I first stumbled upon Assaf, dubbed the Rocket of Gaza, six months ago while watching clips of bad auditions for the second season of MBC's Arab Idol. Out of the mess of hair gel and heinous voices, Assaf shined. I was mesmerized. He had that “it” factor. I never imagined that less than a year later this boy, who had to beg and bribe his way out of Gaza, would be sitting next to me in the greenroom backstage at the 2,800-seat show he was headlining in the USA.
Mohammed Assaf’s meteoric rise to stardom reads like a movie script. Against all odds, the wedding singer from Gaza captured the world’s attention with his incredible voice and his swoon-inducing smile. On June 23, 2013, Assaf was crowned Arab Idol live on MBC. His winning moment was watched by millions around the world on jumbo-trons in Ramallah, Nazareth, Gaza City and on bar TVs, satellite feeds, and laptop screens throughout the world from London to Santiago to Hollywood. A star was born.
Maysoon Zayid stands with Arab Idol winner Mohammed Assaf before his concert at the Ritz. (Maysoon Zayid)
It’s a good thing we’re all experts on the ins and outs of nuclear weaponization, uranium enrichment, plutonium rods and heavy water reactors—otherwise we might become dangerously confused by the radically contradictory assessments of the P5+1 Geneva deal with Iran. Here’s a quick guide to help you sort out the finer points.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (second left) shakes hands with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry next to Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (far left) and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius (far right) after a statement on early November 24, 2013 in Geneva. (Fabrice Coffrini / AFP / Getty Images)
2. Enrichment: Can they or can’t they?
So, did the deal recognize Iran’s right to enrich uranium? Yep, according to Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. Nope, according to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
Is the Obama administration a bunch of anti-Semites? Yes, it seems. At least that's what a right-wing writer at the prominent Jewish web publication Tablet seems to think. Lee Smith, a neoconservative columnist for the site, wrote this week that efforts by the Obama administration to warn that new sanctions against Iran could lead to war amounted to anti-Semitic attacks. Why? Because Israel and some of its Jewish supporters in the U.S. opposed such a deal.
The U.S. says if there's no deal, then Iran's program will continue unabated, which could lead to war. Then the Israelis—who have not infrequently been wrong about Middle East WMD programs—said the contours of the reported interim deal proposals would give Iran $40 billion in sanctions relief, which Israel rejects as too high. Or was it $20 billion? The Israelis couldn't keep their stories straight. When the Obama administration pushed back on the Israeli estimates (they say it's around $6 billion), Sen. Mark Kirk lambasted them: he told supporters that Israel's ambassador to the U.S., a right-winger named Ron Dermer, had given him (Kirk) the goods! To Lee Smith, this meant "Sec. of State John Kerry effectively called the Israelis liars."
Bob Kunst protests against a nuclear Iran in front of the White House where Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is visiting on March 5, 2012 in Washington, DC. (Mark Wilson / Getty Images)
So what does Lee Smith conclude? That the Obama administration is "trafficking in stereotypes about Jewish deceptiveness and appetite for blood." That's a stunning accusation.
One year ago, Bashar al-Assad was a pariah in the international community. A political solution to the Syrian crisis that included his government seemed inconceivable, at least to the Western world. Nor could one imagine any international body or head of government sparing a positive word for him and his regime—except for the leaders of Russia and Iran.
Recently, however, Assad has been publicly praised by no less than John Kerry. The UN's Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), has had some kind words for him as well. And now it seems that the U.S. has joined Russia in pressuring the rebels to participate in future talks, in which the balance of power will likely be skewed in favor of the regime (although The Hague has recently ruled out a participatory role for Assad himself.)
A convoy of United Nations (UN) vehicles leave a hotel in Damascus on August 26, 2013 carrying UN inspectors travelling to the site of a suspected deadly chemical weapon attack the previous week in Ghouta, east of the capital. (STR / AFP / Getty Images)
In short, Assad's international standing has improved. And the sad truth is he has reached this point not despite his having used chemical weapons against the Syrian people, but precisely because he did use them.
Over the past several days, two men with impeccable security credentials have said polar opposite things about Israel’s negotiations with the Palestinians.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a special Knesset (Israeli parliament) session to swear in Avigdor Lieberman as Israel's foreign minister on November 11, 2013 in Jerusalem, Israel. (Photo by Uriel Sinai / Getty Images)
+972 Magazine reported on Monday that Israeli Defense Minister and former IDF Chief of Staff Moshe Ya’alon told a Tel Aviv audience that “When there is a peace process, the Israeli issue comes up in the Palestinian media at the level of de-legitimization and hatred…. Our victims are victims of the diplomatic process. And when we stand firm and do not look like we are about to give up, that’s when we receive quiet.”
It’s OK for the American Studies Association to judge the country with a double standard. Denying the legitimacy of a democratic Jewish state is another story.