Who lost Salam Fayyad? The resignation-dismissal of the respected Palestinian Prime Minister has provoked plenty of finger-pointing. Every Mideast pundit has a favored Western villain: it was intransigent Israel’s fault; overly-Zionist Congress is to blame; evil Bibi Netanyahu did him in; weak President Obama hung him out to dry; it was those obstacle-to-peace settlers. The New York Times’ Thomas Friedman, in fact, couldn’t choose just one—he accused all of the above in his April 24 column.
Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad (R) tastes olive-based products during the annual Olive Harvest Festival in the Palestinian West Bank town of Bethlehem on November 3, 2012. (Musa Al-Shaer / AFP / Getty Images)
Such analyses are themselves evidence of a fundamental problem with Fayyad’s tenure: popular as he was in international aid circles and New York Times (and Daily Beast) op-eds—and even among Israelis—Fayyad had no democratic Palestinian constituency to speak of. (Friedman, at least, added other Arab leaders to his hall of blame.) Furthermore, Fayyad’s foreign fan club, seldom holding the Palestinians themselves responsible for anything, did little to coax the populace toward his camp.
Archie Bunker once said of then-President Gerald Ford, “He’s doing a great job for a guy nobody voted for.” However well Fayyad did, his “emergency” prime minister appointment was never ratified by the legislature or the voters.
Last week Gideon Levy joined (or perhaps just made more explicit his part in) the small but growing group of Israelis and Palestinians who call for a one-state solution to the conflict. Levy argued that a single state is, for all intents and purposes, already here, but it just lacks basic elements of justice and rights for all. He’s certainly right that the effort to extend Israeli sovereignty over much of the West Bank has been proceeding apace. But while I share his concern about justice and rights, and agree that the occupation is undermining both, the argument that a single state will resolve all these problems seems naïve at best, a recipe for more violence at worst.
A general view shot on January 26, 2011 shows the building of Israel's leading Haaretz newspaper in Tel Aviv. (Jack Guez / AFP / Getty Images)
Levy echoes Yousef Munayyer’s use of Theodor Herzl’s “if you will it, it is no dream” statement to demonstrate that the dream of a Zionist state was all but impossible at the end of the nineteenth century. The implication of both is that the dream has been corrupted, and therefore it is time for a new dream of a shared Jewish-Palestinian entity.
My response to Munayyer’s piece applies just as well to Levy. But Levy does admit that his “fantasy” is no short-term panacea. It will, he says, “be achieved through a long, difficult and complex process of liberation from old beliefs and values that were destructive for both nations. It will also require the overcoming of deep fears that are no less destructive, and drawing a line under the past.” He’s certainly right about the obstacles standing in the way of such a daydream. So let me add two more counter-points regarding the sheer mechanics of implementing a single state.
Senator Barbara Boxer needs to take a seat—just not the one she's currently abusing on Capitol Hill. The senator from California completely lost the plot when she introduced a new bill, Senate Bill 462, the U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2013, which would codify Israel's ability to discriminate against Palestinian Americans and those who love them. I’m constantly hearing that Congress can’t accomplish anything because of bipartisan bickering. Well, Barbara found something they could agree on: bigotry. She got nine Republicans to cosponsor the bill with her Democrat self.
Members of Congress rarely read the bills they vote on, so I don’t expect you to. Let me give you the skinny on Sen. Bill 462, introduced by Boxer and friends. The U.S. has a deal with several countries that allows their citizens and ours to enter into each other’s territories without having to go through the hassle of obtaining a pesky visa. Thirty-seven countries enjoy this privilege, and Israel is itching to be lucky number thirty-eight. There's a teeny problem though: the Israeli government is not fond of American citizens of certain faiths, ethnicities, and political ideologies. Israel would like to enjoy the luxury of having its citizens come to America willy-nilly, while maintaining the ability to reject American tourists based on which fairy tale they choose to follow.
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) speaks during a news conference (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)
Enter Senator Boxer. Her bill seeks to amend the Immigration and Nationality Act by adding the following: “has made every reasonable effort without jeopardizing the security of the state of Israel to ensure that reciprocal travel privileges are extended to all United States citizens.” That’s government-speak for: everyone but Israel has to let all of our citizens in, but Israel can do as it pleases, in the name of “security.” Remember, the United States would not receive the same privilege. If a crazy armed settler wanted to visit Disney World, he would be welcome to do so under the Visa Waiver Program, as long as he left his M-16 at home.
The Anti-Defamation League turned 100 this week. Renowned for its early anti-racism efforts, the group can, and should, boast of its role in American Jewry's unabashed and unqualified rise into the nation's establishment. There's still, to be sure, remnants of American anti-Semitism; those strains of thought are worthy of a wary eye and vigilant marginalization. The ADL, with its vaunted anti-racist history, ought to be at the forefront of this work. But it just can't be taken seriously in this task with Abraham Foxman at its helm, not when he uses the occasion of the group's centennial to rationalize discrimination, that against Muslims. A man with this record—and it's a growing record—can't be responsible for fighting anti-Semitism as part and parcel of "all forms of bigotry," as the ADL claims it does.
Italy's prime minister Silvio Berlusconi (R) shakes hands with Anti-Defamation League director Abraham Foxman, during their meeting at the Chigi palace in Rome on November 4, 2010. (Alberto Pizzoli / AFP / Getty Images)
Foxman's seeming tonedeafness to any group other than his co-religionists was on full display in a recent interview with Haaretz. Asked about Israel's occupation of Palestinian lands, he said, "If there is a clear violation of human rights, we will speak out." Then immediately queried about one such violation—the disenfranchisement of millions of Palestinians under Israeli military rule—he replied, "That’s not our decision to make," passing the buck to the Israeli government. In other departments, Foxman pointed to Latinos and American blacks as lingering bastions of anti-Semitism; of the latter, he said, "The only leadership that now exists in that community is Louis Farrakhan." Leave aside that Farrakhan is fingered as American blacks' only leader, what astounds is that, by his own lights, Farrakhan can only put 20,000 people in the street. Yet, according to Foxman, fully one third of Americans blame Jews for Jesus's death—a well-worn anti-Semitic trope. That doesn't sound like a black problem or a Latino problem, but a Christian problem. Yet, as a group, Christians go unmentioned in the interview.
The most staggering ambivalence about bigotry in Foxman's Haaretz interview, though, wasn't about Christians or even Palestinians; it was about American Muslims. Asked by his interviewer, Chemi Shalev, about anti-Muslim discimination, Foxman sought to rationalize it. First, he argued that incidents of anti-Semitism occur more frequently than those related to anti-Muslim bigotry, as if tracking bigotry is a game in which scores are kept. But then Foxman digs deeper. The shameful exchange is worth printing in full (with my emphasis):
Shalev: You don’t think that “Muslim-baiting” is much more acceptable in the mainstream media than, say, “Jew-baiting”? There is a Congressman now who is calling for the authorities to keep track of the entire Muslim community.
Foxman: I don’t think that’s Muslim-baiting. It’s a natural response. It may be wise or unwise. But I think America’s got an issue now, and not only America. You look at France, you look at London, you look at Amsterdam—most of these incidents have come from Muslim communities that have been brought in and are not assimilating. Just like after 9/11, America is now questioning where the balance is between security and freedom of expression: Should we follow the ethnic communities? Should we be monitoring mosques? This isn’t Muslim-baiting—it’s driven by fear, by a desire for safety and security.
“Recalling how many of you were against me last year, I’m getting scared,” Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert joked at the beginning of his address to yesterday’s second annual Jerusalem Post Conference in New York. It was a funny start to a quasi-comic performance in which Olmert, alternately jokey and defensive, acted almost like a medieval court jester, silly antics serving as a mask for serious political critique. And Olmert had good reason to be “scared” of his audience: they expressed displeasure with nearly everything he said, from calling on Israel to reduce its security budget to insisting on the need for a Palestinian state.
Olmert began by promising that “I will do what I always do when speaking to you: I will not criticize the Israeli government. One of the ministers sitting here told me that it’s not appropriate to criticize Israel overseas.” The crowd missed the irony in his tone and applauded this statement wholeheartedly. “However,” Olmert continued, causing the audience members to laugh before falling back into a mistrustful silence, “I want to share with you some of my thoughts and perceptions.”
Dan Balilty / AP Photo
Perhaps the most controversial perception was Olmert’s idea that Israel can now afford to shift its priorities—to dramatically reduce the security budget and dramatically increase the education and welfare budget—because “the strategic situation of the state of Israel is perhaps better than it has been in many, many years, and there is not a serious strategic danger to the wellbeing of the state of Israel.” This statement contrasted sharply with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s rhetoric—clearly more to the audience’s taste—which often emphasizes the existential dangers facing Israel. Speaking over the loud heckling now emanating from the crowd (“That’s insane!” shouted the woman behind me), Olmert insisted that in the next 5-10 years Israel can rest relatively easy. “There is not any other country at this point which threatens the existence of the state of Israel and which can carry on a ground and air war similar to what we had to deal with in the past,” he said, citing Jordan’s stable relations with Israel and Egypt’s helpfulness in brokering the recent Israel-Hamas ceasefire. He admitted that “Syria is a major problem,” but pointed out that whoever will take over after Bashar al-Assad is overthrown “will not be able to take charge of Syria overnight to the degree that they will then be able to look at Israel and express their discontent.”
"I think that is a twisted use of the Holocaust. Like frightening us with all kinds of Iranian threats, or by warning that a million Africans will invade Israel − this is actually a primitive method to keep the masses of the people of Israel in a state of constant fear."
--Prof. Raphi Walden, co-chairperson of Physicians for Human Rights, on why the Jewish people stopped caring about the Other.
- Law blocking Israel's enemies from suing the state gets government backing - The draft legislation preventing citizens of enemy nations from suing Israel was inspired by the case of Mustafa Dirani, a Lebanese man who sued the state from jail. (Haaretz+)
- Yachimovich: We lost four mandates because I didn't deal with the diplomatic issues - In a meeting with Labor party activists, the party's chief said for the first time: "We lost two mandates to Meretz and two to Hatnua from left-wingers to whom a peace agreement was important to them...It turns out that unlike Lapid, we don't have the privilege of not speaking a word about the issue." (Maariv, p. 8/NRG Hebrew)
- MK Stern defends drafting gunman who killed 4 Arabs in shooting spree - Rejects argument by Eden Natan-Zada’s parents that their son, who killed four Arabs in Shfaram and was beaten to death by a crowd, should have been released from service because of his extremist views. Says army service is often 'moderating factor' on extremists. (Haaretz+)
- Sephardi chief rabbi blames 'devil' for plan to enlist ultra-Orthodox - Rabbi Shlomo Amar says the devil has prompted people jealous of Torah study to fight against it. (Haaretz+ and Ynet)
- Palestinian detainee escapes, unnoticed by Border Guard officers - Infiltrator arrested for illegal residency escapes from transport en route to prison, as Border Guard officers don’t notice; man is still missing, not considered dangerous. (Ynet)
- French court: Jerusalem rail does not violate international law - Dismisses claim that French firms violated human rights by helping to build the rail system running through East Jerusalem. (Haaretz)
- Defected Syrian general claims he was ordered to use chemical weapons - Former Assad army general asserts he used harmless substance instead; statement aired on an anti-Assad TV channel, raising questions over veracity of claims; Syrian rebels claim Assad used chemical weapons near Damascus last week. (Agencies, Haaretz)
For the full News from Israel.
Something about the third week of April brings tragedy and bloodshed into American history: Waco, Oklahoma City, Columbine, Virginia Tech. Now Boston and West, Texas, are added to the list. The United States has too many memorials to remember in this short span. But the 2013 version of this week will prove important to reflect upon. Between the news of Boston and Texas came news out of Washington: the Senate failed to pass legislation that would expand background checks for gun sales, which would have been the simplest, least controversial legislative action they could have taken in response to an ongoing national debate set off after the Newtown, CT, shootings.
What do mass shootings, acts of terrorism and workplace accidents have in common? All of them pose fundamental challenges to the security and wellbeing of the citizenry, and all of them demand a government response. Yet despite the fact that all three of these events can result in carnage and destruction, the policy discourse and media coverage of each varies in the aftermath, and does not neatly correspond with the severity of the threat posed.
A group of people console one another at a candlelight vigil held at Boston Common in Boston, Massachusetts on April 16, 2013. (Matthew Healey/UPI, via Landov)
In 2011, more than 4,600 people died in American workplace accidents – that’s 13 a day. Since the rampage at Newtown, nearly 4,000 people have been killed in gun violence or roughly 30 a day. In the five year span from 2007 to 2011, 93 Americans have died due to terrorism in the United States – that’s about .05 people a day. Americans remain more likely to be killed by having their furniture fall on them, choking on their own vomit, or being stung by bees than at the hands of terrorists.
But the national conversations after each of these events are remarkably different. Certainly with every discussion of increased government action in society for the sake of protecting Americans a balance must be struck between liberty and security. Where that balance seems to lie on each of these issues varies, and not in a way that makes sense given the threats they pose.
When it became clear last December that he was about to be indicted on corruption charges, Avigdor Leiberman resigned as Israel’s Foreign Minister. He did not quite resign from wielding influence, however. Indeed, having since held elections and formed a new government, Prime Minister Netanyahu is essentially retaining the Foreign Ministry for its former occupant, at least until the trial is completed; Lieberman himself is expected to testify in two weeks. In the meantime, the Foreign Ministry essentially stands bereft.
Mind you, Netanyahu did name a Deputy Foreign Minister: the ultra right-wing Ze’ev Elkin, an MK with no diplomatic credentials who boasts a strikingly anti-democratic voting record, and who said this past January that
We will try to apply sovereignty over the maximum [of the West Bank] that we can at any given moment. It will take time to change people’s awareness but in the end this will penetrate. And then, what seems today like a fairy tale will eventually become political reality, and the reality on the ground.
So the Foreign Ministry does have the anti-democratic, fairy tale guy (who, coincidentally, doesn’t speak English) at its disposal; Elkin met with the Foreign Minister of Azerbaijan just the other day.
And there’s also Yuval Steinitz. Steinitz currently holds the “International Affairs” portfolio, and may be given the real Foreign Relations post if Lieberman is convicted. According to veteran Israeli political scientist and commentator Shlomo Avineri, Steinitz’s office is “a kind of second Foreign Ministry, but without the staff or the means,” and though many visiting diplomats have been referred to him,
The Israeli Finance Ministry’s new budget proposal states, among other things, that ultra-Orthodox schools will need to dedicate at least 55 percent of school hours to teaching the Ministry’s core curriculum if they wish to receive any state funds.
July 30, 2012 Jerusalem, Israel A boy looks on as tens of thousands of Ultra Orthodox Jews attend a celebration marking completion of a seven-and a-half year daily study-cycle of the entire Talmud (Uriel Sinai / Getty Images)
Though there are many serious, substantive problems in Israeli education that necessitate reform, and not all of them will be remedied by this new proposal, the bill does plan to address one fundamental problem facing the future of a democratic Israeli citizenry: civic education.
This past summer I traveled to Israel to learn more about how they teach civic education. I wanted to understand if and how the Israeli government fosters a sense of civic solidarity amongst Israelis who are divided into sometimes quite distinct public schools. Public schools, from a Durkheimian sociological perspective, are institutions meant to cultivate citizens—individuals with a shared understanding of norms, values and expectations of their society.
Yesterday's news that the U.S. had evidence of chemical weapons "exposure"—not necessarily "use," as Max Fisher astutely noted—means that America might be at war in Syria sooner rather than later. That's because Barack Obama previously warned Bashar Al Assad's embattled regime "that the use of chemical weapons is a game changer." Some seventy-thousand Syrians have already reportedly perished in Syria's brutal civil war, many at the hands of the tyrant Assad. So the question becomes: why do chemical weapons change the game? Not without irony, the answer "has nothing to do with the future of Syria," points out Jeffrey Lewis at Arms Control Wonk. "We have a stake in strengthening the norm against chemical weapons use. If Assad is using chemical weapons to hold on to power, we have an interest in ensuring that his government falls and that the responsible regime figures take their turn at the Hague." That doesn't mean you rush in. "Once we go in, the gloves are off," Lewis warns. Experts from the Arms Control Association echoed that sentiment: "Such an intervention would not necessarily prevent further use of chemical weapons. In fact, it could increase the chances that Assad will follow through on his threat to use chemical weapons more broadly or cause the military conflict to spread into neighboring countries."
In this Friday, Dec. 07, 2012 photo, damaged buildings are seen along a desolate street on the front line after several weeks of intense battles between rebel fighters and troops loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the Amarya district of Aleppo, Syria. (Narciso Contreras/AP)
The most striking thing about intervening to uphold an international norm is that slaughtering tens of thousands of civilians seems just as good a reason for Assad to be out of power and in the clutches of international justice. This, then, might be less about the lofty goals of removing a murderous dictator and sparing civilian lives, and more about Obama adhering to a "red line" that he's drawn in the sand. Just hear out Obama's former Democratic Senate colleague Dick Durbin: “From what I’ve heard our intelligence indicated with some degree of certainty that [Obama's red line] has been crossed,” Durbin told Politico. “That’s up to the commander in chief, but something has to be done.” One of the most important Democratic national security voices, Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein, pressed just as hard: “It is clear that ‘red lines’ have been crossed and action must be taken to prevent larger scale use,” she said. "The world must come together to prevent this by unified action which results in the secure containment of Syria’s significant stockpile of chemical weapons.” Others, like the former Clinton National Security Council official Jim Lindsey, have noted that for Obama to not follow through on his "red line" could "make it harder to deal not just with Syria but with Iran and North Korea. Tough talk and inaction seldom yield good results." It's notable—and new—that all this pressure is coming from Democrats and their associates; many of the Republicans who've been clamoring for direct U.S. involvement in Syria for the better part of the civil war have been even more forceful.
This revelation of the American assessment came after France and the United Kingdom raised the possibility of the weapons' use in private letters to the U.N., and a public announcement by Israel this weekend that it too had evidence of chemical weapons use. Piggy-backing on the international moves, the Obama administration began pushing for a thorough U.N. investigation, perhaps laying the groundwork for a U.N. Security Council resolution. Feinstein explicitly called for one in her remarks, specifically demanding Russia's accession. But the Russians, Assad's top international backers, look unlikely to budge. That could mean a unilateral intervention, or maybe a so-called coalition of the willing: "[I]f the U.S.A. implements a no-fly zone it would almost certainly do so without the support of the Security Council as Russia would almost certainly veto such a measure," U.N. Dispatch's Mark Leon Goldberg wrote. "We saw what happened the last time the U.S.A. fought a war in the Middle East without solid international backing." The Iraq reminder is a useful one, particularly because the U.S. must be damned sure what went on in Syria before directly entering the conflict. Though, as Spencer Ackerman and Noah Shachtman reported, the evidence of a sarin gas attempt would be difficult to fake, the U.S. seems unsure of exactly where and when the evidence comes from, as well as it's chain of custody. Lewis suggested that, before taking action, the U.S. ought to know definitively that there was a chemical attack and that it was carried out by Assad's forces.
"Death to Arabs...Go away."
--Graffiti written on door of apartment rented by young Arabs in Tel-Aviv.
- Racism in Tel Aviv: 'Death to Arabs' on apartment door - Unknown assailants break into apartment inhabited by Arab youngsters, spray-paint 'death Arabs' and 'go away'. Police launch an investigation. (Ynet)
- '3 children detained' by Israeli police in Issawiya, E. Jerusalem - Israeli police detained three children, aged 13, on Thursday morning during a raid in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Issawiyeh. Issawiya is the hometown of Samer Issawi, who ended a 266-day hunger strike on Wednesday after Israel agreed to release him in eight months. (Maan)
- Locals say Israeli tanks, bulldozers enter Gaza - Eight bulldozers were accompanied by tanks, entering approximately 100 meters into farming land east of Khan Younis, witnesses said. On Wednesday, witnesses reported a similar incident east of Beit Hanoun. At the time, an Israeli army spokeswoman said there was "routine activity adjacent to the security fence," without providing further details. (Maan)
- Jerusalem agrees to honor Prof. Yeshayhu Leibowitz after years of strife - Rightists and ultra-Orthodox city council members have repeatedly protested against naming of street after renowned Israeli Orthodox philosopher who spoke out against the occupation, settlements and the IDF. (Haaretz+ and NRG Hebrew)
- Ultra-orthodox group: Resist draft with all your soul - They are not waiting for Military Police to arrest deserters – an emergency guide being distributed over past few days within haredi communities, yeshivas, reflects resistance planned for upcoming drafts; includes story about 93 Krakow girls who committed suicide. (Ynet)
- Fatwa council approves artificial insemination for prisoners' wives - The Palestinian Supreme Fatwa Council on Wednesday approved artificial insemination for the wives of Palestinians in Israeli jails. The Razan Medical Center for Infertility, which has clinics in Ramallah and Nablus, has offered free insemination treatment to the wives of political prisoners who manage to smuggle sperm out of Israeli jails. (Maan)
- U.S. denies plan to convene 4-way Mideast summit in June - Despite denials, well-placed U.S. sources insist that a four-way summit heralding the launch of renewed talks between Israel and the Palestinians had been discussed with Mideast leaders and foreign ministers. (Haaretz)
For the full News from Israel.
When Yair Lapid surprised pundits by leading his new party to a second place finish in Israel’s parliamentary elections three months ago, it gave hope to those looking for a real alternative to Benjamin Netanyahu, Naftali Bennett, and other right wing politicians. Perhaps, some speculated, Lapid could even claim the Foreign Ministry and revive the ailing peace process. That outcome wasn’t in the cards—Lapid’s Yesh Atid party did well, but Netanyahu’s Likud-Beitenu did better—and with limited ambitions in his first election, Lapid invested all his political capital in domestic affairs rather than diplomatic issues.
Though Lapid’s potential as a force for peace will not be realized in this Knesset, it may well be in the next. Indeed, the prospects for peace in the next government will hinge on Lapid’s ability—or inability—to prove to the Israeli people that he is the right person to lead the country.
Israeli actor, journalist and author Yair Lapid, who heads the new Yesh Atid political party, delivers a speech in the Ariel University in the West Bank Israeli settlement of Ariel on October 30, 2012. (Jack Guez / AFP / Getty Images)
The next election may not be that far off. Few people expect this uncomfortable coalition to last; odds are that one crisis or another will lead it to dissolve in the next two years. The region is in flux, the ultra-Orthodox are unhappy, and Netanyahu knows that his coalition “partners” Lapid and Bennett are both waiting for the right moment unseat him. They all see it as a temporary arrangement focused on domestic affairs until a more definitive election determines the 20th Knesset.
With regards to Lapid and the peace process, there are four possible outcomes.
The Australian Jewish community has traditionally been a very strong supporter of Israel. The support has been mostly dominated by the political Right, despite (or perhaps because of) the great physical distance that separates the two countries. But there may be changes in the wind, as we see a combination of converging factors.
To explain the situation, we must first understand some history and context of the unique Australian Jewish community.
Supporters of Shahar Peer of Israel display the country's flag during her women's singles first round match against Isabella Holland of Australia on day two of the 2012 Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 17, 2012. (Findlay Kember / AFP / Getty Images)
While Jews arrived in Australia with the First Fleet in 1788, the roots of the community were established in the immigration wave in the late nineteenth century and then with a huge post-Holocaust immigration surge of some 30,000 people—which doubled the population. Even now, over 30% of the Jewish community are either Holocaust survivors or their descendants. But why Australia? Two reasons: First, our government welcomed European immigrants of all ethnicities—Jews, Greeks, Italians and many more. Second, many Holocaust survivors were quite comfortable with the idea of getting as far away from Europe as possible.
It’s been several weeks since Yair Lapid took his recently-established Yesh Atid party into the government coalition. Lapid’s success at winning 19 seats while its rival for the center, Kadima, was devastated and its main challenger from the right, Likud-Beiteinu, dropped 12 seats seemed to make of him a boy wonder who could change Israeli politics. Reports of him in both the Israeli and American press commented on his grand achievement, and much of that sense of accomplishment has continued since then.
Israeli politician Yair Lapid (L), leader of the Yesh Atid party, speaks to Naftali Bennett, head of the Israeli hardline national religious party the Jewish Home during a reception marking the opening of the 19th Knesset on February 5, 2013. (Uriel Sinai / Getty Images)
Five weeks isn’t a lot of time by which to judge a new politician, but if we want to get a sense of how he’ll do in the near future, it might be useful to track what Lapid has done thus far. And by the standards and expectations he set out after the election through his rhetoric and actions, he’s done a really great job.
Despite some early hopes that Lapid would be a savior of the peace process, others quickly pointed out that his alliance with Naftali Bennett and Jewish Home would stifle his otherwise-important declaration that peace with the Palestinians, through real negotiations, was critically necessary. By that standard, Lapid’s stuck to the expectations he generated.
As if you needed another reminder that the Republican foreign policy right—the dominant wing of the party in Washington—isn't exactly to be trusted on Mideast issues, just take a glance at the region this past week. When the Obama administration sent two cabinet level officials there, the picture couldn't have played out more differently than Senate Republicans and their D.C.-fellow travelers said it would this winter. Recall the atmosphere as now-Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, a Republican, was bruised and battered during confirmation hearings. GOP Senators and their supporters in the right-wing media made specious allegation after allegation against Hagel: raising the possibility that he took money from North Korea and Iran; that he joined the "Friends of Hamas"; and, most infamously, that the Nebraskan hated Jews. In contrast, John Kerry sailed through the Senate to be confirmed as Secretary of State. John McCain, one of Hagel's most vociferous opponents on the Hill, said of Kerry, "I commend his nomination to you without reservation"—even though the former Massachusetts Senator held many of the same positions that gave rise to the charges against Hagel. On the terms of their own right-wing pro-Israel perspective, these forces on the right could not have gotten it more wrong. The past weeks of Kerry's shuttle diplomacy to the Mideast and Hagel's own trip to Israel paint the opposite of the picture that emerged at their confirmations.
The ease with which Republicans and their right-wing allies accepted Kerry as someone they needn't worry about contrasts starkly with Israeli rejection of his initiatives. Kerry's efforts to jumpstart talks between the Israelis and Palestinians by focusing on a limited set of goals were dismissed out of hand by Israel. One Israeli official involved in the talks with Kerry went so far as to cast the Secretary of State aside with what Haaretz described as "cynical, slightly scornful comments" about him. "Kerry believes that he can bring about the solution, the treaty and the salvation," the official told Haaretz. Kerry's other initiatives revolved around the so-called program of economic peace, a centerpiece of Israeli Prime Minister's limited engagement with the West Bank government of the Palestinian Authority. But Kerry's calls for meaningfully expanding these sorts of initiatives—even an apparently premature announcement that a plan had been agreed upon—also won scorn from Israeli officials. The plan revolves around expanding Palestinian economic activity in Area C, the 60 percent of the West Bank under full Israeli military control, where Palestinian development is blocked but where settlers flourish with Israel's tacit encouragement. The Israelis seem unlikely to budge: "There is no problem with setting up sewage treatment plants, schools or roads in Area C," a senior Israeli official told Haaretz at the end of Kerry's visit. "But if we're talking about transferring land through economic projects, then we're not ready to do so." (If the Israelis have "no problem" with transportation and water infrastructure in Area C, they have a funny way of showing it.) Notably, Kerry was unable to keep the outgoing Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad—perhaps the official most responsible for Palestine's modest economic gains under occupation—from resigning.
Then Kerry really stepped in it: his latest effort to shore up a rapprochement between Israel and Turkey with a trip to the latter this weekend fell flat. On his own Mideast trip last month, Barack Obama brokered an apology from Netanyahu to his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, over the killings of eight Turks and an American in an Israeli raid on a flotilla aimed at breaking Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip. Kerry requested that Erdoğan delay a planned visit to the Hamas-controlled Strip. But after nearly three years of acrimony between the two former allies, the stubborn Erdoğan clung to his plans. Kerry proceeded to made matters worse, rousing Israeli ire over his comparison between the deaths at the Boston Marathon with those of the activists on the fotilla ship the Mavi Marmara. "I have just been through the week of Boston and I have deep feelings for what happens when you have violence and something happens and you lose people that are near and dear to you," Kerry said. "It affects a community, it affects a country. We’re very sensitive to that." Israelis reacted swiftly and furiously: "According to what Kerry said, he should fly now to Chechniya to pay a condolence call to the parents of the poor terrorists in Boston," said Ayelet Shaked, the second in command of a right-wing party in the governing coalition. Right-leaning American pro-Israel publications were no less clear: Commentary Magazine writer Seth Mandel called the remark "shameful moral relativism" (it's not quite, but another day).
Matthew Kalman broke the story of physicist Stephen Hawking’s boycott of Israel. Then Cambridge University tried to falsely deny it.