Why Israel Should Not Be Extolling President Trump

Photo by Wayne McLean (Jgritz) http://www.waynemclean.com/

Jerusalem. Photo: Wayne McLean

Israel is going gaga over President Trump, largely for recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. There are over 110 “God bless Trump” signs in Jerusalem. There are plans to name a future rail station near the Kotel (Western Wall) after Trump. The Jerusalem Friends of Zion Heritage Center put up a four-story display thanking him. But, there are many reasons to reconsider the abundant praise.

A major reason is that Trump, along with a majority of Republicans, is in denial about climate change, an existential threat to Israel, the US, and the world. Despite the overwhelming consensus of climate experts and the many recent severe climate events, Trump is the only major world leader denying climate change. He has pulled the US out of the 2015 Paris climate pact agreed to by all of the 195 nations attending, including Israel. He appointed a climate denier as director of the US Environmental Protection Agency. He also has filled many other important positions with those who deny anthropomorphic global change. He is doing everything possible to eliminate or weaken recent efforts to reduce greenhouse gases, claiming that he is freeing businesses from regulations.

Israelis should be especially concerned about climate threats. Due to climate change, the Middle East is becoming hotter and drier and, according to military experts, this makes violence, terrorism, and war more likely. If the rapid melting of polar icecaps and glaciers continue, the coastal plain that contains most of Israel’s population and infrastructure will be inundated by a rising Mediterranean Sea.

Israel is already facing the effects of climate change, now in the fifth year of a severe drought. The water level of the Sea of Galilee is at a 100 year low, much of the Jordan River is reduced to a trickle, and the Dead Sea is shrinking rapidly.  Water experts warn that if the Sea of Galilee continues to shrink, it could become a salt sea like the Dead Sea, as underground springs release saline water into it.

Another important reason is that Trump’s policies are contrary to basic Jewish values in terms of concern for the disadvantaged, the stranger, the hungry, and the poor. Rather than improving Obamacare, which provided health insurance to tens of millions of Americans, Trump supported health legislation that would have caused up to 32 million Americans to lose their insurance and others to pay higher premiums. Rather than supporting efforts to rebuild America’s crumbling infrastructure (given a grade of  D+ by the American Society of Civil Engineers), Trump and Republican legislators pushed through a tax bill that greatly benefits the wealthiest Americans and large, profitable corporations. This will increase the U.S. national debt by up to $1.5 trillion, giving the Republicans an excuse to carry out their long-time desires to cut social security, Medicare, Medicaid, and environmental and health protections.

Then there is the issue of Trump’s character. As NY Times conservative columnist Bret Stephens, a former chief editor of the Jerusalem Post, put it in a recent article, Trump’s character involves, “lying, narcissism, and bullying.” He continues: “In place of the usual jousting between the administration and the press, we have a president who fantasizes on Twitter about physically assaulting CNN. In place of a president who defends the honor and integrity of his own officers and agencies, we have one who humiliates his attorney general, denigrates the F.B.I. and compares our intelligence agencies to the Gestapo.” Do we really want to honor such a person and make him a role model for our children and grandchildren?

In addition, lavishing praise on Trump is adding to the current split between many American Jews and Israel. Almost 80% of American Jews disapprove of the job Trump is doing, according to a September poll by the American Jewish Committee. So when they see how Israel is going overboard in praising Trump it adds to the alienation many Americans feel due to recent Israeli decisions on prayer at the Kotel, conversion, and other issues. This could reduce the moral, political, and financial support Israel receives from American Jews.

Yes, but doesn’t Trump still deserve praise for his strong support of Israel? Somehow negative things about Trump’s positions and statements about Israel are being ignored. For example: Trump has not kept his pledge of seeing that there would be no space between the US and Israel, as he has demanded several times that Israel limit settlement construction. Trump’s $110 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia reduces Israel’s qualitative military edge. In his Holocaust remembrance statement Trump omitted any mention of Jews. Trump appointed white supremacists to senior positions and retweeted neo-Nazi propaganda on several occasions. He failed to quickly condemn anti-Semitism several times. He has left the post of Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism vacant since taking office. He ended President Obama’s tradition of hosting a White House Seder. He compromised Israeli intelligence by sharing top secret information with Russia. Since Trump became president there has been a sharp increase in incidents of anti-Semitic and other bigoted statements and acts. There are many other examples.

Trump deserves praise for his decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, but not to be lionized, for the reasons above and more. Of course, Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, always has been and always will be. But the nations of the world will only acknowledge that if it is part of a comprehensive, sustainable resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While Trump’s pronouncement about Jerusalem is good for Israel’s morale, it did not change the overall situation. It did cause much resentment among the Palestinians, other Arabs, and many nations, led to some violence, showed further evidence of widespread opposition to Israel’s position on Jerusalem through the votes in the UN Security Council and General Assembly, and resulted in a further decrease in the potential of a peace agreement. Also, Trump again signed a waiver so that the US embassy will not soon be moved to Jerusalem and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson indicated that it will likely not be moved during Trump’s current term.

Yes, the peace process has been basically dead for some time, and the Palestinians certainly deserve much blame. But Israel needs to do everything possible to obtain a resolution of the conflict in order to avert continued and possibly increased violence and diplomatic criticism, effectively respond to her economic, environmental, and other domestic problems, and remain a Jewish and a democratic state. Many Israel strategic and military experts agree with this assessment, including all the living ex-heads of the Shin Bet. Of course, Israel’s security has to be paramount in any agreement.

Richard H. Schwartz, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus, College of Staten Island

 

Locals Recognized for Their Support of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

With the influx of high-tech companies and Israeli military intelligence units, the desert city of Beer-Sheva is becoming the hub of Israel’s rapidly expanding cyber security industry. One of Beer-Sheva’s main draws is its world-class academic institution, Ben-Gurion University (BGU) of the Negev, which offers graduate study tracks in cyber security, and has collaborated with the Israeli government on a national cyber security center.

BGU’s cyber security work is being supported here in Philadelphia as well. The Mid-Atlantic Region of American Associates, Ben-Gurion University (AABGU) — a nonprofit organization that supports BGU — raised funds from its annual tribute dinner for the university’s Cyber Security Research Initiative, and its contrtibution was matched dollar-for-dollar by the Israeli government. The Cyber Security Research Initiative supports needed infrastructure and allocates grants for innovative cyber research at BGU, with the goal of creating a national cyber security research center that is globally unsurpassed. [Read more…]

Ode to Arthur

Arthur Koestler.

By Marie Miguel

There are certainly more than enough horrific tales of how the persecuted lived under fascism in the middle of the 20th century, and indeed dozens of books with “Koestler” on their covers.

“Scum of the Earth” is a unique kind of autobiographical adventure, a guide to suffering atrocious treatment with as much good humor as possible. The book also describes  how a totalitarian regime can subvert the morals of both states and individuals.

For someone who wasn’t actually a criminal, Arthur Koestler certainly saw the inside of a large number of cells. Reprising this aspect of his personal history is possibly the best way to explain what the reader can expect from “Scum of the Earth.”

Having traveled extensively in Europe and Asia, by 1933, Koestler found that Germany was not the best place for a Jewish Communist to return. A well-known journalist by this time, he settled in France instead. It was during this period that he spent some time covering the Spanish Civil War, while also pursuing a sideline as an anti-fascist spy, which eventually led to his capture and death sentence. Fortunately, before he could be executed, he was exchanged for an enemy prisoner. Although Koestler survived, this experience naturally had a major effect on him. He would later draw on his experience in  “Dialogue with Death” and “Darkness at Noon,” the latter being a not-so-subtle attack on Stalin’s Russia.

The events of “Scum” start off as Koestler is busy writing “Darkness” in the south of France. War breaks out, so he and his English girlfriend return to Paris. First he tries to join the French army since, albeit Hungarian by birth, he sees no problem with risking his skin for the country that has played host to him for several years. His application is rejected, and even though he’s known as an enemy of fascism – and therefore the enemy of the enemy of France – he ends up in a French-run concentration camp until the British government insists on his release (while still refusing him a visa).

He’s eventually freed — although under effective house arrest, with the possibility of being handed over to the Gestapo never far off — escapes to North Africa, joins the French Foreign Legion, deserts, attempts suicide, and finally makes it to Britain, where he’s once again thrown in jail as an alien. To be fair, this connoisseur of incarceration has only good things to say about English prisons, as well as the fact that the British at least gave him a fair trial. After this, he joins the British army.

The most moving aspect of this great book isn’t the action, but the pathos evoked by incidents, such as Koestler’s girlfriend driving him to the police station, not knowing whether she’ll see him again, or the secret policeman who gets him out of his own bed before sunrise to sign one of the books he’s written. The moral corruption of French society at that time is also portrayed vividly: soldiers are not interested in fighting, policemen are all too willing to follow whatever orders they’re given, while civil servants don’t mind at all converting their government to a fascist one.

Koestler was a secular Jew, having been born into a Jewish family but showing no inclination to practice the religion. In fact, his imprisonment in France had nothing to do with his cultural identity – he was simply an “undesirable alien,” and an author with socialist leanings. Judaism is hardly mentioned in “Scum of the Earth,” if at all.

As is the case with many secular Jews, and quite reasonably for someone who suffered under the Nazis, Koestler was a Zionist. He lived in Israel for some time prior to 1948, as well as during the 1948 war, working mainly as a journalist. His support for Israel wasn’t entirely without qualification, though: he famously said about the Balfour Declaration that “one nation solemnly promised to a second nation the country of a third,” and argued that Jews who are unwilling to live in Israel should totally embrace the culture of wherever they find themselves. Since he was an iconoclast, intellectual and free thinker who had the courage of his convictions, it would be surprising if he did not hold one or two controversial opinions.

Koestler and his wife committed suicide together in 1983, as he was ill with both Parkinson’s and leukemia. He was 77 years old. 

Editor’s note: Koestler’s quote about the Balfour Declaration is only partially accurate. He said that “one nation solemnly promised to a second nation the country of a third.” However, by the date of the Balfour Declaration, the British were in control of much of Palestine and anticipated the defeat of the Ottoman Empire, which controlled the remainder.

Lesson from a Jewish Millennial – Get Rid of Your Smartphone

By David Treatman

Photo credit: Japanexperterna

If you’re reading this on your smartphone, you are breaking the eighth commandment.

Perhaps right now you are reading this as you ride the subway; maybe you are at the dinner table; or quite possibly you are at a party or a get-together. By choosing to give your phone some or all of your attention, you are stealing from those around you. I don’t simply mean that phones steal from us by wasting our time going down the rabbit hole of social media. I mean that they cause us to rob each other of our real presence and of our attention. The amount of conversations that I have been in with my peers, in which they are texting or scrolling through social media as I am talking to them, is uncanny. When they eventually look up, they expect me to repeat what I was just telling them, stretching conversations out indefinitely to make space for simultaneous others. The lack of reciprocity and attention that are products of dividing our consciousness between real and on-line existences detracts from authentic shared moments. [Read more…]

A Hanukkah Miracle

On the first night of Hanukkah, the state of Alabama witnessed a miracle of its own: the voters of this very red state elected a Democrat to the United States Senate for the first time in 27 years. In a highly publicized special election to fill the Senate seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Democrat Doug Jones narrowly defeated Republican Roy Moore. Moore, who was endorsed by President Trump, has been accused by multiple women of predatory sexual misconduct, dating back years ago when the women were teenagers and Moore was a much older man.

In Jones’ victory speech, the new senator-elect thanked family, friends and campaign staff, as well as voters of different demographics, even wishing a happy Hanukkah to his Jewish supporters.

What Parents Can Learn From Lighting the Hanukkah Candles

Rabbi Will Keller

I love the scene that unfolds when we light the Hanukkah candles, especially with young children around. I find that children always have a fascination with this experience. They cannot contain their excitement, dancing and weaving between the legs of our guests and family as they try to get as close as possible to the lighting of the hanukkiyot (menorahs). The kids’ excited dances and the glitter of absolute joy in their eyes remind me that our children are in some ways like the candles themselves. [Read more…]

Why Anti-Semites Oppose the Marcus Nomination

–Naomi Friedman

Kenneth Marcus.

Kenneth Marcus, founder, president and general counsel for the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, has dedicated most of his career to fighting for civil rights. Marcus was nominated by President Trump for the position of assistant secretary of education for civil rights in the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR). Meanwhile, anti-Israel groups have been aggressively working to block his confirmation. [Read more…]

Congress to Gut State Gun Control Laws?

Black Berretta hand gun. Photo: Gander Mountain.

Hand gun. Photo: Gander Mountain.

— by Jeff Dempsey, CeaseFirePA

A bill that would gut state gun laws, and force states to accept the more lax concealed weapon carry standards of other states, passed the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee this week. For example, we have a licensing system in Pennsylvania which relies on a strong background check, but this bill would force us to honor concealed carry permits from states with weaker systems, and even states like Mississippi, which doesn’t require a license or permit to carry at all. The mandatory Concealed Carry Reciprocity Bill (H.R. 38), is a proposal that would make it legal for more dangerous and untrained people to carry hidden guns in more public places. Despite the fact that we’ve had the worst mass shooting in modern American history this year, Congress is still doing the NRA’s bidding and pushing for action that will weaken our gun laws. [Read more…]

Requiem for a Swimming Oasis

JERUSALEM (PJV) – By Ilan Chaim 

The  State of Israel’s capital has just won the distinction of being the only world capital without an Olympic-size, 50-meter length swimming pool. After extended court battles, Jerusalem’s swimmers have lost their oasis of the past 59-years to real estate developers.

Contrary to the outline plan for Jerusalem, established by Keren Kayemet, the public will be deprived of its statutorily guaranteed public pool for at least four more years of construction on a high-profit housing complex.

[Read more…]