Thanksgiving Turkey With Ancient Israel’s Seven Species

Photo by Faith Goble https://www.flickr.com/photos/grafixer/

Photo by Faith Goble.

After enduring many hardships in the New World, the Pilgrims finally succeeded in having a plentiful harvest. They were very grateful to G-d for providing for them, and wanted to find an appropriate way to honor G-d. They turned to the Bible for inspiration and found what they were looking for in Exodus.

They discovered “the Feast of Ingathering at the year’s end” (Exodus 34:22), one of the Three Pilgrimage Festivals celebrated in ancient Israel during the times of the Temple in Jerusalem. This feast signaled the end of the harvest, and the conclusion of the agricultural year of the Land of Israel. It is the harvest festival of Sukkot.

During Sukkot, it is customary to include the Seven Species of the Land of Israel in the sukkah, and to incorporate them into the menu. The seven most important plants that were grown in ancient Israel were wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, dates and olives (Deut 8:8). The Pilgrims consumed the foods from the New World such as turkey, corn, pumpkins, and cranberries.

For this Thanksgiving celebration, I have decided to return to the holiday’s roots. I will prepare the traditional New World bird with the Seven Species of the Land of Israel. It is a turkey brined in pomegranate juice, with wheat and barley couscous stuffing.

Photo by Jim Larrison https://www.flickr.com/photos/larrison/

Photo by Jim Larrison.

For the Pomegranate Brine

Adapted from POM Wonderful.

  • 4 cups pomegranate juice
  • 1 cup kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 2 sprigs fresh sage

For the Turkey

  • one 15-pound turkey
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 1 stalk of celery, chopped
  • salt
  • black pepper

For the Pomegranate Glaze

  • 3 cups pomegranate juice
  • 1/2 cup pomegranate arils
  • black pepper
  1. Place the turkey in a large pot.
  2. Combine all the ingredients for the brine, and pour over the turkey.
  3. Cover the pot tightly, and refrigerate overnight.
  4. Pre-heat the oven to 325°F.
  5. Scatter the chopped onion, carrot, and celery in a large roasting pan.
  6. Remove the turkey from the brine, and place it over the cut up vegetables.
  7. Brush olive oil over the turkey.
  8. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  9. Roast for approximately 4 hours.
  10. Boil 3 cups of pomegranate juice until reduced by half.
  11. Mix in the pomegranate arils and black pepper.
  12. Brush over the roasted turkey.
Photo by ukcider ukcider https://www.flickr.com/photos/ukcider/

Photo by ukcider.

For the Couscous Stuffing

  • 1 1/2 cups semolina couscous
  • 1 1/2 cups barley couscous
  • 3 cups boiling water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 3 tablespoons orange blossom water
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1/2 cup chopped figs
  • 1/2 cup pitted, chopped dates
  1. Pour the couscous into a large bowl.
  2. Add the salt, boiling water, orange blossom water, and cinnamon.
  3. Stir all the ingredients together, and then cover and allow to rest for 5 minutes.
  4. Mix in the olive oil, raisins, figs, and dates.
  5. Sautee the almonds in a little olive oil.
  6. Sprinkle the almonds over the couscous.

A Taste of Israeli Independence: Sweet Burekas

In 1948 Jews around the world celebrated the United Nations vote to establish an independentIMG_4909 Jewish state. Jews would have the right for self determination the first time since Shimon bar Kokhba ruled over Judea in 132 CE. In Jerusalem, special sweets were prepared and shared to mark the occasion.

Malka Cohen Giat was one of those celebrants. She prepared sweet fillo pastries filled with the Turkish delight lokum. This pastry reflects the 400 years of Ottoman influence over Jerusalem.

Sweet Burekas

Adapted from Gizar Kon Gozo by Matilda Koen-Sarano.

  • 1 package frozen puff pastry
  • lokum
  • pistachio nuts, chopped
  1.  Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. Cut the puff pastry into circles.
  3. Place a cube of lokum in the center of each circle.
  4. Pinch the corners shut.
  5. Sprinkle with pistachio nuts.
  6. Bake for 20 minutes, until the pastry is golden and puffed.

Hanukkah-Thanksgiving Fusion Menu

— by Ronit Treatman

This year, the Gregorian and Hebrew calendars have aligned in a very special way: Thanksgiving and Hanukkah are celebrated on the same night. This will not happen again until 2070.

In honor of this tandem celebration, I invite you to combine the essential ingredient of Hanukkah, olive oil, with foods that are native to North America. This is the perfect marriage of the two holidays.

3 Thanksgiving-Hanukkah recipes after the jump.
Baharat Fried Turkey Drumsticks

Turkeys are native to North America. This recipe flavors the American food with Middle-Eastern spices, and tenderizes it with fresh lemon juice. Frying the whole turkey is too daunting for me: I prefer to prepare a platter of fried turkey drumsticks.


Fried turkey, corn latkes and carnberry-apple sauce.
  • 6 fresh turkey drumsticks
  • Olive oil
  • Baharat – Middle Eastern Spice Rub:
    • 12 lemons
    • 1 tablespoon ground garlic
    • 1 tablespoon salt
    • 1 teaspoon ground allspice
    • 1 teaspoon black pepper
    • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
    • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
    • 1 teaspoon fenugreek
    • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
    • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  1. Measure all the dry ingredients into a large bowl.  
  2. Squeeze the lemons, and mix the fresh juice with the spices.  
  3. Place the turkey drumsticks in the bowl and coat them with the spice rub.  
  4. Seal the seasoned drumsticks in a plastic zipper bag, and refrigerate them for at least 3 hours.
  5. Heat the olive oil to 350 degrees Fahrenheit in a heavy Dutch oven. Pour in enough oil to completely immerse the turkey drumsticks. Do not cover the pot, as this would create a fire hazard.  
  6. Carefully place the turkey drumsticks in the hot oil. Do not crowd them.  
  7. Cook the drumsticks for at least 20 minutes over medium heat in the uncovered pot.  
  8. Check the temperature of the drumsticks by sticking a meat thermometer into the drumstick.  It is cooked through when the meat’s internal temperature reaches 180 degrees Fahrenheit.

Corn Latkes (Pancakes)

Potatoes, which originated in the Andes mountains, are customarily served with the turkey for Thanksgiving dinner, and are the essential ingredient of traditional latkes (pancakes). This year, we can pay homage to the corn, a plant that originated in North America. Corn, a staple of the Native Americans, can be transformed into an ancient Israelite fry bread. This is a superb accompaniment to the Middle Eastern fried turkey legs.

  • 4 cups frozen corn kernels
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon unbleached flour
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • Olive oil
  1. Cook the corn in boiling water.  
  2. Drain, and allow to cool to room temperature.  
  3. Mix in the eggs, flour, salt, and black pepper.  
  4. Heat some olive oil in a heavy skillet.  
  5. Spoon the corn batter into the frying pan. Flip the fritters over when they turn golden-brown.  

Cranberry-Apple Sauce

No Thanksgiving dinner is complete without cranberries, and no latke is complete without applesauce. Cranberries originated in North America, while apples came from Central Asia. For this special dinner, I combine cranberries and apples into a special sauce for the corn latkes.

  • 2 cups fresh cranberries
  • 2 cups fresh, diced apples
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup maple sugar

Combine all the ingredients in a pot. Bring to a boil, and then simmer for about 15 minutes.

I prepared a practice Thanksgivenukkah dinner for my family. The deep-fried turkey drumsticks were moist, delicately spiced, and had a delicious crackly, crunchy skin. The golden corn latkes were soft, chewy, and slightly sweet. The cranberry-apple sauce was a magnificent vermillion color, and had a perfectly balanced sweet-tart flavor.  

I loved the sauce with the latkes, while others at the table preferred it with their turkey. Either way you choose, have a happy Thanksgivukkah!

WJC President: Netanyahu Did the Right Thing Apologizing to Turkey


Turkish and Israeli Prime Ministers Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Binyamin Netanyahu.

World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder today warmly welcomed the thaw in relations between Israel and Turkey. Lauder said the news has been met by “a sigh of relief” in many Jewish communities around the world. He praised Prime Minister Netanyahu’s call to his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan and said it had been “the right thing to do in this situation”, despite the “very justified reservations” Netanyahu and others in Israel had had against such a step. Lauder expressed hope that the gesture by Israel would effectively end the diplomatic crisis between the two countries:

Turkey and Israel must work together. There are so many issues in the region where these two countries can make a difference. One of them is military cooperation in order to secure geopolitical stability in the Middle East.

B’nai B’rith International’s response after the jump.
Lauder said he had met with Erdogan and Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu seven times since the Gaza Flotilla incident in May 2010:

In these talks the Turkish side has always made it clear that if Israel apologizes a new beginning in relations is possible. We sincerely hope that they will keep their word.

The WJC president praised US President Barack Obama for brokering a breakthrough in Israeli-Turkish relations:

President Obama’s visit to Israel was extremely important. He has shown that American leadership is essential if any progress is to be made in the peace process. On behalf of the World Jewish Congress I wholeheartedly thank him not just for helping to restore Israeli-Turkish relations but also for his important visit to Israel. His visit further strengthened the bond between Israelis and Americans. We hope that this provide the basis for renewed efforts to restart negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.

B’nai B’rith International also welcomed the restoration of full relations between the two countries:

The normalization of relations between Israel and Turkey — the region’s only two democracies — sends a strong message of stability in a troubled part of the world.  

This positive development comes amid the rapidly deteriorating situation in Syria, where human rights groups estimate 70,000 Syrians have been killed in the two years since the uprising against Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad and countless thousands have been displaced.

White House Condemns Turkish PM’s Anti-Israel Statements

— by David Streeter

White House spokesman Tommy Vietor condemned Turkish Prime Minsiter Tayyip Erdogan’s hateful remarks about Zionism:

We reject Prime Minister Erdogan’s characterization of Zionism as a crime against humanity, which is offensive and wrong. We encourage people of all faiths, cultures, and ideas to denounce hateful actions and to overcome the differences of our times.

Also, Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to “bring Erdogan to task” for his comments during their bilateral meeting. As Secretary Kerry flew to Ankara, a Senior State Department Aide criticized the remarks:

This was particularly offensive, frankly, to call Zionism a crime against humanity […] It does have a corrosive effect (on relations). I am sure the secretary will be very clear about how dismayed we were to hear it.

B’nai B’rith International’s statement on the subject after the jump.
B’nai B’rith International has issued the following statement on the subject:

At a United Nations “Alliance of Civilizations” summit, convened to focus on global tolerance, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan engaged in a deplorable act by calling Zionism “a crime against humanity.”

B’nai B’rith International strongly condemns Erdoğan’s effort to revive inflammatory language equating Zionism with racism. This insidious canard was introduced at the United Nations in 1975 and rightly revoked in 1991. Erdoğan has reintroduced this odious charge to the U.N. environment.

Zionism is the embodiment of the millennia-old Jewish longing for self-determination and a return to the Jewish homeland.

Erdoğan made his pronouncement before an audience of senior-international leaders in Vienna, including U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

This is not the first time Erdoğan has made inciteful remarks about Israel or Jews. In November, he called Israel a “terrorist state,” during the Hamas-instigated fighting in Gaza.

B’nai B’rith calls on Erdoğan to apologize for his remarks and urges the United Nations to condemn these sentiments.

Reuters: US Sanctions Cut Off Turkey-Iran Gold Trade


Bidboland gas refinery in Aghajary

— by Daniel Ensign

As a result of the United States’ continuing pressure against Iran due to their pursuits of developing nuclear weapons, a recent report from Reuters reveals that the “gas-for-gold” trade between Turkey and Iran has been frozen out. This follows on previous reports of the crippling effects of US and European Union sanctions against Iran and a commitment from President Obama to “prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon” during the State of the Union.

The most recent sanctions, passed into law last summer and implemented on February 6th by the Treasury Department, require Iran to use the money from any oil sales to Turkey for sanction-free goods such as food and medicine.

The full text of the Reuters report can be found here.

Food Chat: The Rabbi Talks Turkey

— by Hannah Lee

As we prepare for our national holiday of thanksgiving — whether by dieting beforehand, shopping and cooking, or doing chesed — Rabbi Meir Soloveichik has some interesting insights on the curious halachic history of the Thanksgiving turkey. He is the Associate Rabbi at Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun in New York and director of the Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought at Yeshiva University (a great nephew of “The Rav,” Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik) and recently nominated as one of the Forward’s 50 notable American Jews.  He spoke on Sunday to an audience of about 40 people at the newly opened Citron and Rose restaurant as part of its yearlong series on the philosophy of Jewish eating.

More after the jump.
Jews have embraced the turkey as food. According to the National Turkey Association, Israel is the world leader in turkey consumption at 26.9 lbs per capita, according to its latest survey conducted in 1999. The United States is second, with 736 million pounds of turkey consumed during Thanksgiving in 2011.

For some Jewish fowl history: The hoopoe was chosen as the national bird of the State of Israel in May 2008 in conjunction with the country’s 60th anniversary (following a national survey of 155,000 citizens). Rabbi Meir cries foul, because the hoopoe (duhifat in Hebrew) is treife (listed amongst the Biblical list of 24 forbidden birds); appears only once in a midrash; and when threatened, does not fight back but excretes a stinky fluid.  

Rabbi Meir votes for the yonah (dove), which is usually used to symbolize peace with an olive branch in its claws. Not so, says the Rabbi, quoting Kohelet that there is a time for war and a time for peace. Another historical anecdote: Harry Truman supposedly said to Winston Churchill that the American symbol is depicted with an eagle’s head tilted towards the olive branch, to symbolize the U.S.’s inclination towards peacemaking, but Churchill retorted that the eagle’s head should be on a swivel, to allow it to adjust for national security interests.

The Israeli national anthem has another stirring anecdote: when 30-year-old Moran Samuel won the gold in individual rowing (skulling) at the Paralympics Games in Italy this summer, the games organizers were not prepared with a tape of the Israeli anthem, so Samuel asked for the microphone and sang the anthem beautifully by herself. This was an athlete who’d already shown her fortitude when she had a rare spinal stroke. When she recovered, she trained to become a pediatric physical therapist and she switched from her sport of basketball to wheelchair basketball and rowing. Rowing, said Rabbi Meir, is the quintessential sport symbol of hope, with the individual pushing against the force of water towards dry land.

Another bird, the raven, also appeared in the Biblical account of Noah, but Jews have not adopted the raven, which is known as the symbol of despair and hopelessness. The American writer and literary critic, Edgar Allan Poe, agreed with this view in his 1845 poem, “The Raven,” with its refrain, “Nevermore.” The yonah, said Rabbi Meir, symbolizes hope for Jews, not peace.

Only the yonah and the tor (turtledove) are allowed on an altar in Biblical times. Both are archetypes of kosher birds, according to the Rema (Rabbi Moshe Isserles): they have an extra toe in back; a crop and gizzard that peels easily; and they are not predators that grab their prey from the air in a cruel fashion. The Rema further teaches that Jews may not eat any unfamiliar birds, unless there is a mesorah (tradition) of it not being a predator. So, how did Jews come to enjoy the turkey, which was a New World bird that became popular in Europe after the Cortes expedition of 1519?

The turkey comes from a land of no Jews (notwithstanding the conceit of Blazing Saddles, joked the Rabbi). So, how did the Rabbis of the 17th and 18th century reconcile their halachic concerns? The bird must come from a land of Jews and its Hebrew name, tarnagol hodu (תרנגול הודו, Indian chicken), gives evidence that it was thought to originate from India (where there were known Jews). The English “turkey” derives from the merchants of the Turkish Empire and in Turkey, the bird is known as hindi.  Notably, hodu also means thanks in modern Hebrew, sharing a syntactic root with the Hebrew word for “Jews,” yehudim.

Why did the poskim (jurists) change their position on turkey?  First, the farmers (even the Ashkenazi ones) knew that the turkey is not a predator, and second, the Sephardim have a mesorah of eating turkey. They may not have known of Benjamin Franklin’s documented preference of the turkey over the bald eagle, because it is not predatory; it is unique to the Americas (while eagles are found elsewhere); and it is a bird of courage that would defend itself.

When the Jews first arrived in what is now the United States, from Brazil in 1654, they found a resting place, said Rabbi Meir, “the land of the turkey has fulfilled the hope of the dove.”

Rabbi Meir Soloveichik gives thanks for living in a country where Jews are welcome to the White House (as he was during the Bush administration) and where he davened maaariv (the evening prayers) there.  He ended his talk with a reminiscence from the former British prime minister, Tony Blair, who noted that the prized possession of his American Jewish friend is his citizenship papers. Only in America have the Jews experienced freedom fully and welcomed as equal citizens in the public square. It is especially poignant that on Thanksgiving we Jews have a national mandate to thank God for this country of religious freedom.

Citron and Rose, located at 368-370 Montgomery Avenue in Merion, is open for dinner Sunday through Thursday. For more information, please visit their website and follow them on Twitter @citronandrose; their phone number is 610-664-4919. To schedule an appointment with Citron and Rose Catering, please email events@citronandrose.com.    

Somebody Ought To Get Him A Map

Glenn Kessler reports in the Washington Post:

Mitt Romney repeated his contention that Syria is Iran’s “route to the sea.” This is a puzzling claim, considering that Syria shares no border with Iran — Iraq and Turkey are in the way — and that Iran has about 1,500 miles of coastline along the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman, leading to the Arabian Sea. The Fact Checker column has looked into this before.

Romney made the same mistake at the Arizona GOP Debate, at the AIPAC’s Annual Summit, and during interviews on MSNBC, on Fox News Radio, and in the Washington Post.

Burger.org and Chicken.org


Chicken.org
534 South 4th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19147
(267)687-7074

Burger.org
326 South Street, Philadelphia, PA 19147
(267)639-3425

Sunday-Thursday: 11AM to 10PM
Friday: 11AM to 4PM (Summer) 10AM to 2PM (Winter)

Online Delivery: www.diningin.com
Website: burgerorg.com

An Embarrassment Of Kosher Riches On South Street

— by Ronit Treatman

Finally, kosher and organic can go on a date!  I was strolling down South Street, when I stumbled upon Burger.org. and Chicken.org.  “Glatt Kosher” was painted in large letters on the windows.  Of course I had to try them both!  I discovered two places where the standard for both kashrut and food quality meet the expectations of a Higher Authority.  

I stepped into the Burger.org restaurant, and was immediately taken by the stylish hardwood floors, granite countertops, and eye popping accent colors.  This place is definitely fun!  The free-range organic meat is imported from Uruguay.  I was impressed with the perfectly cooked to order, juicy lamb burger I had selected, served with a generous portion of French fries.  You can order free-range beef, chicken, and turkey patties.  They also have wild catch fish and vegetarian burgers.  You could go with their selection of sandwiches, hummus, fries, and salads as well. Soon, it will be possible to have the total soda fountain experience.  In about a week, Burger.org will begin serving pareve milk shakes and ice cream.  If for any reason you become disgruntled while dining here, you can have the experience of the electronics customers in the You Don’t Mess With The Zohan movie.  You can cross the street and get your dinner at the competing kosher establishment: Chicken.org.

More after the jump.
Chicken.org is owned by the same gentlemen who brought us Burger.org.  Eyal Aranya and Yoni Nadav were inspired to establish these restaurants because of their love of good food. They have gained two toeholds in Society Hill.  At Chicken.org I sampled Israeli influenced rotisserie chicken and schnitzel.  They were moist and perfectly seasoned.  I was impressed with the colorful, crunchy selection of Middle Eastern salads, freshly prepared on the premises.  Chicken.org is a miniature version of Burger.org.  If there is a large party, and some people want chicken and others prefer burgers, Burger.org will accommodate all the diners.  

Burger.org and Chicken.org are very stringent in their adherence of the laws of kashrut.  They each have an on-site mashgiach, Rabbi Dov A. Brisman.  Their Kosher Certification is from The Community Kashrus of Greater Philadelphia.    For those who have very observant relatives, or would rather let someone else do the cooking, a glatt kosher Rosh Hashanah catering menu will be available shortly.  

As I ate my lamb burger, I looked around the restaurant and took in the atmosphere.  There was a table full of teenagers from USY.  Middle-aged couples were enjoying an evening out on the town.  An attractive young couple may have been out on their first date.  Next time you make plans to go out, you don’t have to choose.  You can find kosher, and organic, and delicious!

Analysis & Opinion: ISRAEL, THE MIDDLE EAST AND THE UNITED NATIONS

by Rabbi Murray Gordon Silberman

A cold wind is blowing across Israel from Araby and parts of the Muslim world causing a severe deterioration in its diplomatic position. Turkey and Egypt, the anchors of its diplomatic and military positions in the region, are now uncertain neighbors. Political developments in the two countries have placed both on an increasingly unfriendly course to the Jewish state. The Arab Spring, which is blossoming into an Islamic political revival, is raising questions whether Egypt will continue to retain its decades- old peace treaty with Israel. Turkey, an erstwhile ally of Israel, has become increasingly  
hostile and cut its diplomatic ties to the bare minimum. The underlying reason for this estrangement is the festering Palestinian question. Egyptians and Turkey hold Israel responsible for refusing to address Palestinian demands that would lead to the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

When the youth in much of the Arab world rose up against their autocratic rulers, little if anything of this had to do with the Palestinians or Israel. Their demands were simple enough. Freedom, democratic rule, and respect for human rights were their clarion call. In the ten months since the uprising in the Arab world, the autocratic rulers in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen have been overthrown.

Consider Egypt

No image is more emblematic of this turn of events than former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak being tried in a civilian court as he lies on a cot inside a prison cage. Bashar al Assad in Syria is facing increasingly violent opposition from the people that he and his father have oppressed for more than forty years. And he finds himself isolated not only in most of the international world but among sister Arab states. The Arab League, long considered a toothless body, has imposed political and economic sanctions on the Syrian regime.

As this swirl of events continues to unfold, the Israeli government has been an increasingly concerned onlooker upon what is happening in Arab countries close to and not a far remove from its borders. The United States, Israelʼs closest ally, and which has long dominated Arab politics by its support of the Mubaraks of the region, has lost much of its clout to shape the radically new political reality that is mapping across the Arab world.

The Egyptian revolution is far from complete. The initial euphoria of the revolution that saw the downfall of the hated Mubarak has faded away. Huge crowds have come back to Tahrir Square to protest the continued dominance of the military in the government. Emergency rule remains in effect and thousands have been tried in military tribunals for resisting the security forces. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, or SCAF, has taken over control of the country, and its chairman Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, who had been Mubarakʼs Defense Minister for twenty years, is now Egyptʼs de-facto ruler. While SCAF was flexing its muscles, Egyptians went to the polls in the first free parliamentary election in memory in which 62 per cent electorate cast ballots. The outcome in this first round of voting gave the Muslim Brotherhood 40 percent of the vote and the fundamentalist Salafist party Al Nour 23 percent. Liberals and secularists trailed far behind.

For Israel this outcome could be a harbinger of a falling out with post-Mubarak Egypt. Mubarak maintained the peace treaty with Israel as a pillar of his foreign policy. To the extent that an elected government reflects popular opinion towards the Jewish state, the treaty could be repudiated or seriously modified. Many Egyptians view Israel with extreme disfavor, as was evident two months ago when a mob attacked the Israeli embassy in Cairo forcing the ambassador and his staff to flee the country. So far the Muslim Brotherhood, the more moderate of the two Islamist factions, has remained quiet in regard to the treaty. It couches Shariah in moderate and ambiguous terms marking a sharp divide with the fundamentalist Al Nour Islamic party. Past Al Nour rhetoric towards Israell has been extremely hostile. So far, there is no indication how SCAF would decide on the treaty, though under the Mubarak regime, the military showed no sign of seeking confrontation with Israel.

Now Consider Turkey

Jerusalemʼs other main ally, Turkey, has turned its back on Israel and has become a sharp critic of its handling the Palestine issue. Until roughly two years ago the two countries were strategic partners in a wide range of military, economic, and political matters. All that has ended. Ostensibly the rupture was brought about by an attempt by a Turkish non- governmental organization with close ties to Ankara to run a flotilla of vessels to breach Israelʼs blockade of Hamas-ruled Gaza. The Netanyahu government did not take kindly to this action. Israeli marines boarded the lead vessel and in the ensuing struggle, nine Turkish citizens lost their lives. Prime Minister Recip Erdogan, undoubtedly the most popular Turkish leader since Ataturk, demanded an apology for the killing of its citizens. Netanyahu countered by stating the Israeli marines were justified in using force and refused to apologize. An apology, he and his hardline foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman argued, was a strategic asset that had to be preserved. Ironically, Israelʼs military establishment and intelligence community did not view an apology as a prized commodity and urged Netanyahu to offer an apology as a way to soften Turkeyʼs growing enmity; Secretary of State Hillary Clinton quietly called on him to bite the bullet and apologize but he refused. Meantime, Erdogan has dug in his heels and in a tour of Arab and African countries, spared no effort to demonize Israel and champion the Palestinian cause.

It would be fanciful to believe that the Turkish prime minister severed his countryʼs strategic ties with Israel over the flotilla affair. Erdogan, an observant Muslim, had long maneuvered to become a leader in the Arab/Muslim world. Keeping the strategic relationship with Jerusalem would doom his ambitions. Under his leadership friendly relations were developed with Iran and close economic and military ties were forged with Syria. On a visit to Cairo, he held his country up as an example of the compatibility between Islamic values and democratic practices. As the Arab Spring brought little comfort to the Palestinian cause, Turkey picked up the cudgels for the Palestinians in the United Nations when Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestine Authority, sought membership in the world organization.

The strategy of forming close ties with Arab/Muslim world has suffered setbacks. Relations with Syria have soured as a result of the popular uprising and Assadʼs brutal crackdown on his own people, which according to the U.N., has led to the killing of 5,000 people. Turkey has granted refuge to many Syrians seeking to escape the murderous security forces and has called on Assad to step down. Despite friendship with Iran, the Turks have incurred the ire of the mullahs in Teheran for allowing the United States to set up a radar system on their soil that would detect Iranian missiles fired at Western Europe and Israel. Turkeyʼs system of combining democratic rule with Islamic values has not escaped criticism in Egypt from the conservative elements of the Muslim Brotherhood and fundamentalist Salafists who call for the imposition of shariah law.

Despite these setbacks, Erdogan remains wildly popular at home. There is a growing feeling that his policies of turning to the East and not the West are basically correct, particularly given European Unionʼs repeated rejections of Turkish membership. And unlike the E.U. which is lurching from one banking and Euro crisis to another and whose economy is mired in recession, Turkey is enjoying robust economic growth and low unemployment. With economic winds to his back, Erdogan remains committed to his political agenda of courting Arab countries and proclaiming his support for the Palestinian cause. Quiet efforts by the Obama administration to nudge Turkey to reconcile with Israel have come acropper; Erdogan has frozen ties with Jerusalem although much of the overtly harsh criticism of the recent past has been muted.

In this sea change in the Turkish/Arab world, Israelʼs right-wing government has lost some of its political footing. It has little or any control over the changes wrought by the Arab Spring. Whatever influence it might have had with Turkey over the flotilla incident it lost because of its refusal to apologize for its action in the flotilla incident. Even if such an apology were forthcoming, it is doubtful that the main lines of Turkish Middle Eastern policy would change. Although is still too early to predict the outcome of the political situation in Egypt in regard to the treaty although it is clear that the two Islamist parties, which have captured 65 per cents of the seats in the first round of parliamentary voting presents an unnerving scenario for Israel.

And We Must Not Overlook Syria

Syriaʼs Arab Spring just might yield some benefits for Israel. It has, for now removed the threat of hostilities with Syriaʼs powerful army which has been preoccupied with putting down the revolt against Assadʼs rule. Perhaps more significantly, it has forced the Hamas political leadership to move its Damascus-based headquarters to Cairo and Doha, the capital of Qatar. This shift to Egypt could moderate Hamasʼs behavior while reducing Teheranʼ ability to threaten clashes with Israel, according to Meir Javedanafar, an Iran expert based in Israel who called the move “a major strategic setback” for Iran. Leaders of the revolt have turned their ire against Hezbollah, Iranʼs proxy in Lebanon, for backing Assad and supporting his goal of crushing the popular uprising.

Regarding the Palestinians

It is indisputable that resolution of the Palestinian question is the sin qua non in achieving for Israel a modicum of reconciliation with Arab countries and Turkey. As of now, negotiations between the Palestine Authority headed by Mahmoud Abbas and the Netanyahu government are at an impasse. Netanyahu has insisted he is prepared to return to the negotiating table without conditions while Abbas has refused to do so as long as Israel continues to promote settlements in the West Bank and build new housing in East Jerusalem. The Israeli Prime Minister is also at odds with President Obama who called for negotiations based on the 1967 borders, a position Netanyahu publicly rejected in his address before the U.S. Congress. While Netanyahu is committed to a two-state solution of the conflict with the Palestinians, his goal is redraw the map of the proposed Palestinian state in a way that is unacceptable to Abbas. In the matter of Jerusalem, he is unalterably committed to the position of a unified Jerusalem under Israeli control. Calls by Hillary Clinton and, in more colorful language by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, to return to the negotiating table have gone unanswered.

Role of the US presidential elections

It is highly unlikely that the two sides will return to the negotiating table any time soon. U.S presidential elections have already dimmed the prospects of such an event from happening. The Obama administration has for now forsaken any thought of bringing the two sides together lest he be accused by the Republicans of pressuring Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians. The departure of Dennis Ross, Obamaʼs chief Middle East negotiator, is a clear indication of the administrationʼs quiescent position. Both Democrats and Republicans are positioning themselves on the Israel-Palestine issue to win over Jewish voters and Jewish campaign contributions.

The Republican candidates for president have accused Obama of abandoning Israel, or as Mitt Romney has said, “he threw Israel under a bus.” Newt Gingrich has referred to Palestinians as “an invented people.” Netanyahu himself shows no effort to resume negotiations with Abbas. Whenever Abbas takes a political initiative that the prime minister considers anti-Israel such as seeking membership in the U.N. or agreeing to unity talks with Hamas, Netanyahu announces the building of new housing in East Jerusalem which is sure to harden Palestinian attitudes towards a resumption of negotiations. Netanyahu knows that meaningful concessions to Abbas will threaten his grip on power; the hardline nationalists and religious and Haredi parties that are the bedrock of his coalition would almost certainly resign and lead to the collapse of the government.

In the face of this situation, Abbas decided to abandon the negotiating track and turn to the United Nations in the hope of gaining membership in the world organization. He also agreed to meet with Hamas in a bid to unify the Palestinian people. The Obama administration firmly opposed both moves. Direct negotiations between the two sides, Washington insisted, was the only way to resolve the conflict. It also opposed negotiations with Hamas, which the U.S. has branded a terrorist organization. Although Abbas succeeded in gaining full membership in the UNESCO, the Security Council, because of U.S. pressure on several council members, failed to support his bid for U.N. membership status. His attempt to achieve reconciliation with Hamas has so far gone nowhere. Lately, negotiations with Hamas have been renewed but, so far, there are no signs of a breakthrough. Furious at these attempts for U.N. membership and talks with Hamas, Israel responded by announcing the construction of new housing in East Jerusalem and withholding customs and tax revenues in the amount of $100 million it is legally obligated to hand over to the Palestine Authority. After a month watching the P.A. cut back salaries to its employees, Israel, under pressure from Washington and the European Union agreed to restore the money. If the renewed talks succeed and Fatah and Hamas form a unity government, Israel has ruled out the possibility of future negotiations on peace talks.

Western Government Influences

Israelʼs deepening isolation in the region has been the subject of attention in Western government circles. Recently, four European countries members of the United Nations Security Council called on Israel to reverse its settlement building plans, saying they were illegal, sent a “devastating message” and threatened the prospects of a two-state solution. The criticism of Israel has come from Britain, France, Germany and Portugal that it has long counted among its closest European allies, pointing up Israelʼs growing diplomatic isolation over the Palestine issue.

The settlement policy and housing construction and growing violence against Palestinians in the West Bank have prompted left-leaning Israeli non-governmental organizations to escalate their attacks against the government. These organizations have also called for a boycott of goods produced in the settlements raising the hackles of the nationalist and religious parties. Many of these NGOs receive part of their funding from Western European and American sources. In response to NGO criticisms, the Netanyahu government is considering legislation to limit the amount of foreign financial assistance these organizations may receive. No less insidious is the recently adopted controversial Anti-Boycott law which would make it a civil offence for any individual or group advocating an economic, cultural or academic boycott of Israel or the West Bank settlements. An individual or group advocating such a boycott would be subject to fines and other penalties. Speaking at a closed forum in Washington, D.C., Hillary Clinton warned that such restrictions posed a threat to Israeli democracy. Civil rights activists in Israel as well as international human rights organizations have warned of the baleful effects they could have on the country. Reacting defensively, government ministers have rejected these assertions.

Of mounting concern is legislation working its way through the Knesset that would restrict freedom of the press. One of Israelʼs proudest claims is that it boasts the only free press in the Middle East. But journalists and civil rights activists warn this would no longer be true should the proposed media legislation be adopted. On November 20, approximately 500 journalists from different media outlets attended what was billed as an “emergency conference” in Tel Aviv to discuss what they consider unprecedented threats to freedom of the press. The conference protested the lawʼs libel provisions that the journalists say could tie their hands and stymie investigative reporting. The Knesset bill passed its first reading by a vote 42 to 31 the day after the conference. Also of great concern is the growing likelihood that channel 10, famed for its investigative journalism, will be forced to close down at the end of January because a parliamentary committee, at the behest of the prime minister, refused to extend a debt of $11 million to an offical regulatory body. Channel 10 reported on the numerous trips Netanyahu had taken as an elected official to Paris, London and New York before becoming prome minister in 2009. He and his wife flew first class, stayed in baronial hotel suites and, during this travel, lived beyond their means. The bills for this luxury travel were paid for by Netanyahuʼs wealthy friends. The widely viewed report did not make Netanyahu look good in the eyes of the public. Netanyahuʼs refusal to extend Channel 10ʼs debt is seen by observers as his way at getting back at the station.

No less a person than Shimon Peres, president of Israel, and a member of Kadima, has weighed in, saying that Channel 10ʼs efforts to survive, is “a struggle for Israelʼs democratic character”. Addressing other controversial actions by the government, he also stated he was “ashamed” of several bills being considered by the Knesset, believing they would infringe on democracy.

Concerns about a “Putinization of Israel”

Ben Caspit, a senior columnist with the daily newspaper Maariv said he sees a “Putinization of Israel”. “I never dreamed that I would see such things”, he said. Bloggers having also been expressing their fury at libel provisions in proposed Israeli law. The law would allow successful libel plaintiffs to win maximum awards of $80,000 even if they cannot prove they suffered actual harm. The sum represents a six-fold increase in the current maximum. In the event the media outlet in question did not offer the plaintiff the opportunity “to add his full response to the publication” the awards can rise to $400,000. The law, if finally adopted, would begin an era of self-censorship and paralyze investigative reporting, according to former Supreme Court justice Dalia Dorner, who is president of the Israel Press Council, the mediaʼs ethical body. Should that happen, the information space in Israel would shrink.

Israel has long boasted it is the only democracy in the Middle East. These laws, as they now stand, and the stepped up attacks against the Supreme Court, long a bulwark against legislative encroachments on Israeli society, could make such a boast ring hollow. Israel, to be sure, remains a robust democracy, but these turn of events have already cast a shadow over this bedrock of Israeli society.

Summary

With the deterioration of relations with Turkey and the uncertainties over the future course of the revolution in Egypt, Israelʼs diplomatic position in the Middle East has dramatically declined. Under the deposed Hosni Mubarak, Egypt had maintained a “cold peace” with the Jewish state and scrupulously adhered to the peace treaty that had been in force between the two countries for the past thirty years. Although the Islamists who won two-thirds of the seats in the newly elected parliament have issued statements promising not to tamper with the treaty, Israel has reason to be concerned that these promises are not commitments. Relations with Turkey, the other anchor of Israelʼs Middle East diplomacy have also suffered as this powerful Muslim state is seeking to become a prime leader in the Arab/Muslim world. In both these countries, the festering Palestine issue remains at the heart of their growing estrangement from Israel.

Given the intransigence of the Netanyahu government on the Palestine issue and its refusal to make the kind of concessions that could draw P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas back to the negotiating table, there is little hope that any meaningful progress will made in the near future in cutting this Gordian knot. Britain, France, and Germany, Israelʼs closest European friends, have recently sharpened their criticism of Israeli intransigence, thereby deepening its political isolation. Deterioration in its diplomatic situation has prompted the Netanyahu government to curb speech and press criticism of the settlements The anti-Boycott law would make it a civil offence to advocate an economic, cultural, or academic boycott of the settlements. Proposed legislation regarding the media would raise fines to ruinous heights for newspapers or other media that are convicted of libeling an individual or organization. This legislation now making its way through the Knesset is likely would almost certainly lead to an infringement of the freedom of the press. In an effort to protect the settlements, viewed by most of the world as illegal, the Netanyahu government, is restricting time-honored freedoms within Israel proper. The restrictions have drawn criticism from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, warning they pose a threat to Israeli democracy.

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Murray Gordon Silberman served nearly twenty-five years as a senior official in the United Nations Secretariat. Ten years of this time he spent in Vienna. While in the Austrian capital, he served five years as the Vienna correspondent of the Jerusalem Post. After retiring from the United Nations, he worked as a consultant to the American Jewish Committee and was the author of numerous monographs on foreign policy issues. He was also a contributor to the American Jewish Year Book, writing the chapter on Austrian Jewry. Murray Silberman became an ordained rabbi in 2000 after graduating from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. He has written numerous articles on the Middle East, Africa and India and is the author of the book Slavery in the Arab World. All his writings appear under the pen name Murray Gordon. Rabbi Silberman currently serves as the Jewish chaplain to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and two nursing homes.