Is Everyone Really Against Us?

Last month, Rabbi Richard Block wrote in Tablet about why he was unsubscribing to The New York Times:

The straw that broke my subscription’s back came on Aug. 19, when Hamas violated yet another truce, sending a fusillade of rockets into Israel. The Wall Street Journal’s headline read, “Gaza Rocket Strikes End Cease Fire.” A U.S. State Department spokesperson condemned the renewed rocket fire, holding Hamas responsible for causing the ceasefire to break down. The Times headline: “Rockets From Gaza and Israeli Response Break Cease-Fire.” Seriously? A newspaper that cannot distinguish between starting a fight and defending oneself is intellectually deficient, morally obtuse, and profoundly unworthy of its readers.

I know the Times won’t miss me. The feeling is mutual.

If you read Block’s post, then you owe it to yourself to read Chemi Shalev’s response in Ha’aretz:

It all makes for the depressingly insular, self-righteous, with-us-or-against-us mentality that is delineating Israel and many of [its] followers abroad as an island unto themselves. In this cloister, the only benchmark for judging the worth of anyone — countries and institutions, newspapers and opera companies, artists and authors — is whether they accept or reject the Israel-good, Arab-bad narrative. By this standard, the bible itself, with its constant harping on Israel’s bad ways and the Lord’s displeasure would probably be blasted from Brooklyn to Beit Shemesh today for its negative portrayal of Jews.

By parting ways with the New York Times and “not missing” the great intellectual wealth that it offers, day in and day out, Block would have Jews return, mutatis mutandis, to the kind of stifling ghetto that drove his theological forefathers, two centuries ago, to set up the Reform movement in the first place.

Is Obama “Enraged” at Israel?

Last week in The Wall Street Journal, Bret Stephens started an entire column by referring to an interview in which Martin Indyk said that President Obama was “enraged” about the way Israel treated Secretary of State John Kerry.

Stephens then pretended that Obama himself had used the word “enraged” and compared that to the President’s statements on other world issues.

What exactly prompted Indyk to characterize the President as “enraged”? Stephens would not tell you, but I will: Indyk said that an unnamed Israeli official “described Kerry as launching ‘a strategic terror attack.’ That was just outrageous and it enraged the president.”

This was Indyk speaking, not the President, but most reasonable people would be enraged at such a statement. Stephens claimed that President Obama was “enraged” at Israel, but it is clear from Indyk’s comments that the President was enraged (in Indyk’s view) at the statement, not at Israel, and not even at Israel’s overall treatment of Kerry — a big difference that Stephens ignores.

Indyk also said in the same interview that Obama has “been absolutely clear that whatever the differences he may have with the Israeli prime minister, he’s not going to touch the security relationship. And he’s been very strongly supportive of Israel’s security requirements, notwithstanding the real tension in the personal relationship.” Stephens forgot to mention that part.

Click here to sign up to Steve Sheffey’s newsletter.

Kerry: I Came to Israel “Without Any Illusions About the Difficulties”

Secretary of State John Kerry spoke about the Israeli-Arab peace talks at the memorial for Israel’s former prime minister, Itzhak Rabin:

I come here without any illusions about the difficulties, but I come here determined to work with leaders — with the Prime Minister, with the President of the Palestinian Authority — to try to find a way forward so that Israel can live the dream that President Peres and Prime Minister Rabin expressed so eloquently and beautifully in the tragedy of that day here and in many days before that. We will continue to work, and I can promise Israelis that America will stand by the side of Israel every step of the way.

During the ceremony, a protest was held, opposing the release of dozens of jailed Arab terrorists as a precondition for starting the peace talks.

Full remarks after the jump.
Kerry: It’s a great privilege for me and always a sad moment to come to remember the memory of a great man, a great general, a great prime minister, a great leader, a great man of peace. And one can hear his booming voice saying the words — the famous words — “We are destined to live together.”  

Here, just moments before his life was taken and the possibilities of peace were disrupted through an act of violence, he stood up on that balcony with his friend, Shimon Peres, and together, they sang, “Don’t whisper a prayer. Sing a song of peace in a loud voice.” We are now 18 years since that moment, and it is clear that we need voices ready to sing a song of peace loudly, with courage, with the same determination that Prime Minister Rabin showed in his quest for peace. He dared to take the risks for peace because he believed not just that it was important for the sake of peace, but that it was vital for the security and future of Israel, and of the region.

Eighteen years is important because I am told that 18 is important in the Proverbs — the 18th Proverb, it says that “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” Death and life in the power of the tongue. So what we say with our voices, how we talk about peace, how we prepare the possibilities of peace are really critical to all of us. We need to avoid incitement. We need to sing that song that Prime Minister Rabin and President Peres embraced together.  

Eighteen is also, I am told, very important in Hebrew, because the letters that write the word “eighteen” literally mean life, hayyim. I remember shouting those words once from the top of Masada in my first visit to the Holy Land. And we stood up there and together, as a group, we shouted across the chasm, “(In Hebrew), hayyim.”  Those words meant something to me. And so maybe 18, maybe the word hayyim in life will have a special meaning at this particular moment.  

The Proverbs also teach us L’chaim. That’s something we now need to put into practice. So I come here without any illusions about the difficulties, but I come here determined to work with leaders — with the Prime Minister, with the President of the Palestinian Authority — to try to find a way forward so that Israel can live the dream that President Peres and Prime Minister Rabin expressed so eloquently and beautifully in the tragedy of that day here and in many days before that.  

We will continue to work, and I can promise Israelis that America will stand by the side of Israel every step of the way. We believe this is something that is possible, that is good for all, and that it can be achieved. And I will leave here inspired by being here with Dalia and with members of the family, most importantly by seeing the symbolism of the turbulence, the earthquake that followed that moment of violence. It should rededicate every person in Israel with the possibility of a just and appropriate and fair peace which protects the security of Israel, guarantees that Israel’s security will be protected, but makes possible for people to live the words of the prime minister, “We are destined to live together,” I add, in peace. Thank you.

Tel Aviv’s mayor, Ron Huldai: We appreciate the fact that you took the time to begin your visit here in Tel Aviv, the center of Israeli democracy. In this spot, Prime Minister of Israel Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated because of his quest for peace. From here, he spoke. We want to tell you, Mr. Secretary, that the people of Israel and the city of Tel Aviv, therefore, want peace. And the person who will manage to bring peace, will receive our highest appreciation, and it is true.  

So I wish you and all of us good luck in this challenging mission. Thank you, Mr. Secretary.  

Kerry: Thank you, Mr. Mayor.

Rabin’s daughter, Dalia Rabin-Pelossof: Mr. Secretary, Mayor of Tel Aviv, ambassadors of Israel to Washington and Ambassador Dan Shapiro, Ambassador Martin Indyk, and all the staff that joins you, I really appreciate and I am moved — the fact that you came to this painful and tragic spot in Tel Aviv where his life was taken brutally 18 years ago. It’s very symbolic that you came here. It’s the 5th of November.  Yesterday, we marked the 18th anniversary.  

And we all wish you all the best because everybody that stands here understand that this is the only way, his way, that maybe was a little ahead of his time, but 18 years is enough time that has passed by, and it’s time to make peace between Israelis and the Palestinians. We wish you luck and we keep our fingers crossed. And thank you so much for coming over here. (Applause.)

Kerry Names Indyk as Special Envoy for Israeli-Palestinian

Secretary of State John Kerry And Ambassador Martin Indyk
July 29, 2013, Press Briefing Room, Washington, D.C.

SECRETARY KERRY:  Good morning, everybody. Well, as you all know, it’s taken many hours and many trips to make possible the resumption of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. And the negotiators are now en route to Washington, even as we speak here. And I will have more to say about the journey to this moment and what our hopes are after our initial meetings conclude tomorrow.

This effort began with President Obama’s historic trip to Israel and Ramallah in March of this year.  And without his commitment, without his conversations there, and without his engagement in this initiative, we would not be here today. The President charged me directly with the responsibility to explore fully the possibility of resuming talks. And in our meetings with President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu, he conveyed his expectations for this process.

Transcript continues follows the jump.
Getting to this resumption has also taken the courageous leadership of Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas. And I salute both of them for their willingness to make difficult decisions and to advocate within their own countries and with their own leadership teams – countries with the Palestinian territories.

I would also like to recognize the important contributions of senior negotiators on both sides, particularly Minister Tzipi Livni and Saeb Erekat, both of whom really stood up and stood strong in the face of very tough criticism at home and whose unwavering commitment made the launch of these talks possible. I look forward to beginning work with them tonight.

Going forward, it’s no secret that this is a difficult process. If it were easy, it would have happened a long time. It’s no secret, therefore, that many difficult choices lie ahead for the negotiators and for the leaders as we seek reasonable compromises on tough, complicated, emotional, and symbolic issues. I think reasonable compromises has to be a keystone of all of this effort. I know the negotiations are going to be tough, but I also know that the consequences of not trying could be worse.

To help the parties navigate the path to peace and to avoid its many pitfalls, we’ll be very fortunate to have on our team on a day-to-day basis, working with the parties wherever they are negotiating a seasoned American diplomat, Ambassador Martin Indyk, who has agreed to take on this critical task at this crucial time as the UN – U.S. – excuse me – U.S. Special Envoy for Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations. Assisting Martin will be – as his deputy and as a senior advisor to me – will be Frank Lowenstein, who has been working with me on this process from the beginning.

In his memoir about the peace process, Ambassador Indyk quotes a poem by Samuel Coleridge that begins, “If men could learn from history, what lessons it would teach us!” Ambassador Indyk brings to this challenge his deep appreciation for the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And from his service under President Clinton, Secretary Christopher, and Secretary Albright, he brings a deep appreciation for the art of U.S. diplomacy in the Middle East. That experience has earned Ambassador Indyk the respect of both sides, and they know that he has made the cause of peace his life mission. He knows what has worked and he knows what hasn’t worked, and he knows how important it is to get this right.

Ambassador Indyk is realistic. He understands that Israeli-Palestinian peace will not come easily and it will not happen overnight. But he also understands that there is now a path forward and we must follow that path with urgency. He understands that to ensure that lives are not needlessly lost, we have to ensure that opportunities are not needlessly lost. And he shares my belief that if the leaders on both sides continue to show strong leadership and a willingness to make those tough choices and a willingness to reasonably compromise, then peace is possible.

So Martin, I’m grateful that you’ve agreed to take a leave from your post at the Brookings Institution to serve once again in this most important role. And I know that you are eager to get to work, as am I.  Martin.

AMBASSADOR INDYK: Thank you. Mr. Secretary, thank you very much for that generous introduction and for vesting in me such important responsibilities. I am deeply honored to serve you and to serve President Obama in your noble endeavor to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace. The fact that later today Israeli and Palestinian negotiators will sit down in this building to resume final status negotiations after a three-year hiatus is testament to your extraordinary tireless efforts, backed by President Obama, to try to resolve this intractable conflict.

President Obama made the case so eloquently in his historic speech in Jerusalem in March of this year when he argued to an audience of young Israelis that, quote, “Peace is necessary, peace is just, and peace is possible.” And you, Mr. Secretary, have proven him right. You’ve shown that it can be done.

I couldn’t agree more with President Obama. It’s been my conviction for 40 years that peace is possible since I experienced the agony of the 1973 Yom Kippur War as a student in Jerusalem. In those dark days, I witnessed firsthand how one of your predecessors, Henry Kissinger, brokered a ceasefire that ended the war and paved the way for peace between Israel and Egypt.

Because of your confidence that it could be done, you took up the challenge when most people thought you were on a mission impossible. And backed by the President, you drove the effort with persistence, patience, and creativity. As a result, today, Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Mahmoud Abbas have made the tough decisions required to come back to the negotiating table.

I’m therefore deeply grateful to you and to President Obama for entrusting me with the mission of helping you take this breakthrough and turn it into a full-fledged Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. It is a daunting and humbling challenge, but one that I cannot desist from. I look forward with great excitement to working with you, President Abbas, and Prime Minister Netanyahu, and their teams, to do our best to achieve President Obama’s vision of two states living side-by-side in peace and security. I also look forward to working with the team that you are assembling, starting with Frank Lowenstein, who, as you said, has made such an important contribution to getting us to this point and who will be my partner in this endeavor.

Fifteen years ago my son, Jacob, who was 13 at the time, designed a screensaver for my computer. It consisted of a simple question that flashed across the screen constantly: Dad, is there peace in the Middle East yet? I guess you could say, Mr. Secretary, that he was one of the original skeptics. (Laughter.) But behind that skepticism was also a yearning. And for 15 years, I’ve only been able to answer him, “Not yet.”Perhaps, Mr. Secretary, through your efforts and our support, we may yet be able to tell Jake, and more importantly, all those young Israelis and Palestinians who yearn for a different, better tomorrow, that this time, we actually made it.

Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you, all. We’ll see you later. Thank you.

Martin Indyk Calls ECI’s Misquote “Low and Odious”

— by Max Samis

Time and time again, the Emergency Committee For Israel has launched partisan attacks that range anywhere from disingenuous to blatantly false. Now, their latest advertisement has been attacked by one of the individuals it quoted. Martin Indyk, the former Ambassador to Israel during the Clinton administration, told Alexander Burns of Politico that ECI took his words “completely out of context” in what he deemed a “low and odious” political ploy.

Burns wrote:

The Emergency Committee for Israel placed ads in Jewish newspapers this week accusing Obama of being a poor friend to Israel. The ad features several critical quotes, including this one from Indyk: ‘From his first day in the White House, he put the Middle East at the top of his political agenda. Unfortunately for him, his personal involvement only made things worse.’

Indyk, now at the Brookings Institution, says the newspaper ad is not an accurate representation of his view of the Obama administration’s Israel policy.

‘First of all, my words are taken completely out of context. I’m voting for Obama, and I hope he gets reelected. It’s outrageous to me that my words would be used in an ad to try and change Jewish voters,’ he said in an interview. ‘I don’t think there’s any chance it’ll work, but it’s a low and odious attempt to twist some words for the purpose of politicizing an analysis I was doing.’

‘The reality,’ he continued, ‘is that George W. Bush and Bill Clinton also got involved and made matters worse. And I too got involved and made matters worse.”

The former diplomat pointed to a number of Obama administration measures supporting Israel – including military aid and cooperation on covert actions against Iran – and concluded: ‘Anybody looking at the facts would judge him to have fulfilled his commitment to support Israel’s security.’

Indyk’s office also released a statement to Teisha Bader of Shalom TV:

I am deeply disappointed that my analysis of President Obama’s Middle East policy, as outlined in my recent book, Bending History: Barack Obama’s Foreign Policy, has been distorted for partisan political purposes. President Obama has made mistakes, just like others who have tried and failed to make peace in the Middle East. (I include myself in that category.) But the President has been true to his promise of doing everything possible to ensure Israel’s security and he deserves high praise for that.