Saturday, May 15, 2010

From work to welfare


Israel’s "Wisconsin Plan" was shut down. Why?

Moshe remembers his six years on welfare. “I’d go to the Employment Service, sign in and go home,” he says. “Sometimes I’d do a little work off the books.” Now a full-time, tax-paying pizza chef, Moshe, 44, is sitting in the downtown Jerusalem offices of Amin, the local branch of the controversial “welfare-to-work” program, commiserating with the case workers and managers whom he credits with turning his life around.

Like the other welfare-to-work branches in Ashkelon, Netanya, Hadera and Nazareth, Amin was laying off its employees, referring its job-seeking clients back to the Employment Service and shutting its doors. This follows the Knesset’s April 30 decision to end the privatized jobs program – nicknamed “Wisconsin” for the US state where the prototype was developed in the late 1980s.

“Now all the people who used to come here are going to go back to the Employment Service, and they’re going to become deadbeats and con artists again,” says Moshe. Nationwide, some 18,000 people were signed up in the Wisconsin program.

In the last generation, as the effects of globalization closed down much of the country’s blue-collar industry, a “permanent underclass” took root here – people who hadn’t worked in years, had despaired of ever finding another job and were resigned to a life on welfare. In 1990, the number of Israelis on welfare was roughly 10,000; by this year, it has risen to about 120,000. The most ambitious, expensive and “out-of-the-box” attempt to get these people off welfare and into jobs was the Wisconsin plan.

The basic idea behind Wisconsin is that giant government bureaucracies like the Employment Service cannot or will not give the intensive, personal attention needed to get the long-term, “hard-core” unemployed into jobs – but that smaller, more flexible private companies can. In recent decades, the Wisconsin approach has become a “way of life” in America, says Sari Revkin, director of Yedid, an NGO that was deeply involved in the program here. It is spreading “almost exponentially” in Europe, says Andrew Dutton, a Briton whose investor group owns 70 percent of Amin as well as hundreds of millions of dollars worth of welfare-to-work programs across Europe.

But after less than five years here, the program is finished, branded a failure by the Knesset. The latest announcement from the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry, which oversaw Wisconsin, is that the handling of the hard-core unemployed – including the 18,000 registered at the five welfare-to-work branches – will revert to the Employment Service.

This comes even as several independent observers found that while the national Wisconsin program ha d very deep problems, it had improved greatly in the last two years, and at any rate was doing a much better job than the Employment Service ever had.

“The program should be fixed, not abandoned,” says Revkin. “I don’t know anybody getting unemployment benefits who thinks the Employment Service is doing a good job.”

A STUDY by the Myers-JDC Brookdale Institute (the Joint) found that the Israeli program “was a success in relation to similar programs in other countries,” says retired Hebrew University social welfare professor Jack Habib, director of the Joint. “About 25% of the participants found jobs within the first eight months, which is very good by international standards and much better than those who were served by the Employment Service. And their income from these jobs was significantly higher than what they were getting in state benefits.”

HU social welfare professor John Gal, who sat on several government committees designing and evaluating the program, disputes the Joint’s finding that the new jobs paid better than welfare, saying, “that wasn’t the case very often. When they found jobs, they lost their state benefits, so in the end they were making more or less the same as when they weren’t working.”

Gal has other criticisms of the program, such as that it was too profit-oriented and didn’t offer much vocational training, but even he says it shouldn’t have been scrapped.

“Welfare-to-work programs can help a certain proportion of the population in times of economic growth,” he says, adding that the Employment Service has never done what the Wisconsin program did for the hard-core unemployed – such as tailor programs to individuals, teach them how to find jobs through the Internet, how to write a CV, how to sell themselves in job interviews, etc. “The Employment Service has never wanted that task,” he says.

HU Emeritus Prof. Jona Rosenfeld, who won an Israel Prize for social welfare research, did a study for the Joint of 20 “success stories” at Amin to see what the program was doing right. “For instance,” he says, “there was a woman whose husband wanted her to become a prostitute, who couldn’t read or write, who’d never worked in her life. In the program she learned to read and write, and with the help of her case worker, she left her husband, moved in with her mother and found a job working with children. It paved her way out of a horrible life.”

The people at Amin “did the impossible” for their clients, Rosenfeld says, adding that the heads of the programs in Ashkelon and Netanya likewise struck him as “very unusual people, with a passion for what they were doing – the opposite of bureaucrats.” Noting the program’s official name – Orot Leta’asuka, or “lights to employment,” he says, “I think these people should be seen as leading lights to employment, and what they’ve built should not be dismantled.”

Curiously enough, another enthusiast of the project was Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. “...[T]he plan certainly succeeded. It did not lack problems that must be corrected but the plan’s closure is a blow, a blow to the idea that we want to promote, that Israelis who can work – should work, period,” he said at the May 2 cabinet meeting.

Netanyahu went on to say he “was not prepared to give up on this,” but in the following days the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry announced the Employment Service was taking over the job of handling the hard-core unemployed. Some Israelis and foreign investors in the Wisconsin program still hope to be involved in a new incarnation of it, but given the political opposition to Lights to Employment – illustrated by the Knesset’s decision to kill it – the chances of reviving a privatized jobs program appear very slim.

WHAT HAPPENED? Why did a seemingly successful approach to an entrenched social and economic malady, an approach that’s gained acceptance throughout the West, get shot down here?

“It was a combination of politics and the program’s bad public image,” says Ran Melamed, Yedid’s deputy director.

The decisive vote to end Wisconsin was cast by the Knesset Labor and Social Affairs Committee, headed by Likud MK Haim Katz. Critics of the decision say Katz, whose power base is the workers at Israel Aerospace Industries, was acting on behalf of another powerful Histadrut interest, the Employment Service workers, who opposed Wisconsin and even went on strike to stop it, seeing the program as a threat to their jobs.

Katz’s spokesman, Ilan Marciano, insists that his boss, like a majority of committee, was moved instead by “a lot of the claims made against the way the program was being run.” Furthermore, Katz believes the system should not be privatized and that the Employment Service, if given the chance, can do as good a job as the welfare-to-work companies, and “on half the money,” says Marciano.

(Rosenfeld is less optimistic, saying, “You know how hard it is to change large bureaucratic structures? It will take many years to transform the Employment Service, and it will require people who have the passion to transform it.”)

But it’s also true that many complaints had been made against the program from the beginning – mainly that the companies were making huge profits, and that they showed much more interest in dumping people off the welfare rolls as quickly as possible than in getting them into decent, long-term jobs.

Supporters of Wisconsin agree that these complaints were completely valid – during the first two years of the program, which opened its doors in August 2005. But they also agree that fundamental improvements were made in late 2007 when Eli Yishai took over as Industry, Trade and Labor Minister.

“He exempted everyone over 45 from having to take part in the program,” says Revkin, noting that this allowed many thousands of people who were unlikely to find jobs because of their age – many if not most of them Russian immigrants – from having to waste 30 hours a week at a Wisconsin center to get their benefit checks.

No less important, says Revkin, Yishai transformed the economic model of the program. “During the first two years, the Treasury just wanted the companies to get people off welfare to save money, and the companies made their profit that way. They made money hand over fist. But Yishai changed it so that the profit incentive was for the companies to get people into decent jobs – jobs that paid above minimum wage and had opportunities for growth.”

Even Bari Bar-Zion, CEO of Jerusalem’s Amin program, acknowledges that “it was not moral to give companies the profit incentive solely to get people off welfare instead of into stable jobs.” The change cut into the companies’ profits, with Dutton saying Amin made good money in the first two years – though not as good as its welfare-to-work programs in Europe – while breaking even at best in the last year.

Had Yishai remained minister of industry, trade and labor, he might have fought in the Knesset for Wisconsin, his “baby,” say the program’s proponents. But now that Yishai has the Interior Ministry, he has other matters on his agenda. (Yishai’s spokesman says the minister has no comment on Wisconsin.)

“From the beginning, the program never had an abba or ima to protect it politically,” says Revkin.

Meanwhile, the early word-of-mouth from clients and the horror stories in the media stuck to the program’s image, even after Yishai’s fundamental reforms, making Wisconsin politically unpopular.

Conservative-minded Israeli Arabs didn’t like the program because it forced Arab women to leave the house for work. Immigrants who’d been professionals in the former Soviet Union didn’t like the program because it forced them into menial jobs. Many social activists didn’t like it because they’re opposed in principle to privatizing government services. And on the Knesset’s Labor and Social Affairs Committee, Israeli Arabs had the ear of MK Muhammad Barakei (Hadash), immigrants had the ear of MK Orly Levy (Israel Beiteinu), and social activists had the ear of MKs Shelly Yacimovich (Labor) and Ilan Gilon (Meretz).

Unfortunately, past governments and their bureaucracies – those who planned the program in the early 2000s – have no one to blame but themselves.

COMPARING THE local program to those in the US, Revkin, once a social activist in the US, says much greater forethought and planning went into the American system.

“One of greatest growth industries that came of Wisconsin in the States was child care – single mothers in the program needed child care to go to work, and the natural, most efficient thing was to train them to become professional child-care-givers themselves,” she says. “By comparison, after the Nazareth program opened, it found that there were no child care centers in the city for the clients, so the program itself had to create a local child care network from scratch. Couldn’t that problem have been anticipated beforehand?”

In the Treasury’s eagerness to save money, Russian immigrants who found jobs were forced to give up their immigrants’ basket of benefits and services, which made it not worth their while to work; that changed with Yishai.

In the early days, Russian immigrants in their 50s often felt humiliated having to answer to case workers 20 years younger than them; that also changed when the cut-off age changed to 45.

There were grievous stories, such as the one about a group of Israeli Arab women who got a job picking mushrooms, then, after the farmer went bankrupt, had to sue the man and wait eight months to get paid. “We told the Treasury and the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry, ‘Look, you forced these people to work, they went to work and never got paid. Shouldn’t you give them a few months’ salary?’ The ministries told us it wasn’t their problem,” recalls Melamed.

Certain problems were never solved, such as vocational training, which was superficial, says Revkin. “If people don’t have job skills, they’re never going to get better than menial, minimum-wage work, which means they’re never going to get out of poverty,” she says. “They’ll just go from the ranks of the nonworking poor to the ranks of the working poor.”

It was a rickety system, heavily regulated, running by trial and error; not all the case workers were compassionate, not all the clients found jobs or even hope. But many did, which wasn’t the case before Wisconsin began.

“For two years I used to sign up at the Employment Service and go home. No one there ever helped me find a job, no one there ever asked me what I was going through, no one had a good word for me,” recalls Shoshana, 42, sitting in the Amin office. “When I came here I started taking course after course, and then I worked as a volunteer fund-raiser at a charity. I began to feel confident that I could help people who were in the same situation I was in, and I asked the people here to give me a chance to work here, and they did.”

Shoshana was a case worker at Amin for a year. Like the other staffers, she’s just gotten laid off. She is on her way back to the Employment Service in the coming days to see what jobs were available.

“I feel like the state has given up on me and everyone else in my position,” she says. “From the first day I started here, I felt a sense of mission. I gave everything I could to the people who come in here, they trusted me. I got them all the government support I could – grants, discounts, rent subsidies. I told them to believe in themselves, and a lot of them found work. Now I’m laid off like everyone else, and I’m afraid I’m going to slip back into the misery I got out of.”

Nobody, not even the people who ran the welfare-to-work companies, is suggesting that Wisconsin was a “magic bullet” for the long-term unemployed. There are entrenched problems in the Israeli job market that no private or public program can solve, above all, that so many jobs – roughly 40% – pay minimum wage, or about NIS 3,800 a month. This means that in many if not most cases, a minimum-wage employee may make less money than he did on welfare.

“People who are out of work and living on benefits can get rent subsidies, municipal tax subsidies, child care subsidies and once he starts working, these benefits get reduced if not cut out altogether,” says Revkin. “If you’re not earning NIS 6,000 a month at your job, you’re probably going to be in worse financial shape than you were on welfare.”

NEITHER THE Wisconsin program nor the Employment Service can force employers to pay higher wages, or force the Histadrut to represent low-paid private sector workers instead of just well-paid public sector employees, say labor market observers. Neither the Wisconsin program nor the Employment Service can force haredi yeshiva students to find jobs, nor force Israeli Arab society to accept the idea of women working, nor force Jewish-owned businesses to hire Israeli Arab employees in good jobs.

This was the reality the welfare-to-work companies had to contend with. Few haredim came to the program because yeshiva students who receive government stipends are not technically welfare recipients. However, there was a high proportion of Arabs, especially in Jerusalem and Nazareth – and their economic prospects were slim.

“By the end, a majority of the clients in Jerusalem were from [Arab] east Jerusalem. Most of them didn’t know Hebrew; some of them couldn’t read or write Arabic; the women had never worked outside their homes. Who in west Jerusalem was going to hire them? And what jobs are there in east Jerusalem?” insists Revkin, whose organization served as an address for thousands of clients in Jerusalem, Nazareth and Ashkelon who needed assistance with debts, housing, legal challenges and other financial issues.

Another harsh reality faced by the welfare-to-work companies was the geography of the economy: The program went to where the unemployed live, but also to where the jobs are scarce. “There was a single mother in Ashkelon who got a full-time job cleaning offices in the Azrieli building in Tel Aviv. She’s commuting from Ashkelon to Tel Aviv every morning and every evening for a minimum-wage job while she’s trying to raise her kids. That’s a solution?” asks Revkin.

For many poor people, the way around this lose-lose situation – the choice between poverty on welfare and poverty on the job – is to work off-the-books in the “black” economy. This cheats society out of money for public services and cheats the employees out of legal benefits, but it’s a fact of life. One of the goals of the Wisconsin program was to make sure welfare recipients were not working on the side off-the-books, so they were required to spend 30 hours a week in the program’s office or lose their benefits.

“We started with 5,000 clients and finished with 1,200. Half of the ones who are gone found jobs; the other half did not find jobs but are no longer getting benefits,” says Bar-Zion, CEO of Amin, implying that a great proportion of the latter group decided it wasn’t worth their while to give up their jobs in the black economy.

Tirza Bar-Chaim, head of the welfare-to-work program in Nazareth, is in the process of firing 75 employees and sending a couple of thousand clients to the Employment Service. “These have been a very, very difficult few days,” she says.

She’s feels like it’s all going down the drain. “Everything that was learned by trial and error for five years – what’s going to happen with it? Who’s going to use it?”

She doesn’t know what’s going to happen to her employees and the clients, most of whom are Arab; the office took clients from Nazareth, Upper Nazareth and the Arab town of Ein Mahil. “They’re good people, a lot of them will integrate into the job market – but I’m also realistic, we know the difficulties and discrimination.”

Bar-Chaim says 10,000 welfare recipients were referred to the program, 5,000 showed up, and of these 5,000, 44% found jobs, and four out of five who found jobs remained in them for at least a year. “Everything we set out to achieve was achieved, over and above what we expected.” Now, she says, the chill is setting in and a lot of people are going to be left outside.

“We just put 18 women, mainly Arabs, on a job-training course at WIZO, mainly in child care. We got them financial support, we paid for the transportation. This was like a dream for them – and now it’s stopped. I wonder what the government is going to do for them now.”

Since the closure order came down on April 30, Bar-Chaim says she’s gotten a whole “rainbow” of responses from clients. “The great majority are worried, they feel terrible, they’re very, very unhappy about this,” she says. “But yes, there were some who were happy. A small minority. You can always find people who will criticize, who never found jobs. But the point is that there were thousands who did.”

In Jerusalem, Dutton, one of the British investors in Amin, says he still hopes at least some part of Lights to Employment will be salvaged. Meanwhile, he says his investor group won an £800 million contract to start additional welfare-to-work programs in the UK, and is bidding on a 1 billion euro contract to set up a new network of programs in France.

Friday, May 14, 2010

"Really Angry"

Arlene Kushner

Because of Shabbat preparations I was going to skip a post today but circumstances have motivated me to write, although it will be brief. I'm calling out the troops.

Yesterday I wrote about what Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch said regarding the fact that demolition of illegal Arab housing in Jerusalem was going to proceed. The delay in carrying out these (court ordered) demolitions, he said, was the result of "diplomatic sensitivities" but that this situation no longer applies.

Not much. And this is why I am very angry. If you were with me you'd see the steam coming out of my ears.

I anticipated that the US would protest, but it's gone further than that. The US has asked for a "clarification," and now the Public Security Ministry expects Netanyahu to put a hold on the demolitions. Yesterday, the Ministry put out a statement that:

“Police do not destroy homes, but rather secure the demolitions, in line with court decisions. Police will carry out every mission given to it by the courts. The rule of law is not a vehicle for a Middle Eastern political and geostrategic discussion.” I had addressed this issue of rule of law yesterday, and this is a marvelous and appropriate statement coming from a sovereign democracy.

However, there was also a clarification in that statement:

“We are subordinate to decisions by the attorney-general and the government, and we will act according to their decisions.” Put simply, we know what is right, but cannot be responsible if the government overturns us.

Damn, damn, damn.

You read my description of one case yesterday. There are many others as well. Ahmed Sheikh not only built beyond what he had permission for, he made a commitment to stop building while the appeals were going on, but defiantly continued to build. The court ordered what he had constructed to be razed a full year ago. And the government is tying the hands of the local authorities in carrying out this court order and others. Because the PA will scream and yell if we act with full legal authority and Obama will be angry. This will be an "obstruction to peace," you see.


And so...

First, please, contact Prime Minister Netanyahu. Using your own words, please, but tell him that a sovereign state acts with independence and a democracy acts according to rule of law. Tell him that in caving to demands of Obama he is undermining our sovereignty and the underpinnings of our democracy. Demand that he stand strong.

Fax: 02-670-5369 (From the US: 011-972-2-670-5369)

E-mail: and also (underscore after pm) use both addresses

There are two phone numbers listed for his Knesset office -- not the best way to contact him, but the only working numbers I have at the moment: 02-6753-227 and 02-640-8457.


Contact Minister Aharonavitch, as well, and tell him that you appreciate his strength on the matter of illegal housing demolitions, and that you stand with him.

Phone: 02-640-8825

Fax: 02-649-6188



When calling Israel from the US: 011-972 and then drop the first zero and continue with the number.


Then messages must go out in the US. Repeat what I said above about undermining Israeli democracy and sovereignty. Point out that the demolitions were planned only for Arab homes built illegally that the courts ordered to be demolished.

Additionally, point out that there is inequity in the response of the US government. Allude to the Palestinian Media Watch report describing the most recent PA incitement on TV that denies Israel's right to exist. I reported on this recently. It can be found at:

Promises aside, Abbas is continuing to turn a blind eye to incitement, and the US is ignoring this. If you are faxing (best) or using e-mail, include this URL.


It is probably pointless to contact the president, but do so anyway. Politely but firmly express your anger.

Fax: 202-456-2461

White House Comment line: 202-456-1111

E-mail form via:


More important, contact your elected representatives in the House and Senate. Politely express your concerns, as above, and ask that Congress reign in the administration with regard to its unreasonable pressure on Israel and its inequities. Explain that this stance will not and cannot bring peace.

For your Congresspersons:

For your Senators:

This is important, and, as always, numbers count. We are immersed in a serious struggle and your active support here helps. Put this up on blogs, share with lists. Make noise because the situation stinks.


If you are not already angry, this should do it:

When Netanyahu addressed the Knesset on Yom Yerushalayim, he spoke about the numerous references to Jerusalem in the Bible (it refers to Jerusalem and Zion 850 times).

Now PA negotiator Saeb Erekat says he found these references "distasteful": “[using] religion to incite hatred and fear.”


More after Shabbat...


see my website

"The Obscene State of the World"

Arlene Kushner

Before I talk about the obscenities, I would like to share news that might put a smile on your face:

Israeli marine scientists were astonished to discover the presence of a gray whole -- a mature male some 39 feet long and weighing roughly 20 tons -- in the Mediterranean off the coast of Herzliya. There have not been gray whales in this part of the world since the 18th century -- at which time pods here became extinct. Remaining gray whales live in the Pacific Ocean. Speculation is that this whale left the Pacific and entered the Atlantic via the Northwest passage, where reduction of ice made movement possible. The confused whale, instead of turning left into the California Gulf moved left at Gibralter and into the Mediterranean.

Scientists say it seems happy, and will be able to find food here as its eating preferences are flexible. There is speculation as to whether other whales might follow.


Having alluded to California, I will segue right into the next subject, which also involves that state; the issue at hand is highly obscene and left me speechless last night.

Author David Horowitz -- who is founder of the Freedom Center and publishes Front Page Magazine -- routinely gives speeches on US campuses as part of his effort to expose the extreme left-wing and radical Islamic strains found there today.

The URL below provides a short video clip in which David, having finished giving a talk at the University of California at San Diego, was taking questions from the student audience. To my mind, even worse than what the Muslim student's opinions are, is the fact that she was not afraid to express them -- within the climate established on that campus she felt free to publicly espouse destruction of the Jews.

The climate? Of course it is not all students are filled with hate. But according to what this student says, the Muslim Student Association holds a Hitler Youth Week.

I mourn for America.


But there is hope. Every time I see decent Americans fighting back, I know there is hope.

On June 6, 2010, at 12:00 noon, there will be a rally in NYC at Ground Zero -- organized by Stop Islamization of America (SIOA) -- protesting the plans to build a mosque at that site. Pam Geller of the AtlasShrugs blog is director of SIOA and hosting this event.

SIOA works to defend human rights, religious liberty, and the freedom of speech against Islamic supremacist intimidation.
What I have learned is that the unanimous approval extended by the Community Board for New York City’s financial district -- which I wrote about last -- was not just for a "simple" mosque of a couple of stories in height, but for the construction of a 13-story mosque and Islamic cultural center right across from Ground Zero, which they have dubbed Cordoba House.

This is a projected concept of the exterior.

Imagine the outrage of this looming over Ground Zero.


Rally speakers will include Nonie Darwash, former Muslim from Egypt, who is courageous in speaking out, and Simon Deng, Christian Sudanese ex-slave, equally courageous in campaigning against Sudanese Muslims who destroy human rights. I am sure you will hear from Geller, and from Robert Spencer, the knowledgeable director of, who is associate director of SIOA and co-host of the event, as well as others.

According to the release about this rally, "...the planned mosque has clandestine funding sources. Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf is a radical Islamic wolf in sheep's clothing, a seductive practitioner of taqiyya (dissimulation for the purpose of furthering the interest of the Faith) who blames America for the terrorist attacks on 911. Shortly after 9/11 he said in a CNN interview: 'US policies were an accessory to the crime that happened.' Elsewhere he said: 'The US and the West must acknowledge the harm they have done to Muslims before terrorism can end.'"

There is every reason to believe that the radical Islamist hatred that fomented 9/11 would be espoused and disseminated within that mosque, were it to be built. Not only is this something to be fiercely fought on its own grounds, in this case there is the further issue of the insult to the memory of those killed in the Twin Towers, and the grief this would bring to those who mourn them.


Edmund Burke first said it, I believe: "All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing."

As strongly as I ever urged participation at a rally, I urge your participation. Numbers help to send the necessary message. Stand up and be counted, here and at every other possible opportunity.

A reader of mine, responding to my pessimism about America, wrote some months ago, "Don't despair, the posse is coming!" I was deeply saddened to learn last week that he died after a long fight against a chronic illness. His words stay with me: "The posse is coming." America can be saved. If good Americans care enough.


A number of groups -- ACT for America, ZStreet, etc. -- are supporting this rally. If you can get your organization to sign on, that would also be wonderful.

You can contact Pam Geller and Robert Spencer by e-mail via this page:

The URL for the SIOA website is:


Today, my friends, I concede a point on which I have held out. Many of you have written, challenging me to deal with Obama's motivation. Until now I have declined, saying it's complex, and all that I can monitor are his words and acts, and the effects they have. But now...

The news has broken that the Obama administration is cutting the funding for Homeland Security in New York City. Yup, in the city where the Twin Towers came down, and where there have been at least 11 terror attempts since, most recently two weeks ago in Times Square. A 27% cut is projected for mass transit security and 25% for port security. Additionally, Obama wants to eliminate a $30 million program called "Securing our Cities," that would create a ring of radiation detectors around the city to monitor for nuclear and dirty bombs. He has even redeployed the Coast Guard's Maritime and Security Team from New York to Boston Harbor.

"For the administration to announce these cuts two weeks after the attempted Times Square bombing shows they just don’t get it and are not doing right by New York City on anti-terrorism funding," Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said.

Rep. Pete King (R-LI), the ranking Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, said the cuts were "dangerous and unconscionable."

"The threat against New York City, the top target of al-Qaeda, is increasing, not decreasing."

This doesn't feel like poor judgment, or an innocent error. This feels like calculated malice on the part of the man who throws around trillions without thinking twice but is not interested in protecting New York City.

(Once again, for this tip, I thank Reisa S.)

Still the rumors persist -- concerning what Netanyahu has promised Obama with regard to no building in Jerusalem over the Green Line. Can't say for sure that none of these rumors are true, but neither can I stand behind them as if they are fact. I can only report on the unease, the suspicion, that is in the air.

What I have determined as fact is that construction of housing is going on in Har Homa, that once-controversial Jewish neighborhood in the south-east of Jerusalem way past the Green Line. I qualify by noting that it is likely that the permits and bureaucratic paperwork that provided the go-ahead for this construction were all in place before the recent controversy. None-the-less, it has not been halted, as construction that had prior approval was halted in Judea and Samaria once that freeze went into effect.

And so, we now wait to see if anything new will be approved.


MK Aryeh Eldad (Ihud Leumi -- National Union) wrote a piece in yesterday's JPost that touches on this issue. Eldad is a medical doctor by training and experience. He says that he recognizes post-traumatic syndrome when he sees it, and that after his first meeting with Obama, Netanyahu exhibited symptoms of that syndrome; he was in a state of shock.

On his own, argues Eldad, Netanyahu would succumb to the pressure coming from Washington. But, thankfully, he is also confronting pressure from the opposite side:

"...there is pressure, and it will grow stronger...A few months ago, a 'Lobby for the Land of Israel' was established in the Knesset. It is led by a Likud Knesset member, in fact the chairman of the governing coalition, Zev Elkin, and by me...with the opposition in the Knesset. Forty-one members of Knesset, government ministers and deputy ministers joined this lobby whose goals are to stem the leftward tide, to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria, to prevent the dilution of Jewish settlements and to strengthen such settlement. Within this lobby are represented the National Union, Jewish Home, Shas, Israel Beitenu, Likud and even Kadima parties."

Says Eldad:

"Obama’s error is that of a proud novice in foreign policy: he has stretched out his hand towards Jerusalem.

"The Israeli slanderers of the extremist left, who run to report to the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv every time a house is built in Judea and Samaria, misled him. J Street misled him. Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod misled him. Obama figured, if there are Jews who support giving half of Jerusalem to the Arabs, it shouldn’t be a problem to force Netanyahu to go along.

"But Netanyahu can be beaten down only when there is no counter pressure. In this case, Netanyahu is not operating in a vacuum."

Three cheers for Aryeh Eldad and the Lobby. This, too, is standing up: in this case, against the evil that Obama intends for us in Jerusalem.


Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch (Yisrael Beitenu) announced yesterday that illegal Arab houses in eastern Jerusalem that the court has ordered be taken down would soon be razed. There had been a delay in this action because of "diplomatic concerns."


To clarify the picture a bit -- or perhaps, better, to give you a more realistic sense of how convoluted and highly politicized it all is -- I would like to provide a description of one such case:

The buildings in question in this case were constructed by one Ahmed Sheikh on land he owns in Silwan. Back in 2000, the Jerusalem Planning and Building Committee gave him permission to build one two-story structure on that land. In 2001, authorities realized that he had constructed one building of two-stories and had already laid the foundation for a second building. They issued a stop-work and demolition order. A hearing was scheduled and the municipality agreed to postpone execution of the order until after the hearing. In return, they secured a promise from Sheikh that he wouldn't continue building.

At some point, in the course of various legal delays, authorities discovered that Sheikh hadn't honored his promise to not continue building. This matter was bounced around from one court to the other, with Sheikh seeking postponements and cancellation of the orders.

In the course of all of this, the two buildings were completed, and occupied.

Ultimately, the court ordered that the demolition proceed. Deadline was set for May 2009 -- a year ago. Sheikh appealed again and the court turned him down.

But, a year later, this court-order demolition has not been effected. That's because the owner -- and undoubtedly the residents -- are Arab. It causes an international furor when we demolish illegal Arab housing; headlines lament the suffering of the expelled occupants. Many authorities here thus prefer to simply look the other way.


Now, not far from the houses built by Sheikh is a seven-story residence called Beit Yehonatan, built for Jews. It too, was lacking certain permits because it was supposed to have fewer stories. The court ordered that it should be sealed up and the occupants evacuated, but this was not done. Certain legal authorities (the municipal attorney, for example) were most perturbed by this and demanded that the mayor take action. Sure, said Nir Barkat, I'll do it -- but then I'll take down the illegal Arab houses that are sitting in the area as well. That, these same authorities were not so eager to see happen. Barkat proceeded with his plans, but was stopped by Netanyahu because it was "too sensitive" an issue following the Ramat Shlomo "crisis."

Now, Aharonovitch says illegal Arab housing will be razed. I will celebrate if this happens, because it would mean we have an administration that is not running scared of what the world says (see more on this below).


I fully expect that, if we really do raze those illegal Arab houses, we'll hear from Obama about how we are being obstructionist with regard to "peace." The fact that there is less than no regard for our due process of law within our democracy is as infuriating as anything else.

Also infuriating, however: Twice this past week, the message delivered on PA TV was that this land belongs only to the Arabs -- this has been reported by Palestinian Media Watch. On one occasion the narrator said we should go back to Europe and Ethiopia, "your original homeland." On another occasion the camera zeroed in on a map from which "Israel" had been erased.

But for all of Obama's talk about holding both parties responsible for obstructions to peace, and in spite of the talk about Abbas trying to prevent incitement (which we knew was a crock), I notice Obama has not seen fit to hold Abbas accountable.


And then, lastly, Heaven help us, we have Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who called upon people to "act responsibly and avoid harsh or provocative statements on Jerusalem." He was concerned, you see, about "an attack by senior ministers in the Israeli government against US attempts to restart the peace process."

An attack by ministers against US attempts for peace? Well, he was referring, for example, to Interior Minister Eli Yishai (Shas), who said there will never be a freeze in Jerusalem: "We will build everywhere in Jerusalem, the eternal capital of our homeland, and this is my clarification to our allies and friends the Americans."

But Barak was worried: "These words hurt Israel's interests with the US and the entire world. They can present Israel as a peace objector and thus cause its global status to deteriorate."

Saying Jerusalem is ours means we object to peace? Expecting us to put US demands before our legitimate rights? These remarks are not only disgusting and the sign of a self-hating man, they are also dangerous for Israel.


see my website

Natural-Born Builder

David Suissa

What does a builder do when he's told he can no longer build? I asked that question of Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, co-founder and chief rabbi of the settlement of Efrat,
who was in town last week as a guest of Beth Jacob Congregation. Riskin's settlement is currently under the 10-month construction freeze announced a few months ago by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In Efrat, a number of planned developments have been frozen, including 400 residential units for young couples, most of who were born and raised in Efrat and have their parents nearby; a facility for senior citizens; a shopping center; and a school for kids at risk.

This kind of development has been par for the course since Passover 1983, when Rabbi Riskin made aliyah with his family. Before then, he had built a modern Orthodox community on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, Lincoln Square Synagogue, that to this day has near-legendary status. With the encouragement of his mentor, Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, Riskin took a small Conservative shul and, from 1963 to 1983, turned it into a powerhouse of Orthodox outreach with a national reputation.

But at the pinnacle of his accomplishment, he left with his family to "live his dream" in Israel and build something new.

It's hard to overstate the mystical pull that building on biblical land has on some religious Jews. I remember being on a balcony in Efrat a few years ago, admiring the view, when the owner reminded me that "that's where King David fought his wars." As he said that, I couldn't help thinking that my house at the time had a nice view of the Beverly Center.

Since that Passover in 1983, Efrat has become "the city of eight hilltops," home to about 8,500 residents from America, South Africa, England and France, among others. Most of the residents are Modern Orthodox - the ones I've met and spoken to over the years remind me a lot of my neighbors in Pico-Robertson.

And just like their leader, they are very worried about the construction freeze.

"If it continues, it will mean big trouble," Riskin said, referring to the possibility that the freeze might be extended past its expiration date of September.

When Riskin says "big trouble," he has several things in mind. The first is the obvious problem of not being able to service the basic needs of Efrat residents - what is known as "natural growth." The second is that several of his benefactors have made donations for projects that have been frozen, and he would like to deliver on his promises.

Most significant, however, is the idea of precedent. In all the peace proposals discussed over the years, it was always assumed that the main settlement bloc, which includes towns like Efrat, would remain part of Israel. So now, for people like Riskin, who have devoted their lives to building communities, the notion of an extended construction freeze in these areas is highly unsettling.

But Riskin is a force of nature, and he won't be denied. If he can't build with bulldozers, he'll build in other ways.

He has plenty of experience building without bulldozers. In fact, his real mission is to build future Jewish leaders. His organization, Ohr Torah Stone, has trained hundreds of rabbis and educators over the years who have gone back to the Diaspora to spread a philosophy that blends modernity with tradition, with a special emphasis on social justice and Jewish unity.

Riskin has been at the forefront of fighting for women's rights in the Orthodox world. After winning a major case in Israel's High Court to allow women to serve as advocates in the religious courts, he established the first program to train women for such advocacy, which has helped the cause of agunot (women whose husbands refuse to grant them a divorce) in religious courts.

His latest brainchild, Yachad, requires no bulldozers - it uses other people's buildings. Yachad sends out "cultural facilitators" to local community centers all over Israel to give secular Israelis a taste of their Jewish heritage. On Yom Kippur, for example, Jews who'd never walk into a synagogue can now go into a recreation center and experience a shortened version of the Kol Nidre and Neilah services.

Despite all this activity, when I hosted Riskin at my house last Friday, I could tell that the construction freeze was weighing heavily on him.

His eyes did light up, however, when he told me about his involvement with a construction project that is perfectly OK under the freeze: an eye clinic for an Arab village next to Efrat. For decades, the mayor of that village and Riskin have been close friends. Apparently, the high rate of intermarriage among Arab cousins in the village has caused eye problems, so Riskin decided to help build the eye clinic.

There is irony in a Jewish builder who is not allowed to build for Jews, but who builds for his Arab neighbors. But there was no irony - or bitterness - in Riskin's voice as he spoke of his Arab neighbors.

"They're like my second congregation," he said. "The freeze is hurting their income. They want peace as much as we do.

"Their leaders, unfortunately, are another story."

David Suissa is the founder of OLAM magazine, and a weekly columnist for the Los Angeles Jewish Journal. You can read his daily blog at and e-mail him at

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Israel slams Russia's Hamas stance

12/05/2010 20:09

Govm't issues an unusually sharp response to Medvedev's suggestions.

The Foreign Ministry issued an uncharacteristically sharp response on Wednesday to a Russian and Turkish call to include Hamas in the diplomatic process, drawing parallels between Hamas and Chechen terrorists and saying it was wrong to distinguish between “good” and “bad” terrorists. The statement, released at the directive of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who is currently in Tokyo, said Hamas was a terrorist organization that set as its goal the destruction of Israel.

“Hamas people are responsible for the murder of hundreds of innocent civilians, including those who came from the former Soviet Union, and also Russian citizens,” the statement said. “It is forbidden for enlightened countries to divide terrorists into good and bad ones on the basis of geography.”

It stressed that “a terrorist is a terrorist” and that Israel saw no difference whatsoever between the terrorism that Hamas deployed against Israel, and the terrorism that the Chechens used against Russia.

“There is no difference between Khaled Mashaal and Shamil Basayev [a Chechen leader who was killed in 2006],” it read.

“Israel always stood behind Russia in its fight against Chechen terrorism, and would have expected similar treatment regarding Hamas terrorism against Israel,”the Foreign Ministry statement said.

What raised Israel’s ire was a comment Russian President Dmitry Medvedev made in Ankara on Wednesday, during a visit with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, saying – in a clear reference to Hamas – that no one should be excluded from the Mideast peace process.

Medvedev met Mashaal in Damascus on Tuesday, following a meeting he held with Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Although Russia is a member of the Middle East Quartet, which also includes the US, EU and UN, it has never accepted the Quartet principles that there should be no engagement with Hamas until it forswears terrorism, recognizes Israel and accepts previous agreements. Russia is one of three European countries that continue to maintain contact with Hamas, the others being Turkey and Norway.

While this is not the first time the Russian leadership has met with Mashaal, this is the harshest response that Israel has ever released regarding the matter, and one diplomatic official said it reflected deep frustration in Jerusalem.

At the same time, the official said there was little concern that just because Russia and Turkey wanted to see engagement with Hamas, other Western countries would follow suit.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

PA to Israelis: Go to Europe and Ethiopia because Israel is "stolen" land

PA TV displays map
portraying all of Israel as "Palestine"

by Itamar Marcus and Nan Jacques Zilberdik

The message that all of Israel is stolen "Palestinian" land was repeated twice in the last week on official Palestinian Authority television In the most recent episode of the weekly program We Are Returning, this denial of Israel's right to exist led to a concrete demand. The PA TV narrator called for Jews to leave Israel and go to Europe and Ethiopia - "your original homeland."

PA TV also added a visual message of non-recognition of Israel. The camera focused on a drawing of a map that included all of Israel, but showed Israel erased and covered entirely by the Palestinian flag.

PA TV is owned by the Palestinian Authority, and is the responsibility of the office of PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.

Educating its people, especially its children, that Israel has no right to exist because Israel is "stolen" is a cornerstone of PA policy. Palestinian children are taught in their schoolbooks:

"Palestine's war ended with a catastrophe that is unprecedented in history, when the Zionist gangs stole Palestine... and established the State of Israel."
[Arabic Language, Analysis, Literature and Criticism, grade 12, p. 104,
currently in use, published by the PA Ministry of Education in 2007]

It should also be noted that the US government has conditioned its contacts with the Palestinian Authority on the PA's "unambiguous and explicit" recognition of Israel.

US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton:
"We will work only with a Palestinian Authority government that unambiguously and explicitly accepts the Quartet's principles [including] ... recognition of Israel..."
[House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Ops, April 23, 2009]

The following is a transcript of the excerpt on PA TV:

Palestinian narrator:
"I'm from Jaffa, I'm from Haifa, I'm from Acre, I'm from Nazareth, I'm from Gimzu, I'm from Zakariya, I'm from Ein Kerem. (All are cities and towns in Israel, - Ed.) Where are you [Israelis] from? Where are you from?
Of course, you're from Ukraine; of course, you're from Germany, from Poland, from Russia, from Ethiopia, the Falasha (a pejorative term for Ethiopian Jews, Ed.) Why have you stolen my homeland and taken my place? Please, I ask of you, return to your original homeland, so that I can return to my original homeland. This is my homeland; go back to your homeland!"
[PA TV (Fatah), May 4 and 7, 2010]

On Feb. 26 of this year, a PA TV children's program taught children to see all of Israel as "occupied Palestine." The PA TV host was discussing Israeli Arab children who watched the PA TV program, but she she refrained from mentioning the existence of Israel. Instead she referred to Israeli Arabs as: "Our friends from the 1948 territories - the occupied territories." Then she addressed the Israeli Arab children as follows:

"Dear [Israeli Arab] children: We [the PA TV children's program] will definitely always remain in contact with you... this program is definitely yours too, just as it belongs to every Palestinian child, since you are part of occupied Palestine." Click to view.
[PA TV, Feb. 26, 2010]

Netanyahu at Merkaz HaRav Jerusalem Day Celebration

INN Staff
A7 News

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu attended the annual Jerusalem Day celebration at the Merkaz HaRav Yeshiva in Kiryat Moshe, Jerusalem. In his speech, which was accompanied by applause whenever he talked about Jerusalem, Netanyahu stressed the importance of Jerusalem and the unbroken connection of the Jewish people to the city, quoting the verse from Isaiah 62: "For Zion's sake I will not be silent and for the sake of Jerusalem I will not be still, until her righteousness emerges as a shining light and her salvation burns like a torch". To the Yeshiva head, Rabbi Yaakov Shapira, who encouraged him to be strong in facing the pressure of other nations and be strengthened by the support he sees at the yeshiva, the PM answered: "Don't worry about me. I am strong, strong enough. I am grateful for your support and your desire to strengthen me, but it is not necessary. We come from the same roots. My grandfather was a close friend of Rabbi Kook, for whom the yeshiva is named. After all, our past is what molds our future. Let us strengthen one another."

The Prime Minister continued: "The battle for Jerusalem is a battle for truth. With us is someone who was with me this evening and asked to come here with me, Professor Alan Dershowitz, who fights for our truth, our way of life, and is himself a yeshiva graduate." After the ensuing applause, the PM continued:

"There can be no justice without truth and if there is a perversion of justice vis a vis our city and nation, it means the truth has been perverted, because the truth is that Jerusalem is our city and we never compromised on that," he said, "not after the destruction of the First Holy Temple, nor after the destruction of the Second. We were a majority in the city until the 9th century and we returned 2000 years later and witnessed the city's destruction once again.

There is no other nation that feels this deeply about a city. Yet there is no other nation that has allowed such complete freedom of worship to other religions in this city. We will continue to build Jerusalem, a city that is full of life."

The packed audience, including hundreds on the street outside the yeshiva who watched the event on a large screen, burst into applause and song.

Since the first year of Jerusalem's liberation and reunification 43 years ago, the Merkaz HaRav Yeshiva holds a major event on the eve of Jerusalem Day. The Chief Rabbis, other prominent rabbis, Mayor, Ministers, MK's and other public figures attend the evening. At the end of the speeches and song, the entire yeshiva sings and dances its way to the Western Wall in the middle of the night.

The Chief Rabbi of Haifa, Rav Sheer Yashuv Cohen, described the first minutes at the Western Wall in 1967 when a jeep carrying his father, the Nazir Hayerushalmi (ascetic Rabbi) and Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook zt"l rushed to the wall and Rabbi Goren zt"l blew the shofar there for the first time. Former MK Chanan Porat, who was in the paratroop corps and took part in the liberation of Jerusalem, told how religious and non religious soldiers shouted the "Shma Yisrael" (Hear O Israel) prayer at the wall..

The Speaker of the Knesset, MK Ruby Rivlin spoke at the start of the event, saying "Over the last year, Jerusalem has lost many supporters. It worries me that Jerusalem Day is becoming a holiday for the knitted skullcap crowd alone. Today, some Zionist political parties who spoke of united Jerusalem until a short while ago, are now seeing the city as a problem and obstacle to our continued existence here. The same politicians who voted laws protecting Jerusalem into effect are now looking for loopholes in those same laws that will allow them to raise their hand against Jerusalem.

"Today, Jerusalem doesn't know who is on her side and who is against her, who are her builders and who are her looters, who is truly faithful to her and who is just using her for his own ends."

"Today it is clear that a unified Jerusalem under Jewish sovereignty is not a given. We have reached the stage where the world claims that we have stolen the city and wants us to turn the clock back 43 years. It is clearer than ever that a people whose loyalty is fickle will find that its existence is limited, G-d forbid. Zionism without Zion, without Jerusalem, is an empty shell. Our ability to withstand attacks on Jerusalem depends a great deal on our resolve and patience, on our ability to bide our time until the sword that is drawn over the city is removed."

Rejoice on Jerusalem Day

Isi Leibler
May 12, 2010

Jerusalem, referred to over 600 times in the Bible, has represented the cornerstone of our Jewish identity for more than three millennia since it became the capital of King David's Israelite monarchy. It remained at the core of our spiritual longings following the second dispersion when for 2,000 years our forefathers faced Jerusalem in their daily prayers, yearning for a return to their ancestral homeland. Moreover, even throughout their exile, Jews retained a significant presence in their Holy City and since the 1840s have constituted the largest group inhabiting the city. erusalem also has major religious significance for Christians and Muslims, both of whom denied freedom of worship to other religions when they ruled over the city. During the Jordanian control of the Old City from 1948 to 1967, in flagrant breach of armistice agreements, Jews were refused all access to holy sites, and synagogues and graveyards were desecrated and destroyed. And the world remained silent.

Since the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967, the government of Israel - for the first time - ensured that all faiths could freely worship and maintain their religious institutions. If anything, the Israeli authorities discriminated against Jews, denying them the right to worship on the Temple Mount lest Muslims took offense.

Yet to this day many Palestinians deny that there ever was a Jewish presence in the city and make preposterous allegations that the Jewish holy sites, including the Temple, were Zionist fabrications concocted to justify "the Jewish colonialist enterprise."

To this end they have been systematically destroying archeological evidence on the Temple Mount.

In addition, we are now faced with a determined campaign in which most of the world, including the Obama administration, is pressuring us to once again divide Jerusalem. Even prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, an architect of the Oslo Accords, on the eve of his assassination warned the Knesset that Jerusalem must remain united. And indeed in this day and age the concept of dividing cities is considered retrograde.

We are also painfully aware of the appalling track records of many Islamic states which deny freedom of worship to non-Muslims. The record of the Palestinians in this context is particularly vile, and we should be under no illusions how they would behave if they gained control of the holy sites.

But beyond this there is also the question of security. Every Israeli withdrawal in recent years has led to emboldening the jihadists and intensified aggression and terror. A division of Jerusalem would virtually guarantee that a corrupt or impotent Palestinian Authority or a rabid Hamas would be tempted to launch terror actions against neighboring Jewish areas.

JERUSALEM DAY should therefore not merely be a day of celebration. It should also be a day in which we pledge that, irrespective of the creative solutions devised to provide greater autonomy for Arabs in Jerusalem, the city must never be divided and Israel must remain the custodian to guarantee freedom of worship to Jews, Muslims and Christians.

Alas, today, many of us tend to overdramatize the challenges confronting us and display a penchant for self criticism which approaches masochism. Jerusalem Day should be a day when we give thanks to the Almighty for His intervention and pay tribute to those who fought against overwhelming odds to reunite the city and establish our national homeland.

Despite successive wars, facing ongoing terror and still being surrounded by enemies pledged to destroy us, Israel is here to stay. Seven and half million Israeli citizens, three quarters of whom are Jews, have achieved a demographic critical mass and notwithstanding the many doomsday predictions, the Jewish state can never be undone.

And despite an absence of natural resources, we have transformed our country into a veritable economic powerhouse which has achieved miraculous progress in science, technology, industry and agriculture. Tiny Israel has more hi-tech start-ups and companies listed on NASDAQ than any country other than the US. Our arts and cultural development is expanding and we continue producing Nobel Prize winners.

We have undergone a religious revival and today there are more Jews in Israel learning Torah than in any age in Jewish history.

We have successfully absorbed millions of Jews, the majority being Holocaust survivors and refugees finding haven from oppression. They originate from all four corners of the globe ranging from Western olim to Ethiopians. And while the integration process has still a long way to go, no society in the world has succeeded in absorbing such a mass of immigrants and molding them into a nation.

WE SEE the shocking global resurgence of anti-Semitism, mankind's oldest and perennial hatred, throughout the Western world. Many Diaspora Jews, especially in Europe, have reached the obvious conclusion that there is no future for their children in societies that treat them as pariahs. In contrast, our children live without ever experiencing the pain and humiliation of discrimination or being treated as inferior. For them Jewish identity is natural and requires no justification. The world applies double standards against us. With millions of innocent human beings murdered or denied human rights, we Jews remain the people who dwell alone.

The bitter lesson of our history has been that while we are obliged to forge alliances, ultimately we must rely on our own resources, rather than the goodwill of others. That is why we should continuously celebrate the fact that after 2,000 years of persecution, degradation and exile, the creation of a Jewish state has now empowered us. We must realize that so long as the majority of our people remain determined, our future rests in our own hands Those who wail about our shortcomings and the corruption within our ranks should realize that it is a mark of a a healthy society when it transparently discloses its weaknesses and exacts harsh punishment on leaders who transgress.

We failed to achieve peace with our neighbors because we lack a peace partner. For years we deluded ourselves into believing that providing Arabs with land would achieve peace, only to belatedly realize that the Palestinian goal was neither peace, nor an independent state for themselves. Their primary objective was to deny legitimacy to Jewish sovereignty in the region.

When in years to come, our neighbors ultimately come to the realization that they can never vanquish us, they will follow the example of Egypt and Jordan - and appoint leaders who will peacefully coexist and enjoy prosperity with us.

I often contemplate what our grandparents would have thought during the dark years of the Holocaust had someone predicted to them that the Jewish people would rise like a phoenix from the ashes to resurrect a Jewish homeland which would become the greatest success story of our century. That is the theme that should run through our minds as we celebrate Jerusalem Day. And it should make us smile.

This column was originally published in the Jerusalem Post

Ya’alon: weapons tech gives Israel an edge

11/05/2010 03:55

Israel is already “in a military confrontation with Iran,” Ya’alon said.

Israel’s advances in weapons technology would given it an advantage in any war with Iran, as well as greater capability to fight in Syria and in the Gaza Strip, Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon said on Monday. “There is no doubt that the technological capabilities, which advanced in recent years, have improved range and aerial refueling capabilities,” he told Army Radio.

Ya’alon, a former chief of the IDF General Staff, spoke as the Iranian Navy conducted maneuvers in the Persian Gulf, testing new weaponry.

Israel is already “in a military confrontation with Iran,” Ya’alon said.

The new weapons capabilities “can be used for a war on terror in Gaza, for a war in the face of rockets from Lebanon, for war on the conventional Syrian army, and also for war on a peripheral state like Iran,” he said.

Ya’alon spoke at a conference at the Fisher Institute for Air and Space Strategic Studies in Herzliya.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Israeli Jerusalemites Protest Elie Wiesel Letter to President Obama

(Sources: New York Review of Books, May 27, 2010,; Just

In full page advertisements in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal on April 16, Elie Wiesel published a letter to President Obama stating that “Jerusalem belongs to the Jewish people and is much more than a city,” urging that the U.S. halt pressure on Israel over settlements in East Jerusalem and postpone dealing with Jerusalem until Israelis and Palestinians “find ways to live together in an atmosphere of security.”

n response, 100 Jerusalemites, including many distinguished figures, signed a letter to Wiesel expressing “frustration, even outrage” and protesting his “sentimental abstractions,” “factual errors,” and “false representations.” The letter called Wiesel’s claim that Jerusalem is above politics as “doubly outrageous” and that the Israeli government’s settlement building in East Jerusalem and manipulation of the Jerusalem issues at the expense of human beings who live there are “an attempt to obviate any approaching chance for peace.”

Texts of Eli Wiesel letter and the Jerusalemites’ response follow:

Letter from Eli Wiesel to President Obama, April 16, 2010
“For Jerusalem

It was inevitable: Jerusalem once again is at the center of political debates and international storms. New and old tensions surface at a disturbing pace. Seventeen times destroyed and seventeen times rebuilt, it is still in the middle of diplomatic confrontations that could lead to armed conflict. Neither Athens nor Rome has aroused that many passions.

For me, the Jew that I am, Jerusalem is above politics. It is mentioned more than six hundred times in Scripture-and not a single time in the Koran. Its presence in Jewish history is overwhelming. There is no more moving prayer in Jewish history than the one expressing our yearning to return to Jerusalem. To many theologians, it IS Jewish history, to many poets, a source of inspiration. It belongs to the Jewish people and is much more than a city, it is what binds one Jew to another in a way that remains hard to explain. When a Jew visits Jerusalem for the first time, it is not the first time; it is a homecoming. The first song I heard was my mother’s lullaby about and for Jerusalem. Its sadness and its joy are part of our collective memory.

Since King David took Jerusalem as his capital, Jews have dwelled inside its walls with only two interruptions; when Roman invaders forbade them access to the city and again, when under Jordanian occupation. Jews, regardless of nationality, were refused entry into the old Jewish quarter to meditate and pray at the Wall, the last vestige of Solomon’s temple. It is important to remember: had Jordan not joined Egypt and Syria in the 1967 war against Israel, the old city of Jerusalem would still be Arab. Clearly, while Jews were ready to die for Jerusalem they would not kill for Jerusalem.

Today, for the first time in history, Jews, Christians and Muslims all may freely worship at their shrines. And, contrary to certain media reports, Jews, Christians and Muslims ARE allowed to build their homes anywhere in the city. The anguish over Jerusalem is not about real estate but about memory.

What is the solution? Pressure will not produce a solution. Is there a solution? There must be, there will be. Why tackle the most complex and sensitive problem prematurely? Why not first take steps which will allow the Israeli and Palestinian communities to find ways to live together in an atmosphere of security. Why not leave the most difficult, the most sensitive issue, for such a time?

Jerusalem must remain the world’s Jewish spiritual capital, not a symbol of anguish and bitterness, but a symbol of trust and hope. As the Hasidic master Rebbe Nahman of Bratslav said, “Everything in this world has a heart; the heart itself has its own heart.”

Jerusalem is the heart of our heart, the soul of our soul.

— Elie Wiesel”

100 Israeli Jerusalemites Protest Wiesel Letter to Obama

“Dear Mr. Wiesel,

We write to you from Jerusalem to convey our frustration, even outrage, at your recently published letter on Jerusalem. We are Jewish Jerusalemites – residents by choice of a battered city, a city used and abused, ransacked time and again first by foreign conquerors and now by its own politicians. We cannot recognize our city in the sentimental abstraction you call by its name.

Our Jerusalem is concrete, its hills covered with limestone houses and pine trees; its streets lined with synagogues, mosques and churches. Your Jerusalem is an ideal, an object of prayers and a bearer of the collective memory of a people whose members actually bear many individual memories. Our Jerusalem is populated with people, young and old, women and men, who wish their city to be a symbol of dignity - not of hubris, inequality and discrimination. You speak of the celestial Jerusalem; we live in the earthly one.

For more than a generation now the earthly city we call home has been crumbling under the weight of its own idealization. Your letter troubles us, not simply because it is replete with factual errors and false representations, but because it upholds an attachment to some other-worldly city which purports to supersede the interests of those who live in the this-worldly one. For every Jew, you say, a visit to Jerusalem is a homecoming, yet it is our commitment that makes your homecoming possible. We prefer the hardship of realizing citizenship in this city to the convenience of merely yearning for it.

Indeed, your claim that Jerusalem is above politics is doubly outrageous. First, because contemporary Jerusalem was created by a political decision and politics alone keeps it formally unified. The tortuous municipal boundaries of today’s Jerusalem were drawn by Israeli generals and politicians shortly after the 1967 war. Feigning to unify an ancient city, they created an unwieldy behemoth, encircling dozens of Palestinian villages which were never part of Jerusalem. Stretching from the outskirts of Ramallah in the north to the edge of Bethlehem in the south, the Jerusalem the Israeli government foolishly concocted is larger than Paris. Its historical core, the nexus of memories and religious significance often called “the Holy Basin”, comprises a mere one percent of its area. Now they call this artificial fabrication ‘Jerusalem’ in order to obviate any approaching chance for peace.

Second, your attempt to keep Jerusalem above politics means divesting us of a future. For being above politics is being devoid of the power to shape the reality of one’s life. As true Jerusalemites, we cannot stand by and watch our beloved city, parts of which are utterly neglected, being used as a springboard for crafty politicians and sentimental populists who claim Jerusalem is above politics and negotiation. All the while, they franticly “Judaize” Eastern Jerusalem in order to transform its geopolitics beyond recognition.

We invite you to our city to view with your own eyes the catastrophic effects of the frenzy of construction. You will witness that, contrary to some media reports, Arabs are not allowed to build their homes anywhere in Jerusalem. You discover see the gross inequality in allocation of municipal resources and services between east and west. We will take you to Sheikh Jarrah, where Palestinian families are being evicted from their homes to make room for a new Jewish neighborhood, and to Silwan, where dozens of houses face demolition because of the Jerusalem Municipality’s refusal to issue building permits to Palestinians.

We, the people of Jerusalem, can no longer be sacrificed for the fantasies of those who love our city from afar. This-worldly Jerusalem must be shared by the people of the two nations residing in it. Only a shared city will live up to the prophet’s vision: “Zion shall be redeemed with justice”. As we chant weekly in our vigils in Sheikh Jarrah: “Nothing can be holy in an occupied city!”


Just Jerusalem (Sheikh Jarrah) Activists

Ada Bilu; Alon Harel; Amiel Vardi; Amit Lavi; Amit Miller; Amos Goldberg; Ariela Brin; Assaf Sharon; Avichay Sharon; Avishai Margalit; Avital Abudi; Avital Sharon; Avner Inbar; Avrum Burg; Barbara Spectre; Bernard Avishai; Carlo Strenger; Daniella Gordon; Dani Schrire; Daniel Argo; Danny Felsteiner; Daphna Stroumsa; David Grossman; David Shulman; Diana Steigler; Dolev Rahat; Dorit Gat; Dorit Argo; Edna Ulman-Margalit; Eitan Buchvall; Eli Sharon; Freddie Rokem; Galit Hasan-Rokem; Gideon Freudenthal; Gil Gutglick; Guga Kogan; Guy Feldman; Hagit Benbaji; Hagit Keysar; Haya Ofek; Hillel Ben Sasson; Ishay Rosen-Zvi; Itamar Shappira; Jonathan Yaari; Judy Labensohn; Judy Labensohn; Julia Alfandari; Levi Spectre; Liran Razinsky; Maya Wind; Mical Raz; Michael Ritov; Miriam Farhi-Rodrig; Mirit Barashi; Mirit Barashi; Moshe Halbertal; Naama Baumgarten-Sharon; Naama Hochstein; Nadav Sharon; Neria Biala; Nili Sharon; Noa Lamm-Shalem; Oded Erez; Oded Na'aman; Ofer Neiman; Omri Metzer; Paul Mendes-Flohr; Peter Lehahn; Phil Spectre; Ra'anan Alexandrowicz; Ram Rahat; Ray Schrire; Reuven Kaminer; Roee Metzer; Ronen Mandelkern; Roni Hammerman; Sahar Vardi; Sara Benninga; Sharon Casper; Shir Aloni Yaari; Shir Sternberg; Shlomi Segall; Silan Dallal; Silvia Piterman; Tal Shapira; Tamar Lehahn; Tamar Rappaport; Uri Bitan; Yafa Tarlowski; Yaron Gal; Yaron Wolf; Yehuda Agus; Yonatan Haimovich; Yoram Gordon; Yotam Wolfe; Yuval Drier Shilo; Zehava Galon; Zeev Sternhell; Zvi Benninga; Zvi Mazeh; Zvi Schuldiner”

(press inquiries and other questions about the open letter to Elie Wiesel can be sent to:

So Who is in Charge Here?‏

A Judicial Investigative committee had been appointed to investigate all aspects of the rehabilitation and resettling of people of Gush Katif . This committee recognized many injustices and has encouraged the Prime Minister’s office to correct them.

This week a perversion of the law was to be corrected towards those young people who grew up in Gush Katif, were over eighteen when expelled, and want to continue living with their rebuilt community in the new location. For our Netzer Hazani community this decision would have been corrective laser surgery for these visual perversions Instead of finally allowing the new towns to move forward, a decision
not to decide was finally made, suddenly halting all building progress. I understand that the legal advisor to the interior ministry put a veto on the decision as she managed to uncover some legal detail that tripped up the approval. This enabled the law to be upheld, yet justice was not done .
This legal advisor did her job very diligently. Because of this non -decision, we of Netzer Hazani, and many other communities, cannot move forward with building our homes in the new towns.

Now it was decided that eventually the Prime Minister’s office will appoint a committee of experts that will try to find an alternate legal solution to enable all our families, young and old, to be a part
of the community.

The word of the law is indivisible, yet justice is not visible.

Pursue Justice! Zion will be redeemed by Justice say our Prophets again and again

We know well from our experiences as farmers and terror victims, who is really in charge of progress --who is the "manager of this capitol". So when the building anew challenge is yanked further away from completion, we accept it as a message from the Above that we have a challenge to work harder to be prepared.

Eventually all will know that these downfalls cannot destroy our eternal Jewish values and spirit --
we patiently plough forward until the building site will be our home base.

We had an evening where the models of homes were presented to our Netzer Hazani families--and we prepared an attractive pamphlet with pictures and plans and estimated prices -to help people make decisions accordingly.

Soon the home plans will be ready for approval to be built for the old and young alike, awaiting that with upholding the law will bring justice as well.

The heart of the town are the community buildings, and with these we continue to plough forward --the new kindergarten is nearing completion and the new walls await the voices of children at play. The building of the Mikva is next and will begin any day. The plans for our new synagogue and Beit Midrash , a community center, the Bnei Akiva children’s educational building .the moadon yochanan youth activity center ,have all been approved and building foundations will G-d willing be laid shortly .

On site digging bulldozers are laying the water infrastructure for the agricultural fields that is to be completed BE"H by the end of the summer.

The community life continues in the temporary situation for five years
and it is not yet reaching a conclusion. Community activities
help keep the spirit and inspiration alive. This week we all
participated in the annual Marathon in memory of our Yochanan Hilberg,
IDF navy seal elite soldier killed defending the northern border in
Lebanon by Hezbollah .

Yochanan's love of the land of Israel and love of all people of Israel
are instilled to the next generation via these events. His parents,
sisters nephews and nieces await anxiously the move to our new town
where they will be able to build their home life in better times we all have faith will come.

Arutz 7 spoke with Bryna Hillberg, Yochanan's mother, at the marathon.

The Baltimore Jewish community has stood out as a sincerely warm and supportive community during the moral struggle for Gush Katif, as well as during these five years in the temporary situation and helping build a new future. This article was written recently by a University professor after he visited many of the Gush Katif communities all over Israel.

I hope you too will consider a visit with us. I will be glad to be your hostess.

Dearest friends and family, I invite you to click here to see this three minute clip and share with us our dreams for the future as we set our new challenges.

The stage "director " above set the scene so that our community buildings, as well many aspects of community rebuilding, will not happen unless we give, and you personally, with all of Am Yisrael -the privilege to be part of it. BE"H I feel certain that again you will want to be part of enabling this for us, for you and for the faith in future of am Yisrael.

Click here and do whatever you can towards enabling us, together with you, to plough forward. For specific dedication opportunities, please write via our website or directly to me

All of us will certainly be commemorating Yom Yerushalayim wherever we are. My appreciation is sincere to all those whom will be able to come to Ir David to the Moskowitz Prize ceremony where the direct connection of the Gush Katif communities to Tzion, our heart, will be limelighted. Best wishes for a very meaningful Yom Yerushalayim.

Please feel free to forward to your friends and acquaintances and anyone can sign up to receive these emails here.

May we all hold on to the faith necessary to live as Jews in this world and, as always, thanks for caring. As always your caring gives strength, anita
©2010 Netzer Hazani | Netzer Hazani - Ein Tzurim, Israel

State Department silent on Hamas as 'proximity talks' begin

Leo Rennert

Look no farther than the communiqué from the State Department about the start of U.S. envoy George Mitchell's diplomatic shuttles between Jerusalem and Ramallah to grasp the delusional aspect of Obama's exercise in purported peace-making.

The Department reports that Mitchell has completed the first round of proximity talks "with Israeli and Palestinian leaders." That's only half accurate -- true on the Israeli side where Prime Minister Netanyahu speaks for Israel, but untrue on the Palestinian side where Mahmoud Abbas speaks for only West Bank Palestinians -- not for the entrenched Hamas rulers of Gaza. In fact, Hamas promptly denounced Mitchell's endeavors as an attack on Palestinian nationalism and rejected Abbas as a legitimate negotiator for the Palestinian people. So much for this half of the Palestinian leadership, which opposes a two-state solution because it wants to obliterate Israel.

Nevertheless, the State Department, while blind to Hamas in this peace-making equation, nevertheless puts a positive spin on Mitchell's debut as an active mediator. It bases its optimism on a purported commitment by Abbas "to work against incitement of any sort" against Israel and Netanyahu's pledge that "there will be no construction at the Ramat Shlomo project for two years."

Netanyahu's promise is for real. When President Obama went ballistic about a preliminary planning approval for 1,600 additional housing units in the Orthodox neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo in East Jerusalem during Vice President Biden's visit, the prime minister not only apologized for the poor bureaucratic timing of the announcement but told Biden that there would be no construction for at least two years because of additional necessary planning and review processes before a final OK could be given. So Netanyahu's commitment not to build in Ramat Shlomo for the next two years is but an acknowledgment that, because of additional red tape, there couldn't be any construction work there during this period anyway.

But Abbas's purported commitment to "work against incitement of any sort" is far more problematic. For one thing, Abbas has yet to make any such clear declaration either in English or Arabic. For another thing, Abbas and the Palestinian Authority -- to say nothing of Hamas -- have been unrelenting in waging a campaign of anti-Semitic and anti-Israel incitement in their mosques, schools, youth camps, and media right to the present. Plus, the State Department already seems to be giving Abbas a big loophole to avoid a complete end to incitement. Its statement on Mitchell's trip speaks only of a vague Abbas undertaking to "work against incitement" -- not to put a complete and permanent end to it.

Will Abbas, for example, revoke the recent naming of a public square near Ramallah after a Palestinian terrorist who killed more than three dozen Israeli civilians, including about a dozen children, in the late 1970s? Don't bet on it.

Finally, the State Department -- assuming the role of severe, no-nonsense teacher dealing with two unruly pupils -- warns that if the parties (again leaving out Hamas) misbehave during the Mitchell-mediated proximity talks with actions that seriously undermine trust, "we will respond to hold them accountable and ensure that negotiations continue."

Don't hold your breath. These Mitchell-directed proximity talks are more show than real substance. And Abbas has virtually guaranteed that they're bound to fail.


Because the PA already has put a gun to this entire U.S. diplomatic initiative by officially warning that it will only move to direct negotiations -- as demanded by both Israel and the U.S. administration -- if Obama manages to pressure Netanyahu to freeze all Jewish home construction in East Jerusalem on top of a10-month Israeli freeze of such projects in the West Bank. The PA in effect has given an ultimatum to the White House that it will walk away from any negotiations if Obama can't satisfy this demand within the next four months. Netanyahu -- no surprise -- entered the proximity talks by making it clear that Israel will not tolerate any one-sided, Palestinian-dictated pre-conditions for the talks to proceed.

Page Printed from: at May 11, 2010 - 12:42:11 AM CDT

"Big Deal"

Arlene Kushner

Unfortunately, with print communication there is no way to convey the absolute sarcasm with which I mean this. The beginning of the "proximity talks" is not a big deal at all.

On Saturday, both the PLO and Fatah gave the go-ahead to Abbas for these indirect talks. Mitchell had met with Netanyahu twice already, and then met with Abbas and company and headed home. This first round of talks was labeled "positive." Mitchell left a team behind and will return in two weeks.
I know of no honest analyst who predicts anything good coming from these talks. They are a charade, with each side doing what seems in its best interests -- to keep the international community and Obama at bay, to keep the donations coming to the PA, etc. But entering talks is not the same as going anywhere in the course of those talks.


State Department spokesman Phillip Crowley said yesterday that both sides had taken some "constructive" steps.

The PA, with Abbas's statement that he would work against incitement "of any sort." This I flatly do not believe. Abbas will refrain from naming any new squares after terrorists and everyone will say it is a wonderful step in the right direction. But the fact is that the school books are rife with incite, and unless a project is undertaken to start printing revised versions of these texts, the rest is a joke. A whole generation of young people is learning that jihad is good, Israel is not legitimate, and all the rest.


For our part, it has been announced that Netanyahu pledged not to do any construction in Ramat Shlomo for two years. This is the neighborhood in Jerusalem, past the Green Line, for which we announced plans to construct 1,600 new apartments while VP Biden was here -- an incident that Obama parlayed into a crisis.

There were hints of this coming. It smells like a disgusting effort to make amends for the horrible crime of having "embarrassed" the vice president.

However...Netanyahu, in a statement to the Likud faction today, provided a different take on this: He said he made no commitment regarding freezing Ramat Shlomo construction. He said at the time of the hullabaloo regarding the announcement, he had made it clear that for bureaucratic reasons there would not be any construction for some time. This is true; I remember this.

Now he explains, "When the Americans asked us to estimate when construction will begin, I said that I don’t believe it will begin before the two-year period ends. This is just a factual description of the project's status."

What he is saying is that he had made it clear that the project would move slowly, for bureaucratic reasons, and that this was turned around as if he had made a commitment to freeze or stall the construction. Note that he refers to "before the two-year period ends." What two year period? The period during which Obama wanted construction frozen. He told the US, look, it's going to take that long anyway.


There was no US announcement of a freeze elsewhere in Jerusalem, and our government insists there is none. Netanyahu has himself said, again, that there is no Israeli commitment to stop construction in Jerusalem.

My response: Show me, don't tell me. I want to see building being done. And I'm waiting.

PA representatives are still saying that they entered these talks because of assurances by the US -- among which was an assurance that there would not be building in Jerusalem.

So, who's lying?


According to Ariel Kahane, writing in the Hebrew Makor Rishon on Friday, the American Ambassador to Israel, the Consul in Jerusalem and other official representatives of the United States in Israel regularly meet with the Israeli ministers associated with construction in Jerusalem to get detailed information about projects planned for Jerusalem.

"This ongoing interest is thought to have a chilling effect."

See the entire story (in translation):

Of concern to me is the continual insistence by the US that if one side seriously undermines the process that side will be "held accountable" and the process will continue. What the hell does that mean?

How much is the US planning on imposing itself on us?

Abbas says nothing has changed: talks cannot continue unless there is a total building freeze. If (a big if?) we should actually do some construction in Jerusalem past the Green Line, Abbas will cry foul and Obama will point a finger, even though we had never agreed to this, and say we're being obstructionist. And then what?

Not for a fraction of a second, by the way, do I believe Obama would charge Abbas with being obstructionist in any case. And there were commitments from Abbas beyond the avoidance of incitement -- a commitment, for example, to stop acting against Israel in international forums.


There is so much information flying around on the Internet, much of it is sent to me by loyal readers and others. But I want to caution one and all to take care, because often what sounds like a legitimate report, or warning, turns out to have no solid backing.

"You cannot believe everything you read" goes double for the Internet. And I would advise against sharing with others material from unnamed or dubious sources because it "sounds" official or credible.


There is some very good news today: The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has officially accepted Israel into its ranks as a full-fledged member.

A careful assessment of our financial status was undertaken before we were accepted -- with a major report issued. We also had to pass certain legislation regarding intellectual property and patents.

This is a big deal both because it is a sign of our acceptance within the larger international community, and because it is acknowledgement of the solid financial standing of Israel. The developed countries (I believe some 31 belong to the OECD) have now recognized Israel as an advanced, developed country. For 20 years we attempted to get in, and could not.

It did not hurt, I am certain, that the OECD's Secretary General, Jose Angel Gurria (Mexican) is a great fan of Israel and a personal friend of Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz. Likely this was a factor in securing us a fair hearing, at last.

This stamp of approval will have the added benefit for us of attracting foreign investments.

It should be noted, by the way, that the PA, its commitments not withstanding, attempted to block us from securing this membership: the PA foreign minister sent a letter to OECD countries requesting a delay in the vote
because "Israel infringes on Palestinians' human rights, violates OECD values."


Of great concern here is the growing pressure with regard to Israel signing the NPT and relinquishing whatever atomic weapons we may have. As I indicated earlier, there is a significant shift on the part of the US in this regard. Defense Minister Barak is the only one I've encountered to date who says this represents no threat to Israel: "I do not believe there is a real threat to Israel's traditional stance."

Let us hope not.


"The Emperor has no clothes" by American political consultant Michael Fenebock, writing on YNET, provides a look at the way that establishment Jewish organizations function. I don't agree with everything he says, but in this I am certainly in agreement:

"Mainstream Jewish organizations and their leadership are most often driven by the need to placate a left-wing donor base and by a fear of losing their insider status." We should not minimize that "insider status."

"It’s certainly no over-exaggeration to say President Obama and his administration have played the mainstream Jewish leaders like a violin."

Painful -- and shameful -- stuff.

I raise this here because we so badly need the support of the mainstream Jewish organizations in the US, and it has been so absent of late.

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