The Legacy of Shimon Peres

Shimon Peres, former Israeli FM, PM and President, died at the age of 93.  He was undoubtedly a great leader who made his mark on Israeli history.  But, I for one am somewhat ambivalent about his legacy.

Early on he was an aide to David Ben Gurion and helped to organize the acquisition of arms for the nascent Israeli armed forces.  He subsequently became the initiator of the Israeli nuclear industry that supposedly developed nuclear weapons (although this has never been officially acknowledged).  He was also responsible for the decision to rescue the Israeli hostages in Entebbe. He was also one of the early supporters of the settler-movement in the West Bank.  He and Yitzhak Rabin were contemporaries and fierce rivals for the mantle of Ben Gurion in the Israeli Labour Party. Of the two, Rabin was the more forceful and the more effective and he eclipsed Peres. Peres never won an election as leader of the Labour Party.  As Peres aged he became more dovish and took the role of the peacemaker with the Palestinians within the Labour Party.

FM Peres was responsible with his aide Yossi Beilin for the negotiations that led to the historic signing of the Oslo Accords by PM Rabin’s Labour Govt. in 1993.  For this Peres won the Nobel Peace Prize with Arafat in 1994.  Later it was revealed that Beilin and Peres had deliberately misled Rabin during the negotiations. Beilin was reported to have said “the less Rabin knows the better.”   But, Rabin was considered the leader of the peace process, even though he was in fact much more hawkish.  It was the Oslo Accords that led to Israeli withdrawal from parts of the West Bank and the formation of the Palestine Authority and eventually to Rabin’s assassination by a Jewish extremist.

But, the Oslo Accords were ultimately a failure, because Yasir Arafat had no intention of accepting the Israeli presence in any part of “Palestine” and he then unleashed the terrorism of the Second Intifada (2000-2003) that took hundreds of Israeli lives in suicide bombings.  Shimon Peres was responsible for this huge error in Israeli policy and for the hundreds of lives lost.  He countered by saying that the casualties would have been worse without the Oslo Accords, which is clearly an unknown supposition.

By out-living Rabin and remaining on the political stage for as long as he did, Peres was appointed President of Israel in 2007 and served until 2014.  In this position he performed an important role representing Israel, while the Likud Government of PM Netanyahu was not as well-liked on the world stage.  Peres will also be remembered as a guru of innovation, always pushing the boundaries of technology and development.  He was one of the last of the original leaders of the State and as such his contributions will forever be remembered.

 

The First Debate

I watched the first debate between the presidential candidates, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.  I was somewhat disappointed in Donald, he seemed to lack the agression that he had shown before.  He never called her “lying Hillary” and did not attack her record on the e-mail server nearly enough and on Benghazi not at all.  Hillary seemed perky and poised while Donald seemed dour.  She smiled while he glowered.  She attacked him more and after the first 20 mins or so he seemed  to be constantly on the defensive, over the Obama birth problem, over his company, over the cyber issue.  Some mainstream media gave Hillary the debate by a 2:1 margin.  Yet, the on-line social media gave Trump the victory by a wide margin, of up to 4:1.

Because I know about Hillary’s lying and apparent immunity to FBI scrutiny and indictment, I still could not vote for her.  She is getting away with crimes for which ordinary people would certainly be indicted and go to jail. Whatever happened to equal before the law. Perhaps Donald was showing that he can be “Presidential,” by not attacking her constantly and by being more  deferential he established that he is in fact a credible candidate.  Several of the issues that she raised against him, the birther issue, the racism charge, the name calling of women, were I think low blows and inappropriate, especially the charge that he attributed climate change to the Chinese, that has been shown to be false and she surely knows this.

It was suggested that the choice of topics were favorable to Clinton, for example, the migration issue was not raised at all.  Given that this has been a prime issue in causing the Brexit and may bring down the whole EU and has been a major issue in the campaign regarding Mexico, that was rather surprising.  Donald tried to make a strong case against Hillary on the current status of the US on her watch.

In the final analysis, I doubt that many minds were changed.  The polls put them neck and neck, but Donald Trump may increase his vote because people are tired of the whole perky, smiling politician role that Hillary plays so smoothly.  Everyone knows that she is in fact a lying criminal who has used her government position for reaping hundreds of millions of dollars of donations for the Clinton foundation. Why was this issue not mentioned?

The Miami Conference: “Reconnecting 2016” II

The second day of the Conference started with presentations by representatives of “Reconnecting Organizations” that are active in the area of improving ties between Latinos and Jews.  This was introduced by Amb. Danny Dayan, Consul Gen. of Israel in NY, who described his own experiences in meeting Bnei Anousim during his previous postings. Bonita Sussman spoke for the organization “Kulanu” (meaning “All of us” in Hebrew), that is an organization founded over 25 years ago to support emerging, isolated and returning Jewish communities around the world, most recently including the Bnei Anousim. Rabbi Stephen Leon of the Anousim Center in El Paso, TX, spoke movingly of his experiences with returning Bnei Anousim in his region.

Session VI was devoted to “Latino and Jewish Organizations,” and was Chaired by Pastor Carlos Ortiz, of Hispanics Allied for Israel.  There were presentations by Hava Holzhauer, FL Regional Dir. of the ADL; Betty Ehrenberg, Exec. Dir. WJC-USA; David Dangoor,
American Sefardi Fed.; Pastor Mario Bramnick, Hispanic Israel Leadership Coalition, FL, and Gloria Garces, Senior Dir. of Miami Operations of Fuente Latina, a Hispanic media organization.  Each of these speakers presented the role of their organization in facilitating the communication and interaction between the Hispanic and Jewish worlds.

The Conference ended with two Panel Discussions.  The first entitled “Interfaith Dialogue” was sponsored by the ADL and was Chaired by Rabbi David Sandmel, Dir. of Interfaith Affairs, ADL, and included a Hispanic Catholic Peter Ductram, Dir. of Catechesis for the Archdiocese of Miami, a Hispanic Protestant, Rev. Dr. Gabriel Salguero, President, National Latino Evangelical Coalition, and a Sefardi Rabbi Juan Meija of Bechol Lashon (“In all languages”).  I must say that it was a pleasure to hear these Hispanics of different faiths interact (in English) in a most respectful manner.

The final Session of the Conference was a Round Table Discussion entitled “The Future of Latino-Jewish Relations,” that was Chaired most suitably by the Hon. Henry Cisneros, former Mayor of San Antonio, TX.  He spoke very knowledgeably and meaningfully on the topic and pointed out that the Hsdipanic community in the USA will soon be the dominant group.  He was followed by George “Bud” Scholl Mayor of Sunny Isles, FL, Lior Haiat, Consul-Gen. of Israel to Florida and Puerto Rico, and Gabriel Groisman, Councilman of Bar Harbor.  All of these participants provided interesting insights from different perspectives on the Hispanic-Jewish relationship.

The Conference was brought to a close by concluding remarks of Prof. David Altman, Senior VP of Netanya Academic College.  It was altogether a unique and historic event that opened up new perspectives in the study of the Bnei Anousim and brought the Hispanic and Jewish communities in the USA  closer together.

The Inst. for Sefardi and Anousim Studies thank Michael and Neomi Dezer for their support in making this Conference possible, as well as many other benefactors.   There was also an Awards Ceremony in which several notable recipients received awards from Netanya Academic College. During the Gala Dinner at the Conference, Pastor John Hagee, Head of Christians United for Israel, spoke about his support for Israel and the need for the ingathering of the exiles.  For further information see: https://www.facebook.com/The-Institute-for-Sefardi-and-Anousim-Studies-at-Netanya-Academic-College-127599744000151/ and http://sefardi-anousim.org.il/.  Videos of presentations at the Conference will be posted there soon.

The Miami Conference: “Reconnecting 2016” I

The Institute of Sefardi and Anousim Studies (ISAS) of Netanya Academic College (NAC) organized a Conference entitled “Reconnecting 2016: Reinvigorating Shared Latino-Jewish Roots and Heritage,” at The Trump International Resort Hotel at Sunny Isles Beach, FL, on Sept 7, 8.  The Conference was intended to bring together groups with Spanish and Portuguese heritage, both Christians and Jews, including Sefardim and Bnei Anousim, (descendants of those coerced to convert to Christianity) as well as other interested parties.  This was a historic event and a significant undertaking for the ISAS and NAC. Here is my summary of the event.

Prof. Zvi Arad, President of NAC welcomed the Conference participants on behalf of the College, and was followed by Ms. Betty Ehrenberg, Executive Director, WJC and Honorary Co-Chair of the conference.  There were about 235 registrants from all over the world and all over the USA. There were US Hispanics and Latin Americans and Jewish Hispanics (Sefardim), as well as Bnei Anousim.  There were also Christian evangelicals who strongly support Israel and the ingathering of all the exiles.  Prof. Avi Gross, of the ISAS, introduced the main themes of the Conference, that of reconnecting between Hispanics and Sefardim and the fate of the Bnei Anousim.

The First Session of the Conference was Chaired by Marc Gueron, American Sefardi Federation, and was devoted to “Demography, Genetics, Genealogy.”  The first speaker was world-renowned Israeli demographer of the Jewish world, Prof. Sergio DellaPergola, Hebrew University.  His title was “Latino-Jewish Demography: present and future.”  He presented a masterful analysis of the history and trends of distribution of the Sefardim  (space does not allow a full description of each presentation). Based on a recent genetic study he suggested as an opening figure for scientific discussion ca. 35 million of Jewish origin among Latinos in the Americas today.

The next speaker was Prof. Schulamith Halevy, Hebrew University, on “Modern Aspects of Latino-Jewish Heritage Research,” in which she presented examples from her many years of pioneering field research in this area.  Max Blankfeld, a founder of the company “Family Tree DNA,” then presented a talk on “Iberian-Jewish Common Roots: a DNA perspective,” based on a detailed analysis of DNA data collected over many years from different population groups.  This session ended with a talk by Prof. Tudor Parfitt, Florida International University, on “Portuguese and Spanish Anousim: the Problem of Hybridity,” in which he pointed out how difficult it is to draw clear-cut conclusions based on genealogical research.

The Second Session was entitled “500 Years of New Christian History” Chaired by Prof. Gross, and was led off by Prof. Anita Waingort Novinsky, Sao Paulo University, the doyen of Brazilian Anousim research, with a talk entitled “The Jews Who Built Brazil” in which she showed how a group of Bnei Anousim founded the city of Sao Paulo as well as other major cities in Brazil, as they escaped from the Inquisition in Portugal.  Nathan Wachtel of the College de France-Paris, spoke about “A Marrano Memory in Peru?” based on his many years of living with natives in specific isolated towns and villages in Peru.  Then David Gitlitz, Univ. of Rhode Island, presented a talk on “Spanish Inquisition Procesos: a Genealogical Tool,” in which he critically reviewed dependence of genealogical research on inquisitorial records.  This theme continued with Seth Kunin, Curtin Univ. Australia, who spoke on “Modern Expressions of Identity Among the Crypto-Jews of the American Southwest.”  Not many Americans realize that a large proportion of the Hispanics of New Mexico are descended from Crypto-Jews who fled to what was then the “ends of the earth” to escape the cruelty and murder of the Inquisition.

The next Session had the most emotional impact; the “Personal  Stories,” of three “returning” Bnei Anousim, all brought up as Christians, realized in later life that they were of Jewish descent and decided to return to their Jewish roots.  Fabio Fonseca is from Brazil, Joe Maldonado from New York/Puerto Rico and Lissette Valdes-Valle from Miami/Cuba.  Fabio described how when he was 4 or 5 his grandmother took him into a dark room and lit candles and told him it was a secret he must keep.  By the time he was 18 he had discovered that his family had Jewish origins and he regards himself as a Jew and is a strong supporter of Israel.  Joe Maldonado (a personal friend, see IsBlog, March 25, 2015), discovered thru genealogical research that many of his ancestors had perished at the hands of the Inquisition and this started him on a journey that led him eventually to become an Orthodox Jew, as recognized by the Rabbinate of Queens NY. Lisette realized she was Jewish after arriving in Miami from Cuba, when her family started to speak openly about their Jewish origins.
(to be continued)

 

Obama’s War

The devastating war in Syria that has caused ca. 650,000 deaths in five years and about 10 million displaced, is largely due to the lack of leadership shown by Pres. Obama.  Most of these casualties should be placed upon his shoulders.  If the Iraq War is known as Pres. George W. Bush’s War so the Syrian War should be known as Obama’s War.

Certainly Obama did not start the war, it was caused by the ruthless repression by Pres. Assad of any form of dissent and the violent suppression of peaceful demonstrations by citizens against his rule. Most of those who subsequently took to armed insurrection were enemies of the Alawi-dominated regime, mainly the majority Sunnis and the Kurds.  But, at a certain point the regime was up against it, they were losing, and even if part of the opposition was the Islamic State, that was no reason to save Assad.

But, at a crucial juncture Obama failed in his leadership role.  He set a red-line against the use by the regime  of chemical weapons and barrel bombs, that kill civilians indiscriminately.  But, then Putin offered to act as a mediator with Assad and Obama took the bait and backed down.  He allowed Putin to become the de facto military sponsor of the regime, and ever since then, with Russian bombing support against the democratic opposition as well as the Islamist terrorists, the regime has somewhat recovered.  It may only be from 15% to 20% of Syrian territory, but they have retaken land and the opposition has had severe casualties, notably around Aleppo and in the east.

The recent temporary ceasefire that was negotiated between the US and Russia to allow UN/Red Cross food and other deliveries to beleaguered civilian areas has now been scuppered because the US (supposedly mistakenly) bombed a Syrian Army post killing 62 soldiers, and presumably in retaliation, the Russians and/or the Syrians bombed a UN truck convoy, killing 20 aid workers.  This has ended any hopes for a ceasefire and leaves the Syrian conflict back at square one.  The former city of Aleppo is a catastrophe.  If they doithat to their own people what woudl they do to us if they could?

It was Obama’s lack of leadership and general policy of appeasement that has led to this terrible situation.  If George Bush is considered responsible for over-reacting to the threat of “WMDs” in Iraq, Obama must be held responsible for not providing leadership when it mattered and letting the Russians into the Syrian conflict.  If he had implemented a clear policy of removing Assad from office from the start, the task of subsequently destroying IS would have become much clearer.  Obama failed to strongly support the democratic opposition and has failed to prosecute the war in a sensible manner.  As such his fine words at the UN ring hollow.  He is a good speaker but a poor actor.

But, don’t expect any better from Clinton or Trump; the former will continue Obama’s muddled policies and the latter will not become involved in “regime change.”

Netanyahu’s Optimistic Speech

PM Netanyahu’s speech at the UN General Assembly in NY was the most optimistic speech ever from an Israeli PM.   Not only did he predict that the routine anti-Israel bias of the majority of States at the UN would in the near future change dramatically, but he also predicted that at some time in the near future even the Arab States would openly admit that Israel is not their real enemy.  The threats to them come from IS and Iran, not from Israel. Indeed, Israel is one of the few powerful neighbors with shared interests that can become their ally.  Israel is a leader not only in technology, but also in anti-terrorism and in intelligence gathering and analysis.  Netanyahu basically said that the time for demonization and irrational antagonism towards Israel is over.

Above all, he thanked the USA for its friendship and unbreakable bond and support.  After visiting four African States a few months ago, PM Netanyahu was about to have a meeting with the heads of 17 African countries, a historic change-around.  He pointed out that Israel, the innovator country,.had a lot of new ideas to share with them.  He mentioned that Israel recycles 80% of its waste water, compared to only 20% for the next in line, and as far as water is concerned Israel is a world power.  Also in the area of cyber security Israel is far ahead of most countries.  And he revealed that discussions are going on with several of the Sunni Arab States that could lead to a peace agreement between them and Israel.  He particularly thanked Pres. Al-Sisi of Egypt for facilitating these discussions.

Netanyahu stated that the reason the Palestinians have not made peace with Israel is that they cannot accept the existence of a Jewish State, it has nothing to do with settlements per se, they were attacking Israel long before there were settlements.  Also, he contrasted the hatred inculcated in Palestianisn children for Jews compared to the education for peace in Israeli schools.  He mentioned the adulation of terrorists as martyrs in Palestinian culture and the fact that Palestinian officials constantly urge their people to “slit the throats of Jews” and even Pres. Abbas calls murderous terrorists “heroes.”  He ridiculed Abbas’s statement at the UN that the PA intends to sue the UK over the Balfour Declaration that is 100 years old.

Nevertheless Netanyahu reitereated his support for the “two-state solution,” and offered to meet Abbas any-time, any-where, and invited him to speak to the Knesset in Jerusalem and he would speak to the Palestine Assembly in Ramallah.  He agreed with Pres. Obama that peace can only come in bilateral negotiations, not through resolutions passed at the UN in NY.

Finally he identified Iran as the only serious threat to Israel.  But he said that Israel is capable of defending itself against all enemies and he vowed that Israel will never allow Iran to develop a nuclear capability.

For the actual transcript of the PM’s speech, with a video at the end, go to: https://www.algemeiner.com/2016/09/22/full-transcript-of-prime-minister-netanyahus-address-to-the-2016-united-nations-general-assembly/

 

Israel and the dramatic changes in the Middle East

This is a summary of my talk at Temple Beth Emek in Pleasanton CA on Sept 13, 2016. Note the title was chosen by their committee.

At this juncture should we be optimists or pessimists regarding the future of Israel in a dramatically changing Middle East?   Should we be worried about Islamic State (IS), about Iran and its nuclear capability, about the general break-down of State control throughout the Arab Muslim world?   Or should we be optimists given Israel’s continuing growth in population and its political and economic stability and technological development?

The Middle East classically consists of 14 States: one Jewish, Israel, and 13 Islamic Arab States (Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Kuwait, Syria, Qatar, Bahrain, UAE, Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Oman).  If one looks at the Middle East over time, in 1948 when Israel achieved independence and was recognized internationally as a sovereign country, the whole of the 13 States were effectively at war with Israel, however only 6 of them actually invaded, namely Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Saudi Arabia.  After the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Egypt made peace with Israel in 1979. Then Jordan followed suit in 1994.

Subsequently those States that were most rejectionist, Iraq and Syria, were removed from the equation by the US invasion in the Gulf War of 2003 and by the protracted civil war that has decimated Syria. Yemen is also convulsed by a civil war pitting the pro-Shia Houthis against the Sunnis, including Saudi Arabia.  Seen from the pov of Saudi Arabia, with a war against IS in the north, with Shia Iran threatening from the East and war with Yemen in the south, the future looks dicey.  This is especially true since Saudi Arabia, supposedly a US ally, feels abandoned by the US under the policies of withdrawal from the Middle East of Pres. Obama.  The only other power in the region that the Saudis could rely on against Iran is Israel.  Israel in the west does not threaten Saudi Arabia and there are currently secret discussions going on between the two former enemies.

Lebanon is in a class by itself, since it is split between several distinct ethnic groups. Hezbollah, which is a Shi’ite militia group, is the only armed militia in Lebanon. When all other militias were disarmed after the civil war in Lebanon, Hezbollah remained armed because it claimed to be the bulwark against Israel.  But now it is fighting alongside the Syrian Army of Pres. Bashar Assad.  This has angered the other Lebanese ethnic groups.

So if we look at the Middle \East as a whole today compared to the past there is only one state remaining that retains an army that constitutes a military threat to Israel, and that is Iran.  The nuclear deal arrived at between Iran and the US and its allies will stop Iran’s drive towards a nuclear weapon for some years, if it adheres to the terms of the deal, a big if. So overall, the removal of the majority of the military threats to Israel except for Iran must make us optimistic for the future.

But, so far I have not mentioned the Palestinians.  That is because frankly they don’t count militarily!  They are unable to inflict anything but minor terrorist attacks on Israel. Hamas in Gaza can fire rockets, but pays accordingly.   They have been unable to organize a state, they are not significantly aided by the Arab States, the level of corruption is incredible (billions stolen), they can only organize an effective PR campaign.

But, who owns the Land?  The Balfour Declaration by the British Govt. of 1917 intended Palestine to be a Jewish Homeland.  The Treaties of San Remo and of Sevres (1920) after WWI that divided the Turkish Empire included the Balfour Declaration and did not mention any Arab State in Palestine (they got Arabia, Syria and Iraq).  The British Mandate given by the League of Nations in 1922 formalized this arrangement and was ratified by the UN.  There has never been a sovereign State called Palestine.  The Arabs come from Arabia, and conquered Jerusalem in 639 ce, while the Jews are the indigenous inhabitants of the Holy Land.

The Two-State solution was thought up by Western diplomats and intellectuals who believe in abstract concepts.  The Palestinians do not want a two-state solution, but one state of Palestine controlled by them.  The Jews do not want an economically unviable terrorist mini-state adjacent to their heartland.  I predict, apart from all the nice sentiments, that there will never be a two-state solution.

I predict that the Islamic State (IS) will be defeated by a coalition of the US, Russia, Iran, the Kurds and anti-regime Syrians.  IS is repressive and offers no future for its citizens. The Assad regime in Syria will eventually collapse because it holds only ca. 15% of Syria. Iran will probably attempt to obtain nuclear weapons leading to a crisis, the outcome of which cannot be predicted.  Basically I am an optimist, Israel will survive!

PS. For an illustrated PDF version of this presentation go to: http://jackcohenart.com/Lectures/mideast.pdf