Trump’s transformations

There is no doubt that President Trump is a different kind of President from all the others that have preceded him.  Much has been written about the fact that he is a businessman with no previous political experience and that in many ways he is an amateur who has not had to deal with this reality before.  Here are some areas where he is changing previous positions and that he is learning about on the job:

  1. Russia.  To say that Trump’s approach to Russia and to President Putin is a mystery to most people would be an understatement.  Positive things he said about Putin during the campaign and rumors about his possible relationship with Putin are current topics of intense speculation, especially after the firing of Mike Flynn, his former choice for National Security Advisor over apparently illegal contact with Putin before Trump’s inauguration.  But, Russia today is not the Soviet Union, it no longer has an ideology (communism) that requires it to “take over the world.”  Further, all of Putin’s actions can be seen as a move to “Make Russia Great Again,” a mirror-image of Trump’s actions.  So it is no wonder that Trump sees Putin as a potential ally. Also, Russia in no way represents an economic threat to the USA.  However, since coming into office Trump has moderated his tone regarding Putin, particularly because the Europeans are scared of Russian forays into Ukraine and Syria.and because of its control  of the oil supply to Europe.  It may appear to Trump that a good deal can be made with Russia, by recognizing its control of Crimea and making a  deal over Eastern Ukraine (letting them have some Russian autonomy) and Syria (letting him keep his port, but giving up Assad).
  2. China: During the campaign Trump identified China as the biggest threat to the USA, particularly in the economic sphere but also because of its territorial grab of the South China Sea.  His friendly call with the President of Taiwan made the Chinese extremely nervous.  But, since the inauguration Trrump has made friendly overtures to China, and has explicitly endorsed the “One China Policy,” that accepts Taiwan as a province of China.  Trump has perhaps realized that China is now an integral part of the international capitalist system.
  3. Iran: Since taking office Trump’s approach to Iran has only hardened.  He sees the Ayatollah’s regime as an enemy of the US, unlike Obama who believed he could deal with them.  The recent Itanian ballistic missile tests in defiance of UN resolutions has set the US under Trump on a course of sanctions and strong opposition to Iran.
  4. North Korea: The recent firing of ballistic missiles from N., Korea towards Japan (and former testing of nuclear weapons), has been a deliberate provocation to test Pres. Trump.  How he will react is unknown, but it may have been a strategic blunder by Kim Jong-Un.
  5. Israel: Pres. Trump believes in a simple foreign policy strategy, opposing enemies and supporting allies.  Israel is the only stable, democratic ally that the US has in the Middle East and it makes sense for Trump to strongly support Israel in a time of chaos and war in the region.  The Palestinians have never done anything for the US and in fact are virulently anti-American, so Trump is prepared to accept any pragmatic peace plan that will settle the dispute, not limited to the so-called “two-state solution.”  In the face of Palestinian intransigence (they will never recognize Israel as the Jewish State) a mulitnational regional solution will appeal to both Israel and the US.  This will see a historic turnaround by the Sunni Arab States that no longer see any threat from Israel, but rather fear the threat of Iranian and Islamic State expansionism.
  6. Mexico: Instead of allowing the export of US jobs and capital to Mexico, Trump will reverse the flow.  Also, he will build a significant security barrier along the border to try to prevent the current wholesale flow of illegal migrants, drugs and criminals into the US.  How he will pay for this barrier remains to be seen..
  7. NATO: During the campaign Trump made statements that were interpreted as anti-NATO.  But, in time this has explicitly become an economic argument, that the US should not be supporting a disproportionate amount of the NATO budget. This message has been taken to the Europeans by Secty. of Defense James Mattis and we await to see what will be the outcome.
  8. UN: Pres. Trump has enunciated an anti-UN approach given the predominance of anti-American and anti-Israel institutional bias. Turning off the financial spigot should bring the UN to its proverbial knees.  For the new UN Secty. Gen. Gutteras to warn Trump that there is “NO alternative to a two-state solution” in the Middle East, spouting the Islamic line, is unacceptable.

These are some comments on Trump’s initial adaptations to reality since becoming President.  As time goes on we shall see how these approaches change.  But, overall it can be concluded that Trump is a pragmatist searching for innovative solutions to achieve his overall goals.

Buying my books

Several people have complained that the information I gave recently to buy my new book “Life on Planet Alz” (see IsBlog February 3) published by Createspace, a subsidiary of Amazon.com, was apparently incorrect.  To order the book from Amazon.com you can go to the following url, where it is available (I presume dp means “direct publishing”):

Or you can order it in other countries from other Amazon sites.

Similarly my other books can be ordered at Amazon.com:

For further information about my books, including photos of the covers (designed by me) and information about the contents, go to my web-site:  http://www.jackcohenart.com . Most of these books are also available on Kindle.  I have published 9 books in 8 years (from 2009 until 2017), although I worked on some of them for 20 years before that. Of course, quantity is not a virtue in itself, but I urge you to buy and read at least one of them.  You won’t be disappointed and you will be hooked.

The Joint Press Conference

The first joint press conference between Pres. Trump and PM Netanyahu in the White House was exemplified by everything that was different from previous such meetings with Pres. Obama.  There was a truly personal and friendly relationship between the two men, there were no warnings to Israel that settlements must be stopped, there was no strict interpretation of a “two state solution.”  Instead there was a polite request by Trump “I’d like you to hold back on settlements.”  There was no criticism of recent announcements of the building of houses in existing settlements or in East Jerusalem.  There was the statement that Trump is considering all options and looking for “the one the parties like.” There was the reiteration that it’s up to the parties themselves and the US will be the facilitator.

There were also several statements by both men implying that a multinational solution, including the Sunni Arab countries (Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States), would be favored in the face of the two enemies, Iran and the Islamic State.  There was discussion of Iran and the new sanctions that are being considered by the US against it for the firing of ballistic missiles in defiance of UN resolutions.  The whole tone and substance were changed.

One of PM Netanyahu’s answers to a question about whether or not he still supports a “two-state solution” was crucial.  He said that such formulas don’t help, he prefers to deal with substance as he has done from the beginning, namely that before there can be peace the Palestinians must accept Israel as the Jewish State and must give up terrorism and violence as a means to resolve the situation.  This requires them to stop teaching their children from the kindergarten to hate Jews.  Straightforward and simple.  If they do that then all sorts of solutions will be possible.  He said that Israel will never agree to a Palestine State if it going to be like Iran or IS, full of hated and terrorism.  Any Palestine State must be part of the solution for peace from the beginning.  This is a matter of substance not merely a formula and this is what all peace-loving people should be seeking.   If only for that change in approach this was a historic press conference.

Sovereignty

There was a conference (that I did not attend) on Sovereignty last week in Jerusalem, meaning sovereignty of Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) that many right-wing Israelis think should be under Israeli control.  This conference was timed specifically to precede PM Netanyahu’s trip to Washington to meet Pres. Trump and was intended to bring pressure on him. At the same time, to show that he was resisting this pressure, just before leaving Netanyahu stated that he still supports the two-state solution.  He was the first PM to accept this in 2009, and he said he hopes to make progress in this direction with Pres. Trump.  Trump is on record as favoring a deal that would presumably be  based on a two-state solution.

Political elements in both Israel and the US are against such a move to extend Israeli sovereignty to Judea and Samaria.  Isaac Herzog, leader of the opposition in the Knesset, opposes the “Regulations Bill” that would retroactively legalize Israeli settlement housing built on private Palestinian land.  It is thought that this bill will either be overturned by the Supreme Court as illegal or might result in international legal action, such as by the International |Criminal Court in the Hague.  Also, liberal Jewish elements in the US have gone on record as opposing this Bill and any extension of Israeli settlement activity or construction in Judea and Samaria.  They are also opposing the Trump appointment of David Friedman as US Ambassador to Israel, since he supports Israeli settlements. Whether or not Friedman will be involved in the discussions and decision-making with Netanyahu and Trump is unknown.

We await the outcome of these important talks that could have significant consequnces for the region. Will Trump support moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem?  Will Trump impose crippling sanctions on Iran for its actions supporting terrorism and developing missiles?  Will Trump think outside the box, realize that a two-state solution is unobtainable with the Palestinians (after 50 years of trying) and opt for a new and different approach, where the pressure is not put on Israel to compromise but rather on the Palestinians?  Will Trump realize that a Palestinian State will be like the Islamic State, a source of anti-Israel and anti-American terrorism?  Will this meeting usher in a new era of peace and security in the Middle East??  Watch this space.

 

The Fateful Netanyahu-Trump Meeting

A lot is riding on the upcoming first meeting this Weds between PM Netanyahu and Pres. Trump at the White House in Washington DC.  At least one prediction that can be made is that there will be none of the hostility and petty personal invective shown by former Pres. Obama.  Although we don’t know what policies will come out of this meeting, we can predict two things, the two countries will have friendly relations including strong security ties and there will be an attempt to ensure that there is no light between them in the policy area.  The subjects to be discussed will include:

  1. Iran: Both countries are very wary of the intentions of Iran, including not only its nuclear program, but also its ballistic missile tests. According to the White House, these breach prior UN resolutions and Pres. Trump has put Iran on notice that sanctions will be imposed.  Since Netanyahu made opposition to the Iran nuclear deal a priority of his Government, and Pres. Trump described the deal as the worst he had ever seen, we can expect them to discuss how to manage Iran despite the deal.
  2. The US Embassy: The question of moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem will undoubtedly come up. Pres. Trump, like most Presidents before him, has backed off his campaign promise to make this transfer.  It is not clear that he will keep his oft-repeated promise.  The extension of Israeli sovereignty to all of Jerusalem, including East Jerusalem, will also be discussed.
  3. The settlements: Pres. Trump has only mildly criticised the plans announced by the Israeli Government to build thousands of housing units in settlements in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank).  It will be difficult for Netanyahu to back off these plans, since he is under intense political pressure from the right-wing of his coalition, including the Bayit Yehudi Party of Education Minister Bennett, as well as the settlers after the forced evacuation of Amona after 20 years. In principle, it is thought that Pres. Trump will support Israel’s right to build there in parallel to that of the Palestinians.
  4. The two-state solution: Pres. Trump will try to ensure that Israeli building in the territories will not prevent the two-state solution deal that he obviously hopes to negotiate.  At his weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday PM Netanyahu reiterated his support for the two-state solution that he accepted in 2009, even against strong right-wing opposition in his coalition. A compromise might be the extension of Israeli sovereignty over Area C of the West Bank that was alloted to Israel under the Oslo Accords that established the Palestine Authority in Area A.
  5. The UN: The topic of US funding for the UN that has been blatantly biased against Israel will be discussed.  The US pays for most of the support for the UN and especially for its subsidiaries, such as UNRWA and the UN Human Rights Council that are virulently anti-Israel and anti-American.
  6. The Islamic State: IS and its threat of world-wide terrorism is a serious concern for Pres. Trump.  Particularly in an era of US retraction from the region, he may ask for Israeli help in the need to defeat IS.  He may not want to see the Syrian crisis resolved by the triumvirate of Russia, Iran and Turkey, without protecting US interests.

Israel’s PM was not the first or most important leader that Pres. Trump met with, he was preceded by British PM Theresa May and Japan’s PM Shinzo Abe.  But, it may be inferred that Pres. Trump sees Israel as a close ally in his future dealings in the Middle East.

Nostalgic Jewish Songs

Batya Fonda gave another of her excellent concerts at Temple Beth Israel in Netanya, this time with the theme “Home,” including songs in Yiddish and Ladino that specifically mention places where Jews settled and considered their home.  Batya sang in her beautiful soprano voice and also played recordings and videos while projecting the words in Yiddish or Ladino with English translations.

Many of these songs commemorate the idea of the shtetl, which could mean a village or town of even a district of a city where the Jews lived, but more specifically “shtetele” meant the locale where you lived.  Jews in the Diaspora, despite the persecution and estrangement, were nostalgic for the places where they had lived, sometimes for centuries. Examples of such songs with place names are:

  • Belz, was a center of Hassidim in western Ukraine near the Polish border. The song “Mein shtetele Belz” is nostalgic for the place and the life the Jews lived there.  The town was predominantly Jewish and was decimated by the Nazis in 1941, ca. 150 Jews were burned alive in the Great Synagogue, now commemorated by a plaque.  The Belzer Hassidic sect survived and have rebuilt their Great Synagogue in Jerusalem.
  • Warsaw, was a great city that had many Jewish neighborhoods.  One was on Krochmalna Street, commemorated in song, which was famous as a poor but intensely Jewish area, where the father of Issac Bashevis Singer held his Rabbinic Court, featured in his first novel, “In My Father’s Court.”
  • Roumania: The song “Roumania” is perhaps one of the most famous and popular Yiddish songs.  It idealizes Roumania as a beautiful and pleasant country and shows that at least for a while Jews were able to live there and were nostalgic for it.
  • Vilna, was known as “The Jerusalem of the North” for being a center of Jewish learning and it was commemorated in song. The Lithuanians massacred the Jews of Vilna in the forest of Ponar in 1941, and bragged to the Nazis that they had made their country the first Judenfrei in Europe.
  • Bialystok, was a large city with a large Jewish population, the song “Bialystok meyn hame” was well-known in the 1930’s.
  • Crimea, also known as Dzankoye, the Jews who settled on collective farms in Soviet Russia and formed a Jewish community there, which was decimated later by Stalin.
  • Sarajevo.  There are many nostalgic songs composed in Ladino by Sephardim who were exiled from Spain over 500 years ago.  Flory Jagoda who lives in Washingotn DC has recorded many of them, including songs about her birthplace Sarajevo in Bosnia that had a Sephardic Jewish community.
  • Salonika, was also a center of Sephardic Jews who spoke Ladino and Greek.  They were almost totally wiped out by the Nazis.
  • Odessa, had a large Jewish community and Isaac Babel wrote stories about them, including the Jewish gangsters.  The song “Odessa” in Yiddish is well-known.
  • Vytshepl, or in English Whitechapel, was the center of the Yiddish (Ashkenazi) settlement in London, England and there was a Yiddish song composed about it. I grew up near there and it did not seem so pleasant to me.
  • Birobidzhan, was a false homeland for Yiddish-speaking Jews that Stalin concocted on the remote Russian border with China. There were never more than 17,000 Jews there, yet some Yiddish songs were composed about this “homeland.”
  • Moizesville, was a completely Jewish town established in Argentina in the late nineteenth century by Baron Hirsch for Yiddish-speaking Jews and it flourished and songs were composed about it. But, now it has very few Jews remaining.

Batya played “Over the Rainbow” from the “Wizard of Oz” composed in 1939 with music by Harold Arlen and lyrics by E.Y. Harburg, two Jews writing at a particularly poignant time. Batya’s research was detailed and impressive and you can find an amazing collection of Jewish folksongs on her website at http://www.jewishfolksongs.com/en/about .

 

Above and Beyond

Above and Beyond” is a documentary directed by Sarah Spielberg about the founding of the Israel Airforce.  What has become perhaps the premier airforce in the world, according to its victories and successes in combat, was founded in very modest circumstances.  In 1947 war was imminent between the Jewish population of British Mandatory Palestine, numbering only ca. 650,000, and the Arab populations of Palestine and the surrounding Arab States, Egypt, Transjordan, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, with populations numbering ca. 35 million.  At that time the Jews had no airplanes that could be used in combat.  David Ben Gurion, the leader of the Jewish settlement (the Yishuv) sent out emissaries, mainly to America, to try to find donors and to buy post-war munitions, tanks and planes, that were being sold-off by the US Government at junk metal prices, and to have them smuggled into Palestine (to do so was illegal both for the US and the UK).

The first two small planes that were purchased were flown in May 1948 from Brindisi in Italy to Palestine by two American former combat pilots.  They flew for 11 hours, without radio contact, because what they were doing was strictly illegal.   When the planes arrived the Haganah put our flares as a runway, and as soon as they landed the planes were hidden in hangars.  The next day the planes took off for action against the invading armies of Egypt, Syria and Iraq.  This was the beginning of the vaunted IAF.

The film gives details of the around 50 or so foreign volunteers that made up the nascent IAF with only two native Israelis, Moti Alon, who was the commander and died later in a crash, and Ezer Weizmann, who had flown Spitfires for the RAF during WWII and later became President of Israel.  The film tells how an American Al Schwimmer set up a fake airline based in Panama, and then flew planes there illegally that he had purchased in the US.  From there they flew on to Brazil, then Africa and from N. Africa to Europe.

In Europe after WWII most countries would not help the new Jewish State, but surprisingly Czechoslovakia did.  The reasons for this are complex, but mainly it was because the Communist bloc was very short of real money, and so the hard cash the Jews were prepared to spend on armaments and planes was needed.  Also, the Czechs had a heavy industry that the Germans had taken over to make their armaments.  Now after the end of the War the Messerschmitt planes that the Czechs had stockpiled were worthless, except to the Jewish State.  So ironically the mostly American Jewish pilots found themselves training in Me-109s that they had been fighting against only a few months before.  Of course, behind it all was the Soviets and Stalin undoubtedly hoped that the Jews would make life difficult for the British in Palestine, that they did.

These volunteers were part of a group of ca. 4,500 known by the Hebrew acronym of Machal (meaning foreign volunteers in Israel) consisting mainly of Jewish former combatants in WWII, plus a smattering of non-Jews.  Some Machalniks died in the Israeli War of Independence, but most of those that survived left after the war to go home, to America, Canada, S. Africa and Australia.  But, some also stayed and became part of the new State.  One of those was Murray Greenfield, who after serving in the US Navy during WWII volunteered to man ships that were taking the Jewish DPs from Europe to Palestine and then Israel.  He spoke briefly at the AACI about his experiences and mentioned that there are very few of his former Machal friends still living.

How did the tiny State of Israel not only manage to survive, but also to defeat the professional armies of 6 Arab States?  One of the reasons was that soon after its formation the IAF started to receive planes such as the Spitfire and the Arab airforces were no match for the few but experienced WWII veterans and Israel has always had control of the air. The Arab armies invading Israel quickly realized that they were vulnerable to aerial attack.  The Egyptian Army was stopped only ca. 30 km south of Tel Aviv.  It was the battle of the few against the many and the Machal volunteers definitely swung the balance.  You must see this film “Above and Beyond.”