Archive for the ‘Israel’ Category

Anderson Cooper and the Gaza War

December 30, 2008

Given all the criticism that takes place of the media whenever conflict flares in the Middle East, I have to single Anderson Cooper out for praise. In the midst of his tough questioning of all of his guests, Cooper demonstrated a sense of the context of it.

Here’s Cooper: “To give you a better idea of what Israel is dealing with, here’s the ‘Raw Data’ on Hamas. The group took over Gaza back in June of last year, after winning parliamentary elections the year before. Dating back to 1987, during the first Palestinian uprising, Hamas has never wavered in its commitment to Israel’s destruction, and is considered a terrorist group by the United States, the European Union, and, obviously, Israel.

The organization is believed to have between 15,000 and 20,000 troops, thousands of short-range rockets, and ample funding, some of it coming from Iran.”

Cooper even referenced a CNN report from prior in the year which showed the tunnels Hamas uses to smuggle weapons into Gaza from Egypt.

Cooper’s smooth handling of a complicated issue contrasted with a Democratic strategist and Huffington Post contributor, Hillary Rosen, who was very much out of her league.

think the issue, though, is, you know, that there needs to be a — an agreement for a Palestinian state. Barack Obama campaigned on the idea of having a peaceful Palestinian state, living side by side within the — with the state of Israel. And, to do that, you have to go beyond Hamas. You have to deal with this more as a — as Palestinian issue, and not just as a — an issue of the immediate violence.

At this point, President Bush, President-Elect Obama and many Israelis all support a Palestinian state. Right now, the Israelis face two different — and opposing — Palestinian governments, one in the West Bank, the other in Gaza. With whom are they supposed to make peace?

I was also impressed with the perspective of Reza Aslan, who acknowledged that it was a complex problem. Here’s the exchange — which again reflects Cooper’s understanding of what is happening.

COOPER: Reza, where is there room between Hamas and Israel for some sort of agreement? I mean, unless Hamas recognizes Israel’s right to exist and — and stops firing rockets indiscriminately into civilian areas, it’s hard to see how any kind of a deal can be struck. 

ASLAN: Well, the truth is that the more elemental problem is to get an agreement not between Hamas and Israel, but between Hamas and Fatah, between the Gaza and the West Bank, because the idea of the two-state solution and of a — of a stable, economically viable Palestinian state is simply a pipe dream, unless we can figure out a way to create some kind of accommodation between these two parts of the Palestinian government. 

I’m also going to refer interested readers to my prior posts on Gaza after a visit to the embattled Israeli city of Sderot, here and here.

More Caroline Kennedy: Supports Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital

December 22, 2008

I just left a memorial luncheon for the great David Nyhan, presided over by Ed Jesser and Marty Nolan. The Kennedy Room in Doyle’s was abuzz with talk of Caroline Kennedy’s quasi-candidacy. Seasoned political hand Jim King recounted his efforts on behalf of Ted Kennedy back in 1961!

While I soaked up the political color — more than I can get into here — I received a news flash via the Jewish Telegraphic Agency: Kennedy had just come out in favor of an undivided Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Caroline Kennedy expressed support for Israel and for Jerusalem as its capital.

The scion of the Kennedy clan, who recently expressed her interest in assuming the seat of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) should Clinton be confirmed as secretary of state, answered a New York Times political questionnaire on Saturday, her first such policy statement.

Kennedy expressed “strong support for Israel,” the Times reported, “and said an undivided Jerusalem must be the country’s national capital.”

This recalled another aspect of the Senator Moynihan-Hillary Clinton-Caroline Kennedy connection. Moynihan urged Clinton to embrace the cause of Israel as part of her advocacy of New York. She not only agreed, but broke with President Clinton over it. And I scooped the world on it.

Here’s a caution from a pro-Israel activist on this issue. The comment relates to Clinton, but it could possibly apply to Kennedy as well:

Morrie Amitay, who is a former director of Aipac, a Washington lawyer, and a pro-Israel activist, cautioned against reading too much into Mrs. Clinton’s statement. “What a candidate says before they’re elected is fairly meaningless. She’s become a friend of Israel only recently. You do not know what she really believes,” Mr. Amitay said. Pre-election statements on Jerusalem have bedeviled political candidates on both sides of the aisle. Asked about moving the American Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv by Morton Klein at a private fundraiser in 1999, President Bush, then the governor of Texas, replied, “I’m afraid that might screw up the peace process. I don’t want to screw up the peace process.” An aide later stated Mr. Bush’s intention was to move the embassy to Jerusalem and that he would “set the process in motion as soon as he becomes president.” Neither President Bush nor President Clinton followed the Jerusalem Embassy Relocation Act of 1995, which declared the city Israel’s capital and ordered the moving of the embassy to the city.

The Obama Announcement

December 1, 2008

I watched in awe as President-Elect Barack Obama announced his national security team. There, as has been leaked, stood Senator Clinton aside the incoming president. It is remarkable in our political lifetime for a president to make such an ambitious pick — and for that pick to accept.

The Obama team faced a considerable challenge during today’s media availability. They had to manage the announcement — and the egos of the personalities involved –in such a way to highlight each member of the team without having it look unruly. It came across, more or less, as smooth. The journalists’ questions were all easily anticipated and mostly focused on challenging Obama on what statements he made about Clinton during the campaign. Other thoughts:


  • Permanent Representative to the United Nations is a good spot for the underwhelming Susan Rice. At the U.N. she can be an outspoken advocate for American values and diplomacy without having much to do with substance — although the elevation of this post to cabinet-level could alter the equation.
  • I could not miss Obama’s reference to the Middle East peace process. I wonder exactly how ambitious his plans are for this area.
  • A interesting spot of the event was Vice President-Elect Joseph Biden. He seemed to be chafing at the confines of his talking points. 
  • Expect some conflict between the presumptive national security adviser, James Jones, who has been critical of Israel, and Clinton. Writes Eli Lake: “When Obama makes that move [on the issues], the Jones-Clinton tensions may reprise the great Powell-Cheney fights of yore.”

Yes We Can…Copy Barack Obama

November 15, 2008

The Gold Standard

Netanyahu Website

My friend Noam Cohen writes a great story in The New York Times today about Benjamin Netanyahu’s campaign website (see above) in Israel. While there’s humor in the idea of Israel’s conservative candidate emulating Obama — not his ideological counterpart John McCain, the story reinforces the idea of how revolutionary Obama’s campaign was. It is, for the purposes of political campaigns around the world, the state of the art.

Click on the Russian-language version of the campaign Web site of Benjamin Netanyahu, the conservative Likud leader running for prime minister of Israel, and up pops a picture of the candidate with Barack Obama. On the Hebrew version, Obama is not pictured. But he is, in fact, everywhere.

The colors, the fonts, the icons for donating and volunteering, the use of embedded video, and the social networking Facebook-type options — including Twitter, which hardly exists in Israel — all reflect a conscious effort by the Netanyahu campaign to learn from the Obama success.

“Imitation is the greatest form of flattery,” noted Ron Dermer, one of Netanyahu’s top campaign advisers. “We’re all in the same business, so we took a close look at a guy who has been the most successful and tried to learn from him. And while we will not use the word ‘change’ in the same way in our campaign, we believe Netanyahu is the real candidate of change for Israel.”

Those who created the Obama Web site, including Thomas Gensemer, managing partner of Blue State Digital, say the Netanyahu site is closer than any others they have seen.

“Nothing has been so direct as the Netanyahu though we have seen others with shades of it,” he said, adding that when you are successful, “people are going to knock things off, both in terms of functionality and aesthetic.”

Web sites aside, for liberals in both countries, the idea of Netanyahu as the Obama candidate of Israel seems mystifying. Of the three main contenders for prime minister in February’s election, including Tzipi Livni of Kadima and Ehud Barak of Labor, Netanyahu is the most hawkish and the least interested in the focus on dialogue with adversaries that Obama made a centerpiece of his foreign policy platform. Netanyahu has said he would shut down the current negotiations with the Palestinian leadership.

But it is precisely the break with the current policy that Netanyahu, known by his nickname Bibi, believes will help him take the largest share of votes. The most recent polls show him slightly ahead of his rivals.

Sani Sanilevich, who is managing Netanyahu’s Internet campaign, said the Web is one of the biggest focuses of the campaign, and with good reason.

“The main advantage of the Internet is the ability to communicate with citizens and people directly,” he said. “You can actually hear them and get them involved in this campaign. The whole idea is, together we can succeed.”

Finding a Republican Canada

October 11, 2008

Chris Wilson posits an interesting question in a Slate piece: Where can Republicans threaten to move to if Barack Obama wins? Liberals threaten to move to Canada — and in some cases, France — when Republicans win. Wilson’s top candidate for a conservative exodus is Israel.

Kory Bardash, the chairman of Republicans Abroad in Israel, argues that Americans in Israel, who are largely Jewish, are not nearly as stridently supportive of Obama as their domestic counterparts. Bardash describes American voters in Israel as “Joe Lieberman Democrats” who might have backed Bill Clinton but who don’t connect with Obama’s domestic message and are more persuaded by charges that he lacks experience in foreign affairs. (Hillary Clinton won a majority of the Israel vote in the Democrats Abroad primary.) Israel’s political leanings are difficult to fact-check, but it’s safe to say that U.S. Republicans seeking refuge in Israel won’t have too much difficulty finding kindred spirits.

Wilson’s argument doesn’t make much sense. Anybody who has ever walked around Tel Aviv can’t help to be struck to the multitude of progressive attitudes, causes, and ideas expressed. Israelis, to be sure, know first hand the realities of facing terrorism daily. But the overall Israeli political spectrum, if anything, is to the left of the American. This is a country, I would remind Wilson, founded on explicitly socialist roots with large and important state bureaucracies still in control of many aspects of life.

Obama and Africa: The Ethiopian-Israeli Position

October 10, 2008

AFP has an interesting story about the passion the candidacy of Barack Obama is generating in the land of his father’s birth, Kenya. “Since being given a hero’s welcome here in 2006, Obama has stirred interest among Kenyans, not least from the country’s Luo community to which his father belonged and sees his presidency as a harbinger of hope for the east African country,” the French wire service reports.

This week I received an interesting e-mail from somebody about whom has reported on previously. Last year, I wrote about Bruck Teshome, a student and worker at Ethiopia’s Foreign Ministry, who subsequently emigrated to Israel when his pro-democracy work got him into trouble with government authorities. He had an interesting and refreshing perspective on Israel’s domestic and international troubles: “I come from a very problematic part of the world,” he said. “But we don’t have the media attention Israel has.”

Teshome, who is now studying in England, recently posted his thoughts as an Ethiopian-Israeli on the prospects of an Obama presidency.

Teshome’s first observation relates the stir the early news of Obama’s candidacy caused when he told his classmates about him back in February, 2007.

“Have you heard?” I said shifting the conversation, and told them about the Black senator who was bidding to be the next occupant of the White House. They scoffed at my story, “A black man in the United States as President?” I just said, “Well, we shall see….” but they went on to remind me how racist America really is by citing their experiences in the US. I could not argue for or against based on experience, since by then I had never been to the US and all that I know of the country was what I read, saw on TV or heard from those who had been there. Well we never really did discuss Barack Obama; until he was all over the news outlets and the fever of his ascendancy in the Democratic primaries were all over the news. By January 2008 and after the Iowa caucus, one of my colleagues who had remained to work in the company had officially become an Obama supporter. We then began to freely discuss, if he really can beat the former first lady. Well, he won Iowa, and won South Carolina riding the African American voters’ wave, but can he really win the Nomination.

Teshome hints that Obama’s election could even impact Israel’s domestic politics:

The US is definitely on the way of being more of a multicultural state, the rise of a multiracial and multicultural candidate maybe the strongest indication of that.

Hope is perhaps what I can share with my lady friend as to the fate of Israel’s black population, would there be a time ever that a black man can rise to an occasion of this magnitude in Israel. Well not in the near future anyway, but as Dr. King dreamt a generation ago so can we that one day we shall cease to fear and start to hope even if it means on a small thing as our first job out of university. After all we came to live and be a part of Israel, not to stand aside and watch.

Barack and Barak: Obama in the Middle East

July 24, 2008

It was interesting to see Barack Obama and Israel’s defense minister, Ehud Barak, in the same photo op yesterday. Barak, Israel’s former prime minister, is one reason, despite all the talk about American Jews being uncomfortable with Obama’s full name, that they are more familiar with his name than other voters.

Barak is again a rising force in Israeli politics given the trouble that Israel’s prime minister, Ehud Olmert is in right now. A compelling argument can be made that had Barak been in his current post in 2006, Israel would have fared better in the Lebanon War.

Ehud Barak is also a familiar figure for American Democrats. He was the favored candidate of the Clintons in 1999 when he defeated Benjamin Netanyahu. The Clintons felt they had such a vested interest in his election that they dispatched James Carvllle, Stan Greenberg and Bob Shrum to Israel to aid Barak in his election quest.

Some are trying to make much out of the American advisers who accompanied Obama to Israel. Most notably Dennis Ross. Ross was the main Middle East negotiator for Bill Clinton and had a similar post in the first Bush Administration.

There’s no question that Ross is a classic “peace processor.” But he’s also intellectually honest. It’s Ross who has most effectively rebutted the allegation that Israel (Ehud Barak!) failed to offer Arafat a comprehensive peace deal in 2000 at Camp David, which has become a staple of Jimmy Cartersque anti-Israel vitriol.

The reality is that in the wave of the current President Bush either party’s candidate will do more to try to push negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. And, it’s also true, that given the Hamas control of Gaza, it’s likely these negotiations will go nowhere. But it doesn’t mean you can’t try.

Israel at 30: When Streisand Sang for Golda

May 28, 2008

Barbra and Golda

I mentioned earlier that I had something up my sleeve for Israel’s 60th birthday celebration. It took more time than I wanted to put together. But here’s a piece for Nextbook that describes how America did it 30 years ago.

It’s hard even to believe now, but ABC put together a prime time variety show capped by an amazing Streisand performance. (This was, after all, the network that gave us “The Battle of the Network Stars.”)

I spoke to two great show business men to get the inside scoop — Buz Kohan and Charlie Fishman. Kohan is a veteran of scores of memorable t.v. shows, such as “Motown 25,” where Michael Jackson unveiled the moonwalk, to “Muhammed Ali’s 50th Birthday Celebration.” He is also the patriarch of a Hollywood family: his son, David, created “Will and Grace;” his daughter, Jenji, “Weeds.” For his part, Fishman is the head of Washington D.C.’s Duke Ellington Jazz Festival and a former manager of Dizzy Gillespie. Here is an excerpt of the piece:

“Fishman had brought Stan Getz to Israel in 1977, a trip filmed for the 1978 documentary Stan Getz: A Musical Odyssey. ‘How do you break away from the late night television?’ Fishman remembers asking himself. ‘I sat back and said, ‘What would be the hippest thing to do? What would be the biggest star-power thing to do?’ ‘

No other Jewish American performer of the time was as big as Streisand. This was little more than a year after the release of A Star Is Born, which had garnered her an Oscar for the song ‘Evergreen.’ Fishman enlisted producer James Lipton, now famous for Inside the Actors Studio, and director Marty Pasetta, another award-show veteran, and set to work getting Streisand. She was interested, but had her own conditions: She wanted to sing accompanied by Zubin Mehta and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. So that’s exactly what she got. And with the strength of Streisand’s name, Fishman and company sold the show to ABC.

In the days before the show aired, Kohan and Mehta went to Streisand’s home to help her prepare. ‘She wanted to sing ‘Hatikvah,’ only she didn’t know’ the song, Kohan recalls. Kohan picked up the phone, called his wife, Rhea, and asked her to sing the song to Streisand. ‘I hope she’s not intimidated,’ Rhea quipped before launching into it.

Streisand’s preparation worked. For the organizers, the result was transcendent. ‘She was remarkable,’ says Kohan. ‘Everybody was impressed with the last twenty minutes of the show.’ ”

You can watch Streisand here.

The Bush-Israel Contretemps

May 16, 2008

The blogosphere and prominent Democrats are going crazy in the aftermath of President Bush’s remarks to the Israeli Knesset.

The meme here is that Bush was trying to make political points in Israel by likening Democrats to the appeasers of the Hitler Era. I have a few comments.

1. At this point in his lame duck presidency Bush poisons everything he touches. Notwithstanding the merits or lack thereof of his comments, his brand is so low, the president only hurts the cause he was purportedly helping — support for Israel. At this point, Bush should be winding things down and preparing to ride off into the sunset, not making comments easily construed as political attacks.

2. Having said that, an argument can be made that Bush was saying exactly what he believes. After all, a common refrain from Bush’s critics he is that he is too resistant to negotiations to solve problems and too quick to select the military option. But within the context of that critique, it would be wrong to somehow suggest at the same time that Bush doesn’t truly believe what he is saying. I thought that’s a big reason people don’t like him.

3. Observing the vitriol of Keith Olbermann last night, a heavy-handed performance which prompted me to change the channel, I couldn’t help but wonder where Olbermann’s anger was at the actual acts of terrorism that emanate from Hamas-controlled Gaza and into Israel, which, it should be remembered, withdrew from the coastal plain unilaterally in 2005.

4. Finally, why is it completely verboten to discuss the possibly existential threats Israel faces today from Iran? We can quarrel over the extent of danger posed by Iran and the true intentions of the Iranian regime. But there are certain facts on the record. Ahmadinejad has, after all, vowed “to wipe Israel off the map.” It is probably true that the position of Iran’s presidency does not hold exclusive authority in that country, and debates do exist about Iran’s progress at constructing a nuclear weapon. On the merits, too, it’s never a good idea for a sitting U.S. president to launch a political attack, particularly in a foreign land. At the same time, it suggests something pernicious about our culture when a ham-handed political attack from a president on his way out engenders more anger than a maniac’s promise to destroy another sovereign, democratic state.

Boston Celebrates Israel at 60

May 8, 2008

Turnout was big for Israel’s 60th Anniversary celebration at the John F. Kennedy Library last night. Governor Patrick, along with Myra Kraft and Israel’s Consul General, Nadav Tamir, addressed the crowd. 

Patrick, whose fortunes figure to rise with the tough times of Speaker DiMasi and the resurgence of Barack Obama, gave a brief, good speech. He pointed out that Massachusetts governors have a record of supporting Israel since William Russell attached his name to the Jewish cause in 1891.

He also announced that he plans to lead a trade mission on behalf of the Commonwealth to Israel. While I’d expect the papers to get on him for this as time away from the state, I think there are some natural synergies between our state and Israel where biotech is emerging as a major industry.

I’ll have more on this historic milestone for Israel later in the week.