Pro-Israel News

Date:
Friday, January 17, 2014

BY MARISSA NEWMAN

After Ya’alon calls him ‘obsessive’ and his security plan useless, secretary says bid for framework deal won’t be deterred by ‘one set of comments’

In a first response to unusually harsh comments made about him by Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, US Secretary of State John Kerry said Wednesday that he would not let the criticism derail peace talks, and that he would “work undeterred” until an agreement was reached.

He said he and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were in regular contact “and we are both very committed” to the peace process. “We just can’t let one set of comments undermine that effort, and I don’t intend to,” Kerry said at a press conference in Kuwait.

In statements published by the daily Yedioth Ahronoth on Tuesday, Ya’alon referred to the American diplomat as “inexplicably obsessive” and “messianic” in his efforts to have Israel and the Palestinians negotiate a final status deal. The paper recounted the defense minister lambasting the proposed security arrangements drawn up by Kerry as part of the secretary’s plan, saying the proposal was “not worth the paper it is printed on” and would not provide security for Israel.

But in his response Wednesday, Kerry sounded as determined as ever to see the peace process through to its conclusion, and a confident of success.

“After five months of negotiations, I believe strongly in the prospects for peace and I know the status quo is not sustainable,” he said. “We’ve always known that as we approach the time for these difficult choices, it’s going to be difficult.”

The defense minister had also reportedly said that Kerry had “nothing to teach me about the conflict with the Palestinians. All that can ‘save us’ is for John Kerry to win a Nobel Prize and leave us in peace.”

Ya’alon’s comments were met with sharp rebukes by US officials that led the defense minister to issue a public apology Tuesday night, after a long meeting with Netanyahu. In a statement published in English and Hebrew, the defense minister’s bureau said Israel greatly appreciates Kerry’s efforts and that Ya’alon “did not intend to insult the secretary and he apologizes if the secretary was hurt by the remarks attributed to the defense minister.” He did deny or confirm making the scathing remarks.

The American administration also demanded that Netanyahu explicitly disavow Ya’alon’s comments and affirm his commitment to the peace talks, according to several Israeli media outlets.

“To question Secretary Kerry’s motives and distort his proposals is not something we would expect from the defense minister of a close ally,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said Tuesday, echoing earlier comments from State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.

“The remarks of the defense minister [Ya'alon], if accurate, are offensive and inappropriate, especially given all that the United States is doing to support Israel’s security needs, and will continue to do,” Psaki said in a brief statement in Rome.

“Secretary Kerry and his team, including General [John] Allen, have been working day and night to try to promote a secure peace for Israel because of the Secretary’s deep concern for Israel’s future,” she added. “To question his motives and distort his proposals is not something we would expect from the defense minister of a close ally.”

The American rebukes came several hours after a gentler reprimand of Ya’alon from Netanyahu, in a speech before the Knesset marking the Israeli parliament’s 65th birthday.

“Even when we have disagreements with the United States, they are always substantive and not ad hominem,” Netanyahu said.

“We are working to advance regional security and defend our interests. True peace is founded on recognition of the nation-state of the Jewish people and on security arrangements guaranteeing that territories in Palestinian hands do not turn into launching pads for terrorists,” Netanyahu said, adding, “but all that [must be achieved] while respecting our important ties to the United States. We continue to defend our national interests, one of which is the continued fostering of our relations with our ally, the United States.”

Senior Obama administration officials were not satisfied with Netanyahu’s comments, and reportedly asked the prime minister to explicitly affirm his government’s commitment to the US-led peace talks with the Palestinian, and distance himself from Ya’alon’s comments.

Ya’alon was also assailed for his reported comments by President Shimon Peres and several senior cabinet colleagues, including from the right.

In his own speech before the Knesset Tuesday, Peres praised Kerry and US President Barack Obama’s efforts to achieve peace with the Palestinians.

“We are grateful to the president of the United States, Barack Obama, for his unreserved responsiveness to [Israel’s] security and intelligence needs. There is no doubt he wants to see a Middle East at peace. The deep friendship with the United States is a central element of Israel’s security and a catalyst for peace in the Middle East. Secretary of State John Kerry’s determined efforts to achieve peace are evidence of this American stance,” Peres said.

In a statement from Geneva, where he is meeting with UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman chastised the “loud, public argument” with the US that Ya’alon had sparked.

“Minister Liberman said that Israel and the US have a special relationship, and the US is Israel’s most steadfast ally over the years, which it has proven many times,” Liberman’s spokesman Tzahi Moshe said in a statement. “Therefore, it is inappropriate and unhelpful to both sides to conduct a loud, public argument, and there is no call for personal attacks, even if there are, at times, disagreements.”

Ya’alon, considered a defense hawk, has publicly expressed skepticism over plans for Israel to pull out of the West Bank, and firmly opposed an Israeli withdrawal from the Jordan Valley.

Ya’alon has been a strident critic of the American-brokered peace talks, which began in July and stipulated a nine-month window, until April, to reach a final status agreement.

Kerry has made 10 visits to the region this year, shuttling between Israeli and Palestinian leaders to mediate talks. Recently, he has been pushing a framework agreement as part of his efforts to nudge Abbas and Netanyahu closer to a full treaty that would establish a Palestinian state alongside Israel. But the two sides have reportedly been at odds over almost every aspect of the core issues involved in a two-state accord.

 

Date:
Friday, January 17, 2014

JANUARY 16, 2014 7:53 PM

UNESCO, the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization, has pulled a Jewish exhibit two years in the making, entitled “People, Book, Land – The 3,500 Year Relationship of the Jewish People and the Land of Israel,” after a zero hour protest from the Arab League, The Algemeiner has learned.

The exhibit, which was created by Los Angeles-based Jewish human rights group the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) together with UNESCO, was scheduled to open on January 20th, 2014, at UNESCO’s Paris headquarters. The invitations had already gone out, and the fully prepared exhibition material was already in place. The display was co-sponsored by Israel, Canada and Montenegro.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, Dean of the SWC, told The Algemeiner that the move was an “absolute outrage.” “The Arabs,” he said, “don’t want the world to know that the Jews have a 3,500-year relationship to the Land of Israel.”

Hier said that his organization, which is accredited by UNESCO as an NGO, worked in intimate co-operation with the international body on the project, which his center initiated after the Palestinian Authority was unilaterally accepted as a UNESCO member state in 2011.

“We made a clear attempt to work with them and the system, they can’t say they were blindsided, they commented on every sentence (in the exhibit’s materials) and still, in the end, the Arabs protested and they kicked us out,” he said.

“It is not supposed to be a place of censorship,” Hier said, “It is not supposed to deny one nation the right to their history.”

“The Arab world doesn’t know that Isaiah didn’t live in Portugal, Jeremiah didn’t roam France and Ezekiel wasn’t from Germany.”

UNESCO informed the SWC of the change on January 14th in a letter to the Center’s Shimon Samuels, asserting the Arab League’s claim that going ahead with the show “could create potential obstacles related to the peace process in the Middle East.”

Irina Bokova with Rabbi Marvin Heir in Los Angles upon agreeing to organize the exhibit.

In a letter to Irina Bokova, president of UNESCO, President of the Arab group within UNESCO, Abdulla al Neaimi, from the United Arab Emirates, expressed “deep worry and great disapproval” over the program showing the age old connection between Israel and the Jewish people.

“The subject of this exhibition is highly political though the appearance of the title seems to be  trivial. Most serious is the defense of this theme which is one of the reasons used by the opponents of peace within Israel,” the Arab League wrote. “The publicity that will accompany… the exhibit can only cause damage to the peace negotiations presently occurring, and the constant effort of Secretary of State John Kerry, and the neutrality and objectivity of UNESCO.”

“For all these reasons, for the major worry not to damage UNESCO in its… mission of support for peace, the Arab group within UNESCO is asking you to make the decision to cancel this exhibition,” Al Neaimi concluded.

Interestingly, 10 days prior to the suspension of the exhibit, the United States declined co-sponsorship on remarkably similar grounds.

“At this sensitive juncture in the ongoing Middle East peace process, and after thoughtful consideration with review at the highest levels, we have made the decision that the United States will not be able to co-sponsor the current exhibit during its display at UNESCO headquarters,” wrote Kelly O. Siekman, Director at the Office of UNESCO Affairs of the State Department, in an email seen by The Algemeiner.

SWC’s Hier told The Algemeiner that he was disappointed in the U.S. position on the issue, and said that he was sure the exhibition would not have been suspended has the U.S. aligned itself as a formal co-sponsor. “This is not the end of this story,” he said.

In its formal response to UNESCO’s Bokova after the suspension of the program, the SWC said, “we insist that you live up to your responsibilities and commitments as the co-organizer of this exhibition by overturning this naked political move that has no place in an institution whose mandate is defined by education, science, and culture — not politics.”

“Let’s be clear, the Arab Group’s protest is not over any particular content in the exhibition, but rather the very idea of it – that the Jewish people did not come to the Holy Land only after the Nazi Holocaust, but trace their historical and cultural roots in that land for three and a half millennia,” SWC wrote. “If anything will derail hopes for peace and reconciliation among the people of the Middle East, it will be by surrendering to the forces of extremism and torpedoing the opening of this exhibition — jointly vetted and co-organized by UNESCO and the Simon Wiesenthal Center.”

“Madame Director General, we hope you have the courage to do the right thing and we are still looking forward to cutting the ribbon on the exhibition with you next Monday night, January 20, at UNESCO headquarters,” SWC concluded.

In a letter seen by The Algemeiner written in response to the decision, Nimrod Barkan, Ambassador of Israel to International Organizations, recounted the degree to which the SWC co-operated with UNESCO on the project over two years, and blasted the decision.

“This unjust and outrageously last moment decision is biased and discriminative towards Israel. In the past UNESCO hosted numerous events and exhibitions accentuating the relations between Muslim and Christian religions with the Holy Land, and of course it holds and annual ‘Palestine Day,’” he wrote.

Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations in New York and UNESCO representatives in Paris could not immediately be reached by The Algemeiner for comment.

 

Date:
Wednesday, January 15, 2014


Highlighting the urgency of passing tougher sanctions legislation, senior Republican lawmakers demand transparency from White House

BY TIMES OF ISRAEL STAFF AND JTA January 15, 2014, 6:08 am 2
 


US President Barack Obama speaks to his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani, on Friday Sept. 27, marking the first time the two countries' leaders had engaged each other since 1979.
 

Key backers of a US Senate bill that would intensify sanctions against Iran said Tuesday they were worried by reports that the White House had negotiated a “secret side deal” with the Islamic Republic over its nuclear program, and urged the Obama administration to come clean to lawmakers on the substance of an interim agreement reached in Geneva.

“Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator has claimed that, under this possible agreement, Iran will be permitted to keep all of its nuclear facilities open, continue its enrichment of uranium, and maintain and even expand its nuclear research, including into next-generation centrifuges,” Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham said in a statement.

“We call on the Obama Administration to clarify this situation immediately and ensure that members of Congress are fully and promptly informed about its nuclear diplomacy with Iran,” they added, stressing the potential need for more sanctions.

The White House denied claims of any secret deal, saying the release of information on an interim agreement would have to be coordinated.

“We will make the text available to the Congress and the public, but we must work with the parties on when and in what format the information will be released. And we hope to do that soon,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters.

More than half the Senate has signed on to the bill to increase sanctions. But in a sign of the so-far successful effort by the White House to keep the bill from reaching a veto-busting 67 supporters, only 16 Democrats are on board.

The number of senators cosponsoring the bill, introduced by Sens. Mark Kirk (R-Illinois) and Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey), reached 59 this week, up from just 33 before the Christmas holiday break.

Notably only one of the 25 who signed up in recent days — Sen. Michael Bennet — is a Democrat, a sign of intense White House lobbying among Democrats to oppose the bill.

Backers of the bill say it would strengthen the US hand at the negotiations. But President Obama has said he would veto the bill because it could upend talks now underway between the major powers and Iran aimed at keeping the Islamic Republic from obtaining a nuclear bomb. A similar bill passed this summer by the US House of Representatives had a veto-proof majority.

On Thursday, the White House said backers of the bill should be upfront about the fact that it puts the United States on the path to war.

“If certain members of Congress want the United States to take military action, they should be up front with the American public and say so,” Bernadette Meehan, the National Security Council spokeswoman, said in a statement posted by The Huffington Post. “Otherwise, it’s not clear why any member of Congress would support a bill that possibly closes the door on diplomacy and makes it more likely that the United States will have to choose between military options or allowing Iran’s nuclear program to proceed.”

A number of pro-Israel groups, led by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, are leading a full-court press for the bill’s passage, with prominent Jewish leaders in a number of states making calls and writing letters to holdouts. Dovish Jewish groups such as J Street and Americans for Peace Now oppose the bill.

The bill would expand sanctions in part by broadening existing definitions targeting energy and banking sectors to all “strategic sectors,” including engineering, mining and construction. It would also tighten the definition of entities eligible for exceptions and broaden the definition of targeted individuals who assist Iran in evading sanctions.

 

Date:
Tuesday, January 14, 2014

An Excerpt from Gary's End of Day: 1-13-14

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon passed away over the weekend after eight years in a coma. I was honored to meet with Prime Minister Sharon and a number of Israeli cabinet members on one of my first trips to Israel. We discussed the long alliance between our two great nations and why it must be maintained. 

It was predictable but depressing to see reporters from a number of networks, including even Fox News, engaging in moral equivalence upon his death. This CNN headline is a good example: "Ariel Sharon: Hero or butcher?" The people who thought Sharon was a butcher and a war criminal were the enemies of Israel, who Sharon smashed whenever he could. 

I believe that he made only one significant error. That was to believe Israel could withdraw from Gaza and get credit in the international community for doing so. The 2005 decision deeply divided Israel, and in short order Gaza fell into the hands of Hamas. It has been a launching pad for attacks on Israel ever since. 

We learned all we needed to know about what Gaza would become when news broke that the Jews who lived there were not the only ones being forcibly evacuated. The Jews who died there had to be evacuated too. Jewish graves were literally dug up and the bodies removed because everyone understood that the graves would be desecrated by the Palestinians. Sadly, Israel has no credible partner in this so-called "peace process" with whom it can make peace. 

Date:
Monday, January 13, 2014

FoxNews.com

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was eulogized Monday as a great warrior and bold politician who was also devoted to his family and his farm. 

A state memorial service was held at the Knesset in Jerusalem, attended by Vice President Joe Biden and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, among others. Sharon died Saturday at the age of 85, eight years after a devastating stroke left him in a coma from which he never recovered. 

"Arik was a man of the land," President Shimon Peres, a longtime friend and sometimes rival of Sharon, said in his eulogy. "He defended this land like a lion and he taught its children to swing a scythe. He was a military legend in his lifetime and then turned his gaze to the day Israel would dwell in safety, when our children would return to our borders and peace would grace the Promised Land."

One of Israel's greatest and most divisive figures, Sharon rose through the ranks of the military, moving into politics and overcoming scandal and controversy to become prime minister in his final years. He spent most of his life battling Arab enemies and promoting Jewish settlement on war-won lands. His backers called him a war hero. His detractors, first and foremost the Palestinians, considered him a war criminal and held him responsible for years of bloodshed.

But in a surprising about-face, he led a historic withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005, uprooting all soldiers and settlers from the territory after a 38-year presence in a move he said was necessary to ensure Israel's security.

The speakers at Monday's ceremony largely glossed over the controversy that surrounded Sharon, and instead focused on his leadership and personality.

"I didn't always agree with Arik and he didn't always agree with me," said Israel's current Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who resigned from Sharon's government to protest the Gaza withdrawal. Nonetheless, he called Sharon "one of the big warriors" for the nation of Israel.

"He was pragmatic. His pragmatism was rooted in deep emotion, deep emotion for the state, for the Jewish people," Netanyahu said.

Nearly 10 years on, the withdrawal from Gaza remains hotly debated in Israeli society. Supporters say Israel is better off not being bogged down in the crowded territory, which is now home to 1.7 million Palestinians.

Critics say the pullout has only brought more violence. Two years after the withdrawal, Hamas militants seized control of Gaza. In a reminder of the precarious security situation, Palestinian militants on Monday fired two rockets from the Gaza Strip. Sharon's ranch in southern Israel is within range of such projectiles but Monday's missiles did not hit Israel. No injuries or damage were reported.

Security will be heightened for Sharon's scheduled burial at his farm near the Gaza Strip later Monday. Israel warned Hamas not to allow rockets to be fired during the ceremony. 

In a heartfelt address, Biden talked about a decades-long friendship with Sharon, saying the death felt "like a death in the family."

When the two discussed Israel's security, Biden said he would understand how Sharon earned the nickname "The Bulldozer," explaining how Sharon would pull out maps and repeatedly make the same points to drive them home.

"He was indomitable," Biden said. "But like all historic leaders, all real leaders, he had a north star that guided him. A north star from which he never, in my observation, never deviated. His north star was the survival of the state of Israel and the Jewish people wherever they resided," Biden said.

He also praised Sharon's determination in carrying out the Gaza pullout.

"The political courage it took, whether you agreed with him or not, when he told 10,000 Israelis to leave their homes in Gaza, in order from his perspective to strengthen Israel ... I can't think of a more difficult and controversial decision he made. But he believed it and he did it. The security of his people was always Arik's unwavering mission."

Sharon's coffin has been lying in state at the Knesset's outdoor plaza where Israelis from all walks of life paid respects throughout Sunday.

With Sharon's two sons, Omri and Gilad looking on, Monday's ceremony took place under a mild, winter sun. In addition to Biden and Blair, the prime minister of the Czech Republic, and foreign ministers of Australia and Germany were among those in attendance. Even Egypt, the first Arab country to make peace with Israel, sent a low-level diplomat, its embassy said.

Sharon's life will be remembered for its three distinct stages: First, was his eventful and controversial time in uniform, including leading a deadly raid in the West Bank that killed 69 Arabs, as well as his heroics in the 1973 Mideast war.

Then came his years as a vociferous political operator who helped create Israel's settlement movement and masterminded the divisive Lebanon invasion in 1982. He was branded as indirectly responsible for the massacre of hundreds of Palestinians at the Sabra and Chatilla refugee camps outside Beirut when his troops allowed allied Lebanese militias into the camps. An uproar over the massacre cost him his job as defense minister.

Yet ultimately he transformed himself into a prime minister and statesman, capped by the dramatic Gaza withdrawal. Sharon appeared to be cruising toward re-election when he suffered a second stroke in two months in January 2006.

 

Date:
Friday, January 10, 2014

Published on: 

After mortars were fired from Gaza at Israel, the IDF targeted terrorists during their final preparations to launch rockets toward Israel early Thursday morning (January 9). No damage or injuries were reported among the soldiers

Later in the morning, an Israel Air Force aircraft targeted a terror site in the southern Gaza Strip. Direct hits were confirmed.

“This ongoing conflict that we are facing on a daily basis cannot be endured by Israeli civilians,” said Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, IDF Spokesman. ”It is the IDF’s obligation to operate to the best of its abilities to prevent such malicious terroristic intentions from terrorizing Israeli civilians and assaulting IDF soldiers. We will continue in our activities to deter all threats originating in the Gaza Strip.”

 
 

 

Date:
Thursday, January 9, 2014
BY MICHAEL GRYBOSKI, CHRISTIAN POST REPORTER
January 9, 2014|7:23 am

WASHINGTON – Nine out of the ten countries ranked the most oppressive for Christians to live in were due to Islamic extremism, according to Open Doors' annual World Watch List, which was released Wednesday.

With the exception of North Korea – ranked No. 1 for the 12th year in a row – every other country on the top 10 list had as its source of persecution, Islamic extremism. North Korea's persecution of Christians was due to communist oppression and dictatorial paranoia, explained Open Doors in its 2014 World Watch List. According to the report, the countries with the most extreme persecution besides North Korea are: Somalia, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Maldives, Pakistan, Iran, and Yemen, respectively.

Open Doors announced the rankings for its 2014 World Watch List, which documented the 50 nations least tolerant of their Christian population, at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. The Christian persecution watchdog group's methodology involved measuring the level of Christian freedom found in five spheres of life: private, family, community, national, and church. A sixth sphere regarding degree of violence also factors in to the rankings.

Dr. David Curry, president and CEO of Open Doors; Dr. Ronald Boyd-MacMillan, head of Strategy and Research for Open Doors International; and Dr. Paul Marshall, author and senior fellow at Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom, were among those who gave remarks at the press conference.

America's Silence on Religious Persecution

In his remarks, Dr. Paul Marshall explained that in contrast to previous years, the United States has been largely silent on the issue of religious persecution. Marshall told The Christian Post that he believes the root of this silence – also seen in Protestant U.S. church, according to him – is in part due to the rise of "realism" regarding diplomacy.

"I think that one reason is because in the State Department you have the ascendency of realism in international relations," said Marshall. "So you just deal with states according to what you think you can get and don't seek to delve inside them."

Marshall also told CP that another factor was that the Obama administration had different priorities regarding human rights abroad. "The Administration has put a larger stress on other forms of human rights or rights conceived of in different ways," he said. "Rights of women…rights of homosexuals, I think these have risen in the agenda so they are apparently more outspoken on those issues."

Jordan a Safe Haven or Not?

Christians might also be surprised to see that Jordan was ranked number 26 on the list of 50 countries with the worst Christian persecution, given that Jordan is often applauded for being a moderate Muslim country and for its religious tolerance.

Jordan's increase in Christian persecution caused it to jump 8 ranks, rising to 26 this year compared to 34 in 2013.

Dr. Ronald Boyd-MacMillan of Open Doors told The Christian Post that "It is not better in Jordan by any means and we are tracking quite seriously the impact of Syria and…the Jihadist movements and so on into Jordan."

Boyd-MacMillan said that the major source of persecution for Christians in Jordan was "primarily Islamic extremism" and was likely being fed by the destabilization found in neighboring Syria.

Open Doors' report of increased Christian persecution in Jordan comes just months after the country's constitutional monarchy hosted an event in the Hashemite Kingdom's capital of Amman titled "Challenges facing Arab Christians," where the aim was to "discuss challenges facing Arab Christians, and document them and identify ways to address them in order to preserve the Christians' important role especially in maintaining the city of Jerusalem and its history," according to Jordan's media agency PETRA.

 

 
Date:
Wednesday, January 8, 2014

BY HAVIV RETTIG GUR January 6, 2014, 1:08 pm 

Benjamin Netanyahu will complete his eighth (nonconsecutive) year as prime minister in March 2014, more than any Israeli premier except the state’s founder, David Ben-Gurion.And as the years go by, unsurprisingly, Netanyahu is leaving a deepening imprint on the way in which the country is governed.

Turnover is relatively high among his innermost circle of advisers and aides, who frequently last as little as two years at his side and all too often, especially in recent years, leave amid a cloud of scandal and negative press. At the same time, the role of some of those advisers has become increasingly central, as the Prime Minister’s Office seems to be filling an ever-more influential role in national policy.

“There is an international phenomenon of concentration of foreign policy power in the hands of presidents and prime ministers,” noted Chuck Freilich, a former Israeli deputy national security adviser who has written a book about Israel’s decision-making process. And this consolidation has happened quickly in Israel, where the PMO now handles all major issues of diplomatic and security policy, including the peace talks with the Palestinians, the Iranian nuclear crisis and the most important of Israel’s diplomatic relationships, such as those with the United States, Britain, France and Germany.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at an October 9, 2012 press conference at the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem, announces he’s calling elections. (Photo credit: Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

In the PMO under Netanyahu, that sees a great deal of close consultation with key advisers, a notably expanded role for the National Security Council, and a changing structure of the inner “security cabinet” of top ministers.

It also means less influence for the individual ministries and ministers in some areas that used to be their exclusive purview.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Finance Minister Yair Lapid and outgoing Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer at a press conference in the Knesset, June 24, 2013. (Photo credit: Miriam Alster / Flash90)

When Netanyahu was finance minister under prime minister Ariel Sharon, for instance, it was he who recruited Stanley Fischer as governor of the Bank of Israel. When Karnit Flug was appointed Fischer’s successor in October, in a chaotic and protracted process, by contrast, Finance Minister Yair Lapid most emphatically did not exclusively oversee the selection.

Likewise, the question of Bedouin resettlement would in previous years have been a matter overwhelmingly for the Interior Ministry. Under Netanyahu, the Prime Minister’s Office has been centrally involved.

‘A dialogical personality’

Amid the process of consolidation, Netanyahu is said to be more open than some of his predecessors were to the views of trusted staff around him.

“Bibi has a dialogical personality,” said one confidant who asked not to be named. “He makes decisions in the course of discussion. He needs a conversation partner to make those decisions.”

Netanyahu takes a close interest in the views of those around him, confirmed another source familiar with the prime minister’s deliberative process. “He’s always asking questions, interrogating you for your opinion, and writing down what you’re saying.”

That aspect of Netanyahu’s personality is both an advantage and a crutch, the confidant added.

The advantage: Netanyahu is “flexible and thorough” when making decisions. “Every decision requires 10 discussions. He’s not hasty like some previous prime ministers.”

The disadvantage: “He can seem indecisive, fickle. No decision is final until it’s actually being implemented. Decisions often change in the course of discussion, both because his reasoning continues to develop and because those who know him well know how to focus their arguments to reach certain conclusions.”

Whether or not this personality trait is beneficial to forming national policy, there is no doubt it gives an outsize role to those who surround and engage the prime minister in those policy discussions.

As power concentrates around a premier who gives added weight to his advisers’ views, those advisers are becoming increasingly important for any understanding of how the machinery of power is managed and critical decisions are made in the State of Israel.

Enlarged role for the NSC

The shift of diplomatic and security policymaking into the hands of the prime minister is a global phenomenon. In part, this is due to inevitable changes in technology, Freilich explained.

“Foreign ministries face a real question. Why are they needed? Today, if a prime minister wants to know what the Americans are thinking, he calls up [Secretary] Kerry or [President] Obama. Foreign ministries don’t have the roles they used to have, where ambassadors on the ground were absolutely essential, especially [in light of modern] media and communications.”

The issues now handled in the PMO “don’t leave the Foreign Ministry with much of anything of consequence,” noted Freilich. “I think that’s understood by most people today. The Foreign Ministry deals with day-to-day caretaking and maintenance of relations.”

In order to effectively manage this workload in the PMO, Netanyahu has slowly constructed over several years Israel’s first policy planning staff directly answerable to the prime minister.

Founded in March 1999 by the first Netanyahu government, just three months before that coalition’s demise, the National Security Council struggled for a long time to find its place in the decision-making structures under other premiers. It received a significant boost when its responsibilities were anchored in law in July 2008, just in time for Netanyahu’s return to the Prime Minister’s Office in March 2009.

All former officials and confidants who spoke with The Times of Israel for this story emphasized the enlarged role Netanyahu has carved out for the National Security Council. Its head, the national security adviser, has his office just meters away from the prime minister in the Aquarium, the glass-fronted inner sanctum in the PMO reserved for the premier himself and his closest aides.

The NSC is now responsible for the highest-level contacts between Israel, the US, major European powers and even, more recently, Russia. It regularly communicates, officially and unofficially, publicly and secretly, with the highest levels of these governments. It even handles the high-level policy workload on broader issues of geopolitical import, such as Israel’s gas exports.

Benjamin Netanyahu speaking to Barack Obama at the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem in March. (photo credit: Pete Souza/Official White House)

One recent example is telling. After the public spat between Netanyahu and Obama over the interim nuclear deal with Iran in November, the two leaders agreed in a December phone call that Israel would send a senior official to Washington to handle US-Israeli talks on the permanent agreement with Tehran. For perhaps the most critical and sensitive discussions on the issue Netanyahu himself has called his government’s number one priority, the prime minister chose to send his newly installed national security adviser, Yossi Cohen.

When he appointed Cohen’s predecessor, former IDF major-general Yaakov Amidror, to the top NSC post in 2011, Netanyahu’s public statement left little doubt as to how he viewed the position. Amidror, he said, “will lead the National Security Council as a body central to determining Israel’s national and security policies.”

Yossi Cohen, who’s been appointed to chair Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s National Security Council (photo credit: courtesy)

The two national security advisers who preceded Cohen were former Mossad head of intelligence Uzi Arad, a noted expert on the Iranian nuclear question, and Amidror, who has written extensively on the security challenges posed by neighboring Arab states and Palestinian terror groups. Both are known as wide-ranging strategic thinkers.

But the choice of his newest adviser, a former Mossad number two, has raised eyebrows. Cohen is generally thought of as a keen operations man, say insiders, not a strategic and policy planning expert.

Prime minister Ehud Olmert at his last cabinet meeting, March 29, 2009. (Photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski / Pool / Flash 90)

“Cohen’s predecessors all had extensive strategic and diplomatic experience,” said Freilich. “Ilan Mizrahi [who served for a year and a half under Ehud Olmert from 2006 to 2007] was, like Cohen, a Mossad operations man. But even he had some diplomatic experience by the time he became the national security adviser. Cohen doesn’t seem to have that background.” Even so, Freilich concluded, Cohen “is a very smart man and can learn.”

“Yossi Cohen is an operational guy,” agreed a source close to the PMO. “He’s very much about implementation. But that’s also part of the NSC’s work. It prepares briefing papers for meeting foreign officials, writes briefings, handles a lot of day-to-day diplomacy. A lot of foreign governments speak to the NSC.”

Cohen is one of a triumvirate of key national security advisers on whom Netanyahu relies on a daily basis, according to several sources familiar with the inner workings of the PMO. The other two are the prime minister’s military secretary, Maj. Gen. Eyal Zamir, and the cabinet secretary, former chief military advocate general Maj. Gen. (res.) Avichai Mandelblit.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with his former National Security Adviser Ya’akov Amidror and (background) cabinet secretary Avichai Mandelblit at the PMO in Jerusalem on November 3, 2013. (Photo credit: Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Not all cabinet secretaries have been influential figures in recent years, with some chosen by the prime minister for their past loyalty or effective management skills.

But Mandelblit is in the room a lot with the prime minister, several sources said. “He has a quiet and low-key personality, but quiet waters run deep,” said one. “He is an expert in international law, so he’s in a lot of diplomatic meetings where you didn’t necessarily see his predecessor.”

With Mandelblit’s appointment in April, “the status of the post has possibly been enhanced.”

But the rise of the NSC has not occurred without causing friction with the other major national security advisory post, that of the military secretary.

Unlike the national security adviser, “the military secretary doesn’t have a support staff. He has one or two people working for him,” notes Freilich.

Freilich believes “there has to be a serious change in the role of the military secretary. He shouldn’t be in charge of preparing meetings. He has to be a serious strategic planner. Maybe the military secretary should become deputy head of the NSC.”

Israeli Ambassador to the US presents his credentials to President Barack Obama at the White House, December 4, 2013 (photo credit: Twitter/ Amb. Ron Dermer)

The NSC’s centrality is also highlighted by the fact that it took on most of the duties held by Netanyahu’s former adviser and new ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer.

The US-born Dermer, who cut his teeth in political consulting as a Republican pollster in the United States in the 1990s, held a unique position at Netanyahu’s side as a political adviser, foreign policy analyst, and a key source of insight into Netanyahu’s main foreign policy target: the United States. He left the PMO in March and was appointed ambassador to Washington in July.

Tellingly, Dermer is not being replaced.

“Dermer was personally close to the prime minister. His job was to be the close adviser,” said one former official. “Now the head of the NSC is filling that role.”

“There’s no doubt Dermer had a unique role with the prime minister,” said another source familiar with the pair. “They had a relationship that predates him taking office. [Dermer advised Netanyahu from 2008, a year before he became prime minister.] Now that Dermer has moved on to Washington, different parts of his responsibilities were divided up. A lot of it went to the NSC.”

The growing centralization of policymaking around the prime minister is also highlighted by Netanyahu’s preference, like other recent premiers, for “external” advisers, individuals who are given senior policy roles but are not government employees. The two key external advisers are attorney Yitzhak Molcho and former ambassador to the UN Dore Gold.

While Justice Minister Tzipi Livni is the top political face of the peace talks with the Palestinians, Molcho is the personal representative of the prime minister. It is significant that as per Netanyahu’s instructions, the negotiators cannot meet without Molcho being present. A close personal confidante of the prime minister, who also serves as Netanyahu’s family attorney, Molcho has served as Netanyahu’s chief peace negotiator for many years, managing his contacts with Yasser Arafat during his first government in the 1990s, and again with Abbas since 2010.

Gold has a similarly long relationship with the prime minister, having served as a peace negotiator alongside Molcho in 1996-7, and then spending much of Netanyahu’s first term, from 1997 to 1999, as Israel’s ambassador to the UN. An outspoken activist — Gold has published three books in recent years about the radical ideology of the Saudi state, Iran’s nuclear drive and the future of Jerusalem — Gold has served as president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, a conservative policy think tank in Jerusalem, since his retirement from public service.

Last month, it was announced that Gold would return to Netanyahu’s side as an external adviser. While Netanyahu has emphatically placed the peace talks in the hands of Molcho, US-born Gold’s experience at the UN and other international forums, his expertise in Middle East politics (he holds a PhD on the subject from Columbia University) and his knowledge of the United States suggest he will likely fill part of the role left vacant by the departed Dermer.

Sara Netanyahu

No survey of Netanyahu’s inner circle is complete without noting the looming presence, or at least the allegations of the looming presence, of Netanyahu’s wife.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sarah on September 27, 2012 at the UN in New York after Netanyahu’s speech to the General Assembly (photo credit: Avi Ohayun, GPO)

Sara Netanyahu, a child psychologist, has been the target of scorn and criticism from many Israeli journalists and news outlets, and indeed won a major libel suit against an Israeli paper for its critical portrayal of her, a remarkable feat given Israel’s comparatively strict legal definitions of libel.

It is not always easy to sift through the over-the-top criticism, much of it generated by her husband’s opponents, to understand her precise role at the prime minister’s side.

There is no doubt she plays a central role in the prime minister’s inner circle. Netanyahu “listens to her on almost everything,” said a former official. “Not on Iran, of course, but on almost everything.”

Nor does he consult with her on peace talks with the Palestinians, said another source.

In fact, she does not advise the prime minister on policy, most former officials and observers agree, but rather on political questions. She is his self-appointed but much-trusted political handler and occasional media adviser.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seen with his wife Sara and their son Yair, celebrates his 64th birthday, at the PMO in Jerusalem, October 20, 2013. (Photo credit: Kobi Gideon GPO/FLASH90)

“She’s very concerned with what happens to him,” said one source close to the prime minister. “She admires [Netanyahu], thinks he is practically a gift from God to the Jewish people and the State of Israel, and is very sensitive to attacks on him. She also follows the media carefully.”

Netanyahu’s outgoing chief of staff, Gil Shefer, made a point of involving Sara in all goings-on in the Prime Minister’s Office and in his political activities, sources said. Shefer’s replacement, the US-born Ari Harow, who is returning to Netanyahu’s side after having served as an adviser and chief of staff from 2007 to 2010, is also expected to make coordination with Sara Netanyahu a key function of his job.

The chief of staff role is larger than mere coordination with Israel’s First Lady, of course. But with Sara taking a keen interest in the prime minister’s domestic political position, and with the effective merger of a PM’s personal and professional lives once he or she moves into the Prime Minister’s Residence, it is not a minor part of the role, either.

What about the cabinet

Finally, Netanyahu’s decision-making process cannot be understood without examining the changing structure of his cabinet. In the last government, Netanyahu appointed a security cabinet — the committee of ministers charged by law with national security decisions — that hovered around 15 members. But he was frustrated repeatedly by leaks and indecisive debate in the large group, and decided to form an ad hoc “Group of Seven” cabinet that eventually expanded to become a Group of Nine. It was in this smaller, unofficial committee where real decisions and high-level policy discussions actually took place.

Netanyahu has applied that lesson to his current government. He restructured the security cabinet down almost to the minimum size required by law. It now comprises just eight members: Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, Finance Minister Yair Lapid, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, Justice Minister Livni, Economy Minister Naftali Bennett and Home Front Security Minister Gilad Erdan. It is advised on an ongoing, permanent basis by two senior officials, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein and — who else? — the prime minister’s national security adviser Yossi Cohen.

According to those familiar with its workings, the cabinet meets “very regularly” and is now the main forum where “the serious discussions are held.”

The Israeli White House

Many of these changes in the structure of national security decision-making at the highest levels of the Israeli government will likely outlive Netanyahu’s premiership. Indeed, the impulse to concentrate policy around the prime minister extends beyond security questions.

The Prime Minister’s Office (photo credit: Flash90)

Netanyahu more or less openly acts as the nation’s top economic planner, taking a decisive role in appointing the new Bank of Israel governor and setting macroeconomic targets. Under him, key questions of domestic policy, including extending free public schooling down to the age of three, Bedouin resettlement plans and Arab sector economic development, have been brought under the umbrella of the PMO’s Planning Directorate headed by Udi Prawer.

Netanyahu, who speaks native English and was an early adopter of American political campaign methods into Israeli elections, has often been called Israel’s most “American” prime minister.

Whatever truth there may be in these claims of cultural affinity, there is little doubt the PMO under Netanyahu, with its advisers and policy planners and growing control over ever-expanding policy arenas, is looking more and more like Israel’s White House.

Read more: Inside Israel's White House: How Netanyahu runs the country | The Times of Israel http://www.timesofisrael.com/inside-israels-white-house-how-netanyahu-runs-the-country/#ixzz2pohOlXK4 
 

 

Date:
Monday, January 6, 2014


New Netanyahu Recruitment Strategy Draws Split Reaction


BY MORGAN LEE , CHRISTIAN POST REPORTER
December 31, 2013|4:54 pm
 
IDF soldiers at a checkpoint near the West Bank city of Jenin.

Despite just composing a tiny minority of the country's 1.7 million Arab population, Israel has begun to more intentionally recruit Christians to join the Israel Defense Forces (IDF.)

Arab Christians only make up 128,000, or less than 10 percent, of the entire country's population and traditionally have not served in the IDF, where service is mandatory for all Jewish Israeli men and women.

Arab Muslim and Christians are not required to serve (although Druze are) and according to an Associated Press report, the Israeli Christians, the vast majority of whom consider themselves Palestinian despite living in Israel, have long "considered service in the army as taboo." Only 1,500 non-Druze Arabs currently serve in the military, the majority of them from Israel's desperate, poverty-stricken Beduoin community.

Father Gabriel Nadaf, a Christian priest who sides with the government's decision to recruit among his population, said he believes his people have practical reasons -- economic and social integration -- to join the military.

"I believe in the shared fate of the Christian minority and the Jewish state," he said, according to AP.

Nadaf's spokesperson, Shadi Khalloul, an aide, pointed to the persecution of Christians across the Middle East in Egypt, Syria and Iraq and compared it with the status of Christians in Israel.

"They are burning churches, they are slaughtering them (Christians), they are raping the girls," said Khalloul.

But Oudeh Basharat, a Palestinian columnist for the Israeli newspaper "Haaretz," claimed instead that it seemed the Israeli prime minister was only attempting the recruiting campaign as a way to further splinter relationships among Palestinians.

Netanyahu told Christians at a forum recently that joining the IDF would "grant protection to supporters of enlistment and to the conscripts themselves from threats and violence directed at them," which Basharat suggested hinted that the Christian Palestinians' Muslim counterparts would one day turn and target them.

"If you listen carefully to the words of his blessing, it's impossible to shake off the feeling that this recruitment is aimed at achieving internal objectives within Arab society. Netanyahu seems to be playing, with much pomp, the role of the classic colonialist who adopts a policy of 'divide and conquer,'" Basharat wrote in a recent op-ed.

Basharat pointed to the decades that the populations had co-existed with one another and argued that the prime minister was trying to create division for his own benefit.

"Palestinian Arabs, Muslims and Christians, have been living here together for generations in harmony and sharing the same destiny, and now Netanyahu comes to divide them," he continued. "A country that sparks dispute between its sons is not a normal country. The time has come for the prime minister to absorb the fact that before him stands a nation, and not a collection of ethnic groups."

He also said Israel's recruitment efforts had yet to offer Christians "housing," "jobs" or "let the uprooted return."

"Really, how stingy can the Jewish state be: to serve and to bear the burden in return for 'Israeli society is proud of you?'" he wrote.

While numbers have been slow -- only about 50 Christians have joined annually -- those who have chosen have often faced pushback from their communities. Arin Shaabi, who works as a prosecutor in a West Bank military court, said that although she "stands by what [she does]," she has been harassed by others in her home town of Nazareth.

Shaabi has had a rock thrown at her car and she changes into civilian clothes before leaving the military base. Her mother has reported that her family's reputation has suffered.

 

Date:
Thursday, January 2, 2014
ByAdi Schwartz
Dec. 27, 2013 7:34 p.m. ET

As Christmas neared, an 85-foot-high tree presided over the little square in front of the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth. Kindergarten children with Santa Claus hats entered the church and listened to their teacher explain in Arabic the Greek inscriptions on the walls, while a group of Russian pilgrims knelt on their knees and whispered in prayer. In Nazareth's old city, merchants sold the usual array of Christmas wares.

This year, however, the familiar rhythms of Christmas season in the Holy Land have been disturbed by a new development: the rise of an independent voice for Israel's Christian community, which is increasingly trying to assert its separate identity. For decades, Arab Christians were considered part of Israel's sizable Palestinian minority, which comprises both Muslims and Christians and makes up about a fifth of the country's citizens, according to the Israeli government.

But now, an informal grass-roots movement, prompted in part by the persecution of Christians elsewhere in the region since the Arab Spring, wants to cooperate more closely with Israeli Jewish society—which could mean a historic change in attitude toward the Jewish state. "Israel is my country, and I want to defend it," says Henry Zaher, an 18-year-old Christian from the village of Reineh who was visiting Nazareth. "The Jewish state is good for us."

LOOKING UP: Celebrating Christmas in Nazareth, December 2012 Reuters

The Christian share of Israel's population has decreased over the years—from 2.5% in 1950 to 1.6% today, according to Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics—because of migration and a low birthrate. Of Israel's 8 million citizens, about 130,000 are Arabic-speaking Christians (mostly Greek Catholic and Greek Orthodox), and 1.3 million are Arab Muslims.

In some ways, Christians in Israel more closely resemble their Jewish neighbors than their Muslim ones, says Amnon Ramon, a lecturer at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a specialist on Christians in Israel at the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies. In a recent book, he reports that Israeli Christians' median age is 30, compared with 31 for Israeli Jews and only 19 for Israeli Muslims. Israeli Christian women marry later than Israeli Muslims, have significantly fewer children and participate more in the workforce. Unemployment is lower among Israeli Christians than among Muslims, and life expectancy is higher. Perhaps most strikingly, Israeli Christians actually surpass Israeli Jews in educational achievement.

As a minority within a minority, Christians in Israel have historically been in a bind. Fear of being considered traitors often drove them to proclaim their full support for the Palestinian cause. Muslim Israeli leaders say that all Palestinians are siblings and deny any Christian-Muslim rift. But in mixed Muslim-Christian cities such as Nazareth, many Christians say they feel outnumbered and insecure.

"There is a lot of fear among Christians from Muslim reprisals," says Dr. Ramon. "In the presence of a Muslim student in one of my classes, a Christian student will never say the same things he would say were the Muslim student not there."

"Many Christians think like me, but they keep silent," says the Rev. Gabriel Naddaf, who backs greater Christian integration into the Jewish state. "They are simply too afraid." In his home in Nazareth, overlooking the fertile hills of the Galilee, the 40-year-old former spokesman of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Jerusalem is tall and charismatic, dressed in a spotless black cassock. "Israel is my country," he says. "We enjoy the Israeli democracy and have to respect it and fight for it."

That is the idea behind the new Forum for Drafting the Christian Community, which aims to increase the number of Christians joining the Israel Defense Forces. It is an extremely delicate issue: Israeli Arabs are generally exempt from military duty, because the state doesn't expect them to fight their brethren among the Palestinians or in neighboring Arab countries. Israeli Palestinians, who usually don't want to enlist, say they often face discrimination in employment and other areas because they don't serve.

"We were dragged into a conflict that wasn't ours," says Father Naddaf. "Israel takes care of us, and if not Israel, who will defend us? We love this country, and we see the army as a first step in becoming more integrated with the state."

According to Shadi Khaloul, a forum spokesperson, the total number of Christians serving in the Israeli military has more than quadrupled since 2012, from 35 to nearly 150. This may seem a drop in the ocean, but it was enough to enrage many Palestinian Israelis. Father Naddaf says that his car's tires were punctured and that he received death threats, worrying him enough that he got bodyguards. Hanin Zoabi, an Arab-Muslim member of the Israeli parliament, wrote Father Naddaf a public letter calling him a collaborator and accusing him of putting young Christians "in danger." "Arab Palestinians, regardless of their religion, should not join the Israeli army," Ms. Zoabi told me. "We are a national group, not a religious one. Any attempt to enlist Christians is part of a strategy of divide-and-rule."

Many Arab Christians don't see it that way. "We are not mercenaries," says Mr. Khaloul, who served as a captain in an IDF paratrooper brigade. "We want to defend this country together with the Jews. We see what is happening these days to Christians around us—in Iraq, Syria and Egypt."

Since the Arab revolutions began in Tunisia in 2011, many Christians in the region have felt isolated and jittery. Coptic churches have been attacked in Egypt, and at least 26 Iraqis leaving a Catholic church in Baghdad on Christmas Day were killed by a car bomb. Islamists continue to threaten to enforce Shariah law wherever they gain control.

The Christian awakening in Israel goes beyond joining the IDF. Some Israeli Christian leaders now demand that their history and heritage be taught in state schools. "Children in Arab schools in Israel learn only Arab-Muslim history," says a report prepared by Mr. Khaloul and submitted to Israel's Ministry of Education, "and this causes the obliteration of Christian identity."

Some Israeli Christians even recently established a new political party, headed by Bishara Shlayan, a stocky, blue-eyed former captain in the Israeli navy who told me that he once beat up an Irish sailor in Londonderry who called him an "[expletive] Jew." The new party is puckishly called B'nai Brith ("Children of the Covenant"), and Shlayan says it will have Jewish as well as Christian members. Nazareth's mayor, Ramez Jaraisy, recently told the Times of Israel that Shlayan was a "collaborator" with the Israeli authorities.

"The current Arab political establishment only brought us hate and rifts," says Mr. Shlayan. "The Arab-Muslim parties didn't take care of us. We are not brothers with the Muslims; brothers take care of each other." Mr. Shlayan, who advocates better education, housing and employment for Israeli Christians, says he also dreams of turning Nazareth into an even busier tourist spot by erecting the world's biggest statue of Jesus.

Should this Christian awakening succeed, it would be yet another notable shift in the balance of power among religious groups in the Middle East.

—Mr. Schwartz is a former staff writer and senior editor for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

 

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