The broken box
United States Vice President Mike Pence's visit to Israel created an impression of unprecedented prosperity in relations between Israel and the United States and an all-time high in the strength of the alliance between the two countries. His moving speech in the Knesset, his visit to the Western Wall, the words he uttered, his heat, his tone and his intention, spread a euphoria over the Holy Land. And all thanks to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, of course. If Netanyahu had not chosen United States President Donald Trump as the president of the United States, we could have had eight more terrible years of some kind of misfortune like Barack Obama. Again, like so many times throughout the course of Jewish history rife with hardships, we were saved at the very last minute. Why should the minister in charge of symbols and ceremonies, Miri Regev, not announce a new national holiday to commemorate this great Zionist victory?
The reality is a little different. True, at the current moment in Trump's presidency, relations between Jerusalem (literally) and Washington are flowering, and American support for Israel's positions -- especially the Israeli right -- are at a peak. As opposed to many assessments, Trump eventually decided to move the US embassy to Jerusalem. He not only thought outside the box and changed the paradigm, but rather smashed the box into pieces and is now trying to put together a new box. We have to pray he succeeds, because they who live in this broken box are the Israelis.
The fact of the matter is Trump will not be here forever. Current assessments in the US are that the chances he will be pushed out of the presidency are legitimate. Even if he is not forced out, it is doubtful he would be reelected. Even if he is reelected, it is impossible for US-Israel relations to be based on one person, or personality, whether or not they are controversial. The US-Israel alliance was based for years on bipartisan support. Republicans supported Israel, Democrats supported Israel, independents supported Israel. Support was sweeping, crossing party lines, race, geography and age. This was the true asset of the Israeli people: the fact that the Americans, whoever they may be, supported Israel, identified with it, its values and goals.
And so, no more. Last week, an in-depth study in the United States was published by the Pew Research Center that has tracked the American public's support for Israel for decades. The results are shocking. For the sake of comparison, in 1978, 49% of Republicans and 45% of Democrats preferred Israel's position to that of the Palestinians (with the Palestinians enjoying minimal support). From then on, America's preference to Israel over the Palestinians has been close between Republicans, Democrats and independents. Republicans were ahead of the others by a few percent, but in general the support was sweeping and powerful across the nation. When it rose, it rose across the board. When it fell, it fell across the board. But in general, support rose. In the Pew survey, the graphs sharply split. While Republicans favoring Israel rose to 79%, Democratic support plummeted to 27%. This is unprecedented and this should shake everyone awake who is a part of this key strategic asset -- the US-Israel alliance. It points to a phenomenon, a trend, a direction, that heralds bad news.
The current US president is Republican (apparently), and Congress is controlled by the Republican party. But in the United States, according to the data and estimates, there are more Democrats than Republicans and demographics are trending in favor of Democrats. With Trump or without him, the American future belongs more to the Democrats and independents than it does to Republicans. The loss of Democratic support for Israel is a catastrophe that we have built and our grandchildren will pay a fortune for it. It is registered, all in all, in the name of "Captain America" Benjamin Netanyahu.
This assessment was made, both here and in real time, after Netanyahu's speech before both houses of the US Congress in 2015, on the eve of the Israeli elections. In quite a few conversations with Democratic legislators, long-time supporters of Israel, they nearly cried. He puts us in an impossible situation, they said, he drives a wedge between us and the president, he terrorizes cross-party support for Israel -- it will be a cry for generations, they warned. And they were right. The crying is already here. If Netanyahu's speech in Congress would have contributed anything to halting the nuclear deal with Iran, it would have been possible to justify the move. But there was not the slightest chance of that happening, not even a fraction of a percent. Netanyahu knew this, and despite that knowledge, and although he was warned by many of the damage that it could cause to the sensitive relationship, he went to speak. Why? Because he knew it was a speech that could cause him to win in his own elections that took place a few weeks later.
Indeed, he won the elections in a big way. But Israeli society probably lost. It is possible the effects will not be felt in the coming years, but after Netanyahu, and after Trump, a time not too far away, Israeli society might wake up one morning to find that this strategic asset, so vital to Israel's security, is gone.
Further, fostering support for Israel among Democrats is far more important than fostering Republican support. Why? Because among the Republicans are 60 million devout Evangelical Christians who are supporters of Israel from birth, in a religious imperative, independent of anything. They are in that position, and will remain so, because of their faith. Incidentally, according to their faith, when their Messiah returns (Jesus), we will all have to convert to Christianity, otherwise bitter will be our end. But, well, we will. One way or the other, a significant portion of the Republicans support Israel out of religious belief. For Democrats, it's much more brittle, so it's so important to grow, cultivate, and keep their support blooming. Because not only are the Democrats the liberal Americans, but they, by and large, are also the black, the Hispanic and the immigrant populations, who make up the beautiful mosaic of America. Until recently, their support was very similar to the Republican support. But it's over.In the boat of antisemites
The attempt to turn former President Barack Obama into a troublemaker for Israel is also worrying. Last week, Maariv published an amazing conversation
between Obama's foreign minister, John Kerry, and Hussein Agha, one of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's close associates and the one who represented him in the negotiations with Netanyahu in London and the negotiations with Yossi Beilin in the 1990s. It turns out that Kerry was considering running for president in 2020 and that he was still determined to try to create a meaningful diplomatic process between us and the Palestinians, among other ideas. The publication dragged a long trail of shaming toward the former Secretary of State. Kerry was referred to by Moshe (Bogie) Ya'alon as "messianic and obsessive" in everything related to his Sisyphean efforts to bring peace between Israel and the Palestinians. It's possible Kerry is too naive. But the attempt to connect him, and his president, to hatred of Israel is a disturbed disruption of reality, of history and of facts. Even if we search, Israel's supporters are no more clear in the US Congress than John Kerry. The man has a perfect track record of supporting Israeli affairs for decades. Moreover, he is a personal friend of Benjamin Netanyahu. They both testified to this countless times. Could Netanyahu become a personal friend of Israel's hater?
Everybody who knows Kerry knows how much he loves the idea of a Jewish state and how dear it is to him. In addition to all these troubles, at the age of 60 he discovered that he is half Jewish. His maternal grandparents were Fritz and Ida Cohen, who had changed their names to Frederick and Ida Kerry in order to hide their Jewish roots in Europe at the beginning of the last century. This revelation turned him from a supporter of Israel to a lover of Israel. So what was Kerry's sin? Hold on tight - he must be a leftist, God forbid. Meaning, in regards to the political situation in Israel he must be left of center. I believe that if he were Israeli, he would vote for the Zionist Union, and that is unthinkable. After all, Netanyahu and his entourage still show relative restraint toward the Israeli left, but when it comes to Americans who are dangerously left, they lose it.
Kerry tried to reach an Israeli-Palestinian agreement, conducted a marathon of talks with Netanyahu and even reached a draft agreement that Abbas refused to adopt. By the way, the American draft that was formulated in that year (2014) was more positive for Israel than the Clinton principles of 2000. Kerry took the most decorated American general, John Allen, provided him with a team of hundreds of experts and instructed him to formulate a security plan that would meet all security needs of Israel in the event of a peace agreement with the Palestinians. Such a thing had never been done before had invested a tremendous effort in this task, which cost the American taxpayer a fortune. The plan was accepted by some of Israel's top security officials but was completely rejected and thrown into the garbage can by Netanyahu. One can argue about this plan. It is impossible to argue about the good intentions behind it, the effort or the will. But Kerry now finds himself in the same boat of antisemites and BDS leaders only on the very idea of trying to reach an agreement between Israelis and Palestinians. Now this indictment makes him, and his president, the modern adversaries. It is no wonder that a poll published on Tuesday shows that 20% of Israelis think that the only thing that will solve the conflict with the Palestinians is a "decisive war."
The same is true of Barak Hussein Obama. He was also made into an antisemite, a hater of Israel, a collaborator with Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. All of this was in complete disregard of the facts, which show Obama as the president who contributed more than all his predecessors to Israel's security in the air, sea and land. (Excluding the exception at the end of his term of the Security Council resolution, that Netanyahu honestly earned.) Obama's biggest problem was that he was a liberal peacenik, and really believed that we should try and bring peace to Israel. He separated the security of Israel, which he held above all others, and the political effort to bring peace.
True, the nuclear agreement he signed with Iran is far from perfect. Is indeed a problematic agreement, stemming from the president's basic compromise approach. It is too bad they did not do it differently. And yet, despite everything, in the security establishment, almost everyone welcomes the 10 to 15 years that Israel received without fear of the Iranian nuclear program. One can, and should, criticize some of Obama's actions and policies. To turn him into someone who tried to destroy Israel is madness. This is one of the reasons why the Democrats are beginning to feel that Israel is moving away from them, that the shared values and identity of America's ideas with the Jewish state were lost. Netanyahu's total identification with Trump, who was perceived by a large part of the Americans as an alien, drives away the Democratic half of America. This is a very dangerous failure. They look at the exclusion of women in Israel, the erosion of democracy, and are outraged.
This week it was reported that Joey Low, an American Jewish millionaire, stopped supporting Israel. This was followed by the expulsion of labor seekers, which causes us heavy image damage in the world (even according to the testimony of Ambassador Ron Dermer). Now they will say that Joey Low is also a troublemaker for Israel. I had the chance to interview him more than 10 years ago. He founded and funded an amazing organization called Israel@Heart, which invested tens of millions of dollars in setting up Jewish and Israeli students around the world to combat the slander against Israel and the Jewish people. Joey did all this years before the concept of BDS broke into our lives. From my personal acquaintance I know how Zionist he is, how much of an ardent supporter he is, who spends a great deal of his time here and contributes a large part of his fortune. He, too, is a leftist who hates Israel now.
This is also related to what was written a few weeks ago about the growing disconnect between Israel and American Jewry, which comes from exactly the same place, since the vast majority of American Jews are liberal Democrats. They are our brothers, but Netanyahu gave them up. He prefers, he says explicitly, the evangelicals. American Jewry is lost, as far as he is concerned. When American Jews see how female journalists are forced to squeeze out of the Western Wall in coverage of Mike Pence's visit, how the liberal values on which the state is founded are fading away, how messianic nationalism conquers every good part, they understand that they are wasting their time.
Netanyahu gave up on them, gave up their party, as if they were registered in his name as a taboo. But they do not. Despite the tendency of Israel's royal couple to see the country as their personal property, as is customary in monarchies, this is not the case. This is our country, and we have to fight for it. It has nothing to do with right or left, peace or war. I also do not think that there is currently a Palestinian partner hiding in the bushes with a draft agreement waiting for signatures. But I do think that the strategic damage we have suffered in these years will soon become irreversible.The destruction of the temple
The Attorney General scored a spectacular own goal this week, metaphorically speaking. He scattered those close to him throughout radio stations and television channels in order to demand an apology for the pseudo-pogrom that took place in the synagogue on Shabbat
. The immediate response was dramatic. Almost everyone, from the right to the far left, forcefully criticized the boundary-less rioters. I did, too. But then evening came, when Yair Sherki broadcasted in prime-time the authentic video from the event. Mandelblit is seen there, coming to synagogue in a festive white shirt, walking calmly up the stairs and into the hall without anybody addressing him, recording him, shouting at him or bothering him. A group of four compassion-inducing senior citizens organized an alternative Havdalah table outside the synagogue, a considerable distance away from the entrance, and conducted their weary affairs in utter silence. The fact that the attorney general freaked out and launched all his strategic weapons into a war of extermination in this event should raise concerns about his ability to withstand the challenges he'll likely be facing in the coming months.
Let us say immediately: they didn't have to demonstrate in front of the synagogue. It's a matter of good taste, and of basic conduct. Going to protest at a synagogue is a stupid strategic mistake. Moreover, according to Mandelblit's testimony, he didn't say the Kaddish for his mother that he was supposed to say outside after evening prayers because he knew there were demonstrators outside, and instead exited through a side door. But it's a stretch to compare that with the reports that the demonstrators stormed the attorney general, quarreled with the worshipers and carried out "price tag" attacks in the synagogue. That stretch is perhaps even longer than the way the attorney general traversed before deciding to open an examination against the prime minister, and then to finally turn the examination into an investigation.
It seems that Avichai Mandelblit is buckling under the pressure. On Wednesday, Channel 2 broadcaster Amit Segal published quotations, ostensibly from Mandelblit's camp about the magnitude of the dilemma and the fact that if Mandelblit decides to prosecute Netanyahu and is acquitted in the end, it will be "the very destruction of the law enforcement system." "If Netanyahu wins, they will not call on [Police Chief Roni] Alsheikh to commit suicide, but on Mandelblit." Segal later explained that the attorney general faces a true dilemma that has not yet been settled, contrary to the prevailing impression that he'd already resolutely decided to put Netanyahu on trial.
So, a few corrections need to be made: First of all, there is no prevailing impression that Mandelblit resolutely decided anything. If there was such an impression, these protests and demonstrations wouldn't have occurred. Correction number two: After Ehud Olmert was acquitted of most of the charges against him, no one called on the police commissioner to commit suicide. Amnon Dankner called on Moshe Lador, the state prosecutor, to commit suicide. So, did Lador commit suicide? No. Was the law enforcement system destroyed? Definitely not. There was some criticism in the media, and then nothing happened. The attorney general is not a "conviction contractor." He is the most senior representative of the law enforcement system. He cannot incorporate external considerations into his decisions. His deliberations, as described by Segal, are external considerations. It has already been ruled that elected officials, no matter how senior, are not above the rule of law. During the Katsav scandal, this was explicitly stated by then-Supreme Court president Dorit Beinisch. If the substantiality of the evidence accumulated by the police is enough to lead to the indictment of a negligent mayor, then it should be enough to bring about the same result in the case of a prime minister. Period.
The fact that Mandelblit is convinced that Netanyahu's possible acquittal will bring destruction upon the legal system is no less than astonishing. While Segal was speaking in prime-time, another broadcaster, Channel 10's Natan Baruchi, read out passages from the testimony of Ari Harow, the state's witness in the Netanyahu case. According to Harow, he was present in a conversation in which Netanyahu told Israeli businessman Arnon Milchan he'd obtained the desired visa to the US, and asked him if "[he] brought [him] the cigars." Such a conversation lays the foundation for a clear bribery-based relationship, in the words of the prime minister himself. Closing a case such as this, which is backed up by testimonies, documents, receipts and other proofs, would in and of itself signal the destruction of the legal system. At that point, the police would be required to stop working. Open files and investigations already underway would be closed. There would be no justice and no judge, and everybody would do what he or she sees fit. That is what we call destruction, Mr. Mandelblit.
The favors and gifts that the Netanyahu family received from Milchan are estimated at NIS 800,000-1,000,000. That is, not including James Packer and other countless billionaires who had delivered gifts over the years but either were not included in the police investigation or did not cooperate with it. This affair is now on Mandelblit's desk. The same man who told the investigation committee that "if he has to investigate the prime minister, he will not hesitate to do so impartially and without fear," is now wringing his fingers, whining and complaining, all while dragging his feet through relatively simple interrogations for more than two years.
Mandelblit's attitude toward the protests and demonstrations is also worrying. Sure, he's being pressured from home, but he has to know how to cope with this pressure. He is the man who holds the most sensitive and critical position in the country when it comes to the Netanyahu investigation. He is also the man who is supposed to defend the citizens' democratic right to protest, demonstrate, and express their opinions. He knows very well that the population that is demonstrating is made up of pensioners, nerds and peace-loving citizens, The last time they raised a hand toward someone in the kindergarten. He knows there is no danger. There is discomfort, but that's how it is in these roles. He has to deal with the discomfort.
It's not that the demonstrators have no reason to protest. They protest against procrastination. They protest against the fact that it took more than a year to complete an investigation. They protest against the fact that it was declared with the publication of the "Submarine Affair," which has no criminal aspect. They protest the fact that until this moment in the "Submarine Affair," Netanyahu has not been questioned about the actions of his lawyer Yitzhak Molcho and associate David Shimron, the people closest to him in the world (except for his wife, Sarah). They protest the fact that in the "Bezeq Affair" until this moment no one has examined why Netanyahu's trustee, Shlomo Filber, gave the benefits he lavished on Bezeq, which belongs to a close friend of Netanyahu. They protest against the slow investigation, against the fact that every question and every move is checked and approved by the attorney general, against the fact that some of the interrogation procedures are not approved by the attorney general and against the fact that Netanyahu and his wife are receiving a huge celebrity discount the whole way.
As I have written countless times in the past, I will write here as well: I believe in Mandelblit's integrity. Too many people I value have gone to bat for him. On the other hand, the question marks are cumulative. The demonstrations are justified and vital, and they are part of the democratic game. Instead of complaining, Mandelblit should praise the demonstrators and rejoice that he lives in a country where one can protest against a prime minister or a legal adviser. Period. 24 hours
Pence was a guest in Knesset, at the prime minister's residence, the president's residence, the Western Wall and, of course, Yad Vashem. When he was at the president's residence, he turned to President Reuven Rivlin and said he was honored to meet the "First Lady Nechama Rivlin." In other ceremonies, however, the announcer was careful to present Mrs. Netanyahu as the "first lady."
Who is right? In Israel there is no official protocol on this matter, and the term "first lady" ostensibly does not exist. At the same time, the President of the State is "Citizen No. 1". The Speaker of the Knesset is "Citizen No. 2" and the Acting President. Logic says that the wife of the first citizen is the First Lady. One way or another, in the house on Balfour Street there is only one first lady. It is no wonder that during welcoming to the Knesset, President Rivlin shook hands with the wife of Knesset Speaker Irena Nevzlin, the wife of opposition leader Michal Herzog and the Supreme Court President Esther Hayut but did not shake the hand of the "First Lady" Sarah Netanyahu. He probably did not notice she was there. The Foreign Ministry official in charge of the ceremony, Meron Reuben, responded to a phone call by Nir Gontarz from Haaretz
, and even briefly gave an interview on the subject.
He dismissed the decision to call Mrs. Netanyahu "the First Lady." It was not his responsibility, he said, and he recommended looking for those responsible in the Prime Minister's Office. At the end of the short and amusing conversation, Gontarz told him, "You took courage, because you have answered questions, and in today's State of Israel to honestly answer questions about the Netanyahu couple requires courage." Reuben replied, "Well, we'll see how long I'll be in my position, after I've spoken to you now." Gontarz: "Between 24 hours and 24 weeks."
A few hours later, Dana Weiss of Ch. 2 tweeted that the director general of the Foreign Ministry reprimanded Reuben and asked him to step down from his profile and not appear in formal ceremonies in the near future. The message was later corrected. 24 hours? Closer to 24 minutes.Translated by Avraham Gold and Tamar Ben-Ozer