Tom Gross Mideast Media Analysis

The funeral of David and Cecil Rosenthal (& “Jewish Lives Matter, only if threatened by the right people”)

October 31, 2018

Above, the funeral of David and Cecil Rosenthal, the two mentally handicapped brothers murdered in the Pittsburgh Tree of Life synagogue because they were Jewish. Among the mourners were members of the Pittsburgh Steelers football team; Brett Keisel, the towering former defensive lineman, served as a pallbearer.


I attach three further articles. I know I have sent rather a lot this week, but I would urge you to read all three if you have time. The third one is particularly moving.

* “After Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated, Benjamin Netanyahu looked directly into a television camera and told those who might have supported the murder, ‘I don’t want your votes!’ Trump must now do the same — and mean it.”

* “Jewish Lives Matter, but to some, only if threatened by the right people.”




Yes, Trump Does Bear Some Responsibility for Pittsburgh
By Benjamin Kerstein
The Algemeiner
October 31, 2018

I was as shocked and horrified as anyone at the news that 11 of my fellow Jews had died in Pittsburgh at the hands of a monster whose face may have changed, but with whom we are tragically and intimately familiar. But I was not surprised.

As early as the 2016 election, I had from time to time gone trawling in the fever swamps of the internet, to the various alt-right and neo-Nazi websites that inspired the Pittsburgh murderer, may his name be erased. Over time, something became increasingly clear: that there was a precipitous rise in right-wing antisemitism underway in the United States, and yes, it was deeply connected to the campaign of future President Donald Trump.

No, Trump is not himself an antisemite. He certainly did not pull the trigger at the Tree of Life synagogue. He is not responsible in any direct sense. Yes, the killer apparently despised Trump for having Jewish children and grandchildren, as well as Jewish advisers. Yes, Trump has in many ways been very good for Israel. Yes, there are plenty of antisemites on the left, and even more in the Muslim world. Yes, Louis Farrakhan, Linda Sarsour, Jeremy Corbyn, and many others are racists and would be shunned in a more functional society.

Yet it is nonetheless clear that the demented subculture that fed the murderer’s hatred and slowly incited him to violence for the most part worships Trump. And Trump has not done nearly enough to address the problem.

Almost from the instant that he declared his candidacy, Trump attracted a cult-like following on the alt-right, and especially among its online denizens. In his announcement speech, Trump’s denunciation of illegal immigration, including calling many of them “rapists,” started a firestorm. His pledge to build a wall on the Mexican border, ban citizens of Muslim-majority countries from entering the US, and numerous other well-known provocations quickly convinced the alt-right of one thing: they had found their man.

For the first time in generations, the alt-right and white nationalists felt the wind at their backs. They came out of the closet, saying and doing things that social stigma would previously have made unthinkable. The fervor became so intense that a meme developed referring to Trump as “God-Emperor.” The storm intensified after Trump’s election, when one white supremacist leader told a crowd, “hail Trump, hail victory!” a literal translation of the Nazi sieg heil. Most notoriously, hundreds of alt-righters marched in a Nazi-like torchlight procession in Charlottesville, and one deliberately ran down a counter-protester.

In the face of this, one regrets to say, Trump did little, and what little he did only exacerbated the situation. He doubled down consistently on his race-baiting rhetoric, told far-right celebrity Alex Jones “I will not let you down,” and seemed disturbingly unfazed by Charlottesville, saying that there were “good people” on both sides. To this day, he has not publicly and unequivocally denounced the alt-right, allowing them to continue their slavish devotion to him and enjoy the at-least tacit legitimacy that just a few years ago would have been unthinkable.

More generally, Trump’s assault on basic American political, cultural, social, and rhetorical norms has inadvertently aided the alt-right cause. Last year, I interviewed former ADL leader Abe Foxman, who told me that the real problem with Trump was that he had destroyed civility, and civility in and of itself is a shield for minorities, closing the Overton Window to the darker impulses of the majority. There is no question that things that previously could not be said in polite company are now being screamed, and very few of them are good. Into this sudden vacuum rushed the alt-right.

This is both disturbing and very, very bad for the Jews. Because whatever else the alt-right may be, it is viciously, murderously antisemitic. From neo-Nazi chat rooms to pickup artist websites to anti-feminist manifestos to white supremacist rock songs, the alt-right universally embraces everything from the most debased and vulgar conspiracy theories about Jews and Jewish power, to sophisticated pseudo-intellectual arguments such as that formulated by antisemitic academic Kevin MacDonald’s Culture of Critique, which charges the Jews with imposing liberal values that destroy white societies as a “survival strategy.”

Throughout, the Jews are damned as, among other things, ugly, sexually perverted, avaricious, conspiratorial, and a direct threat to Western society and the white race. There is no doubt whatsoever that it is these ideas that led directly to the Tree of Life massacre. The alt-right’s claim, for example, that the Jews are deliberately flooding white nations with non-white immigrants in order to destroy Western societies and commit a “white genocide” was specifically cited by the Pittsburgh killer as his primary motive. It was alt-right ideology that incited him to murder.

In Trump’s failure, deliberate or otherwise, to stand up to the challenge of this ideology, the president does bear some measure of responsibility for what happened at the Tree of Life synagogue.

Out of expediency, indifference, or simple contrarianism, he has not done enough to stop a hideous disease from festering and spreading, to the point that it has now taken 11 Jewish lives. This is, at best, conduct entirely unbecoming of a president and dangerous to Jewish life in the United States. The president must stand up and absolutely, unambiguously, and explicitly reject and condemn the alt-right by name in the strongest possible terms. A failure to do so would be a betrayal of the American Jewish community and the Pittsburgh martyrs, some of whom were his supporters.

After Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated, Benjamin Netanyahu looked directly into a television camera and told those who might have supported the murder, “I don’t want your votes!” Trump must now do the same — and mean it.



The selective rage of the Left
Neo-Nazi assaults get the righteous backlash they deserve; not so for attacks spurred by hatred of Israel
The Times of Israel
Aug. 21, 2017

One of my best friends from university — now an ex-friend — is from Charlottesville. When I read about the neo-Nazi rally there I had a look at her timeline and saw that she was attending the counterprotest. I also noticed that she is friends with one of our former professors, who has written extensively in support of suicide bombers who attack Israel. Here are a few phrases from one of his recent articles:

‘Israel’s penchant for serial atrocities’
‘Israeli abominations’
‘the rogue State’
‘the politically powerful Israel lobby’
‘the self-promotional and political-marketing zeal of Elie Wiesel, the world’s leading holocaust entrepreneur’
‘Israeli propaganda’
‘The holocaust is made into political plastic carrying an unlimited line of exculpatory credit.’
‘Israel-serving dogma’
‘the holocaust permits open season on Palestinians’

This is what my American ‘friends’ are reading and sharing.

Another former friend is now following the far-right anti-Semite David Icke. This friend once added me to an online ‘multifaith’ group in which members commented on anti-Semitic murders by Islamist extremists, but only so that they could indulge in emotional outpourings of sympathy and concern over a potential backlash against Muslims. There was never a word of dismay for the actual dead Jews; just fears that, as a consequence of an Islamist extremist having brutally murdered some Jews, someone somewhere might say something rude to a woman in a hijab. They were all talking about the virtues of sitting next to hijabis on buses and protecting them in public places, but no one once suggested trying to protect visibly Jewish Jews.

Another friend — who has never once shared my posts about the rise of left-wing anti-Semitism — wrote of her abhorrence for the neo-Nazis. Her friends all pitched in and agreed that anti-Semitism is disgraceful and abhorrent, so I pointed out that there are regular marches in London in which extremists call for the annihilation of the Jews. There are counter protests, but we are a tiny band of mostly elderly Jews, and we receive no support from any Leftist organisations. A friend of this friend said that he was appalled, and would join me in the counter protest. I thanked him and shared information about the annual Hezbollah march, in which hundreds, sometimes thousands, of Hezbollah supporters wave terrorist flags and call for the end of Israel and the genocide and ethnic cleansing of Jews. He fell silent.

Jewish Lives Matter, but only if we are threatened by the right people.

There is a rising tide of very vocal leftists who are incensed by the rise of anti-Semitism, but only if it is of the goose-stepping, swastika-wielding variety. None of these people spoke of their rage following the shootings of Jews at the Hyper Cacher, or Copenhagen, or Toulouse, or the Jewish Museum in Brussels. Then, it was all tea lights and ‘love trumps hate.’ And yet, it’s not like these people are incapable of feeling rage and hatred. Their vitriol is evident at Israel Apartheid Week events on campuses, where anti-Semites scream ‘intifada, intifada’ and declare that murdering civilians is justifiable, so long as they’re Jewish. These virtuous people are also ready to declare that they hate bankers, Tories, people who voted for Brexit or Trump, and anyone else who doesn’t agree with their views. Their ‘refusal to hate’ seems only to apply to certain groups. Jews are calling this ‘selective outrage.’

There is a strange phenomenon in Europe, in which every time we have an Islamist terror attack, people respond with candles and flowers and the assertion that they ‘refuse to hate.’ It happens after every suicide bombing, and every time Jihadists drive a vehicle into a crowd of pedestrians. It seems to me a death wish; a passive assertion that terrorism is ‘sad’, rather than an abomination. Can we not agree that terrorists who wish to kill us are worthy of strong, un-hippylike feelings like rage and anger?

Leftist ‘sadness’ is particularly evident each time another Imam stands up in a mosque and states that Muslims have a duty to kill every last Jew in the world. I have a friend in California, and when this happened recently at the mosque in her town, she expected the local Muslim community to condemn the attack. She expected locals to rally, and she expected her friends to express shock and dismay. Instead, a number of people responded by declaring their pacifism. They ‘refused to hate.’

When an Imam calls for the murder of Jews, I don’t want to hear excuses. When Jews are murdered, I don’t want to hear that gentiles are feeling a touch of melancholy but ‘refuse to hate.’ I’m sure this makes them feel warm and virtuous, but most Jews do not feel happy or grateful when gentiles respond to threats to kill us with assurances that they don’t feel any rancour towards our would-be assassins. Their supine indifference does not strike us as a ‘refusal to hate.’ It strikes us as a refusal to come to our aid.

(Rivka Bond is a retired Archaeology Professor living in the UK.)



The Funeral of David and Cecil Rosenthal
The brothers, victims of the horrific attack in Pittsburgh, weren’t just the greeters at Tree of Life, they were ‘the righteous people of this generation—and now everybody knows’
By Armin Rosen
October 30, 2018

David and Cecil Rosenthal were murdered by a gunman at Tree of Life synagogue on Saturday morning. The two brothers had lived together in Pittsburgh all their lives, and their deaths left the large crowd of mourners at their funeral at Rodef Shalom this afternoon with an overwhelming sense of loss. “Friendship,” one mourner told me, when I asked him what he had lost. “Innocence,” said another.

Every seat at the brothers’ funeral, which lasted only a little over half an hour, was full. The sanctuary was full, as was the area behind the seats and on the sides, along with much of the central aisle space. So was the entire balcony. The speakers at the funeral faced a semicircular window of stained glass with a rainbow sunburst and the words SEEK PEACE AND PURSUE IT arching over the top. But there was no reflection from any of the speakers on any potential meaning of the event. No one contrasted the brothers with their murderer, and no one tried to reason through the hatred that had killed them. The eulogies were about the brothers only, two mentally handicapped men who had lived their entire lives together.

David was the more taciturn of the two brothers, I gathered during the hour before the service began. One mourner said he’d only heard him speak a couple of times before. Cecil was a large and strong man. You had to brace yourself when he shook your hand; sometimes he would put his hands together and bow. Over the course of his life, Cecil and his brother shook hands with seemingly every Jew in Pittsburgh. They weren’t just the greeters at Tree of Life, one mourner said, “they were everyone’s greeter.” They were “all good, without an ounce of bad,” “the righteous people of this generation—and now everybody knows.”

Prior to the service, mourners lined up to greet the brothers’ two surviving siblings, Diane and Michelle Rosenthal, as well as their elderly parents, who stood in a covered courtyard below the main sanctuary. Michelle Rosenthal is the former public relations head for the Pittsburgh Steelers football team, whose presence at the memorial wasn’t limited to their current roster: Ben Roethlisberger and coach Mike Tomlin were in attendance, but so was Franco Harris, one of the most beloved athletes in Pittsburgh history. Most of the gathered mourners had no idea of the athletes’ presence—though it was hard to miss Brett Keisel, the towering former defensive lineman who served as a pallbearer.

Mayor Bill Peduto sat in the middle of the sanctuary, among the large crowd. No politicians spoke. The only people who addressed the funeral for any significant length of time were Jeffrey Myers, the rabbi at Tree of Life and the leader of the Shabbat services where the brothers died, and Diane Rosenthal, who appeared on the bima with her husband, her sister, and her brother-in-law.

The service began with a line of firefighters in dress uniforms who filed past and saluted the two caskets, which were placed so close together that they almost touched. “We are gathered here today … to bid farewell to two of the sweetest human beings you could ever meet,” Rabbi Myers began.

In his eulogy, which concluded the service, Myers described the brothers’ devotion to the synagogue where they had died. “No matter how early I would get there, Cecil was always there,” Myers recalled. David, who often held jobs as a cleaner and was remembered for his fastidiousness, would always make sure that prayer books and tallises were in order as congregants arrived. Cecil was the shul’s official Torah carrier. “They’re probably calling to God, I want to be in the Tree, that’s where I belong,’” Myers said. “Their spirits will stay in the room.”

Rabbi Myers recalled how proud he was at the congregation’s acceptance of the two brothers, who were able to travel to Shabbat services on their own. Cecil had a skill for remembering people’s individual details; David was fascinated with law enforcement and carried around a police scanner, the object he prized most of all.

David and Cecil Rosenthal succeeded in living semi-independent lives with the help of an organization called Achieva, which provides lifelong support for adults with disabilities in southwestern Pennsylvania. But they could live as they did because their community accepted, supported, and valued them as human beings. “It was easy to feel sad over what could have been, had the boys been quote-unquote ‘normal,’” Michael Hirt, Diane’s husband, said later in the service. “But when I think about it more, I realize that we were more enriched by them than they were by us.”

Diane Rosenthal gave the longest eulogy—although after a few minutes, she handed the speech off to her husband. From the pair we learned that David would always begin phone conversations with “‘Hey Michael, the police are looking for you!’ To which I would playful reply, ‘no, David, they’re looking for you!’” For his entire life David would help his mother cook, and would often load the dishwasher. Every year, the Rosenthals would go to the flea market during their extended family visits to Pittsburgh and David would pick out the same two items: a pair of highway patrolman sunglasses and a bottle of cologne.

Cecil “knew everyone in town,” Hirt said, to a room that could not possibly have been any fuller. He was the “town crier” who knew what was happening in seemingly everyone’s life. He “knew if your mother was sick, or if your grandmother had died. … He always affectionately inquired about the well-being of those who were not well.” He liked parties, and jokingly called himself the “party planner” at every event he attended. “I can guarantee he’s looking down on us now asking, are you proud of me?”

At those annual flea market trips, Hirt recalled, Cecil would disappear into a shop to buy greeting cards. This was odd, because he couldn’t read or write anything other than his name. The mystery was solved one day when Diane and her husband received a letter in the mail from him, with the address made out by someone at their care facility. “The card contained nothing but a jumble of letters,” he said. “But somewhere in the letter was his name, clearly spelled out by him.”


* You can also find other items that are not in these dispatches if you “like” this page on Facebook

In Pittsburgh, Jewish doctors treated Bowers for his injuries (& Gab forced off line)

October 30, 2018

I attach ten further articles that I have selected on the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre -- Tom Gross



1. At hospital, shooter shouts, ‘I want to kill all Jews!’ while Jewish doctors saved his life
2. GoDaddy, PayPal, & others force Gab offline following Pittsburgh synagogue shooting
3. Jerry Rabinowitz, doctor who ran to treat those shot in synagogue, paid with his life
4. Hundreds say Kaddish for the Jewish doctor who always stood for others
5. Holocaust survivor cheated death at Pittsburgh Synagogue massacre by 4 minutes
6. The nation-state of the Jews must recognize Conservative and Reform Judaism
7. The Old Anti-Semitism in the New World
8. “As a black boy growing up in Pittsburgh, I always felt welcome in Squirrel Hill”
9. Far left activists disrupt moment of silence for synagogue attack victims
10. Columbia Univ statement on Pittsburgh fails to mention Jews or anti-Semitism



At hospital, massacre suspect shouts, ‘I want to kill all the Jews!’ Jewish doctors save his life
By Sarah Taylor
The Blaze
October 29, 2018

Jewish doctors and nurses saved the life of the suspected anti-Semitic mass killer even as he was screaming anti-Semitic sentiments in the hospital’s hallways.

According to local TV reports, the suspect in Saturday’s mass murder at a Pittsburgh synagogue was raving about hating Jewish people as he was brought into the hospital for treatment of his injuries.

Police shot the man suspected of carrying out the murder of 11 people at the Tree of Life Synagogue multiple times before he surrendered. After his surrender, the suspect was taken to nearby Allegheny General Hospital for treatment of his gunshot wounds.

Dr. Jeff Cohen, who is president of Allegheny General Hospital as well as a parishioner at the Tree of Life Synagogue, spoke to WJET-TV, where he recounted the moments following the massacre, and what it was like when the suspect was brought into the hospital.

“He was taken to my hospital and he’s shouting, ‘I want to kill all the Jews!’” Cohen said. “The first three people who took care of him were Jewish.”

Another nurse – whose father is a rabbi – had just entered the hospital from a mass casualty drill and took care of the suspect.

Cohen said that he was one of the very first professionals on the scene and was able to hear the gunfire from his home.

“I was standing there … and you could start hearing very quickly what was going on,” he explained.

Cohen said that it was simply his duty to care for sick people, no matter who they are or what they’ve done.

“We are here to take care of sick people. We’re not here to judge you. We’re not here to ask ‘Do you have insurance or do you not have insurance?’ We’re here to take care of people who need our help,” he said, later revealing that he’d had a conversation with the suspect after he was stabilized.

“When I stopped in, I asked [the suspect] how he was doing. Was he in pain? And he said no, he was fine,” Cohen said.

In response, the suspect reportedly asked Cohen who he was.

“I said I’m Dr. Cohen, president of the hospital. Then I turned around and left,” he explained. “The FBI agent who was guarding him said, ‘I don’t know if I could have done that.’ And I said, ‘If you were in my shoes, I’m sure you could.’”

Authorities charged the suspect with 29 federal charges in connection with Saturday’s massacre. hosted anti-Semitic hate sites (example above)


‘We have informed that they have 24 hours to move the domain to another registrar,’ a spokesman for GoDaddy says
October 30, 2018, the website where the suspected Pittsburgh synagogue gunman posted anti-Semitic views, said on Sunday it was offline for a period of time after being asked by its domain provider to move to another registrar.

The move comes after GoDaddy Inc asked Gab to change the domain, while PayPal Holdings Inc, Stripe Inc and Joynet Inc blocked the website.

“We have informed that they have 24 hours to move the domain to another registrar,” a spokesman for GoDaddy said, adding the site violated its terms of service and hosted content that “promotes and encourages violence against people.”

The 46-year-old suspect Robert Bowers in the shooting incident has been charged with murdering 11 people on Saturday in the deadliest attack ever on the Jewish community in the United States. Hours earlier, he posted on, saying a non-profit that helps Jewish refugees relocate to the country was helping to kill “my people.”

“ is under attack. We have been systematically no-platformed by App Stores, multiple hosting providers, and several payment processors,” the website said, adding that it was working around the clock to get back online.

PayPal banned the website from using its money-sending services on Saturday. Gab said on Saturday it received notice it would be blocked by another payments website, Stripe Inc, and had switched to a new web-hosting service after Joyent Inc warned it would cut off the website.

Gab did not say who the new web host was. The company posted on Twitter on Sunday, “FREE SPEECH WILL ALWAYS WIN.”

Founded in 2016 by conservative Andrew Torba, Gab bills itself as the “free speech” alternative to Twitter Inc (TWTR.N) and Facebook Inc (FB.O) and has become a popular place to post content unwelcome or prohibited on other platforms.

Bowers, 46, joined the site in January.

Notable users include right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos and Andrew Anglin, the founder of the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer website, as well as media personalities Alex Jones and Carl Benjamin.

The free website charges for access to additional features and also raises money on the crowdfunding website StartEngine.

Torba did not respond to a request for comment on Sunday.

Utsav Sanduja, Gab’s former chief operating officer, said the company and its mission will survive “guilt by association” and could do more fundraising through cryptocurrencies in order to bypass tech companies.

“We created Gab for the purpose of letting off steam not to kill. That was not our intention,” he said.

In earlier statements, the website said it was cooperating with law enforcement authorities and described the moves by PayPal and others as acts of “direct collusion between big tech giants.” It also called on U.S. President Donald Trump to act.

PayPal declined to comment beyond an earlier statement that the company takes immediate action when “a site is allowing the perpetuation of hate, violence or discriminatory intolerance.”

Joyent could not immediately be reached, and Stripe declined to comment on individual users.

Sanduja did say that there could be room for Gab to improve.

“The mission should not change, but certainly there does need to be better checks and balances in place,” he said.

Sanduja said he left his role at the website in June after Gab users threatened his life and that of his wife, who works at a synagogue.

On Sunday, Gab’s forum lit up with comments about the Pittsburgh attack. One user celebrated Gab being banned by PayPal while another user responded, “You are going to get shot at ur local synagogue.” Another posted, “I WAS RIGHT, THEY FAKED THE SYNAGOGUE SHOOTING.”

Gab raised $1 million through crowdfunding last year, but recorded a loss of $201,704, according to a document filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Microsoft Corp said in an emailed statement that it terminated Gab’s accounts on its Azure cloud computing platform last month.

Alphabet Inc’s Google and Apple Inc’s mobile app stores previously blocked Gab, cutting off a crucial source of access to new users.

Facebook’s archive of ads that it considers political in nature shows Gab has run only one such ad since May. It paid less than $100 for that ad and generated 1,000 to 5,000 views last month, according to the archive.

The company had no active ad campaigns on Facebook or Twitter Inc as of Saturday, according to those companies’ ad transparency databases. Gab’s account on Twitter warned users on Saturday to expect that they would be banned from that website and Facebook soon.

A Facebook spokeswoman said the company is reviewing Gab’s presence on its website. Twitter declined to comment.

(Tom Gross adds: See also here – the anti-Semitic lies on Facebook.)



Jerry Rabinowitz was childless but this is a Facebook tribute from his nephew in Israel, Avishai Ostrin, who is close friends with several subscribers to this list.

-- Tom Gross

He always wore a bowtie. There is just something about guys who wear bowties. Something youthful, something fun. And that is a word that definitely embodied my Uncle Jerry – fun. You know how they say there are people who just lighten up a room? You know that cliché about people whose laugh is infectious? That was Uncle Jerry. It wasn’t a cliché. It was just his personality. His laughter, with his chest heaving up and down, with a huge smile on his face – that was uncle Jerry. And that bowtie. That bowtie that you know made people smile, you know made his patients more at ease.

In addition to being the president of the congregation, he was a doctor, a healer. I just learned a short while ago that although the shooter traveled within the building looking for victims, Uncle Jerry wasn’t killed in the basement of the building where the congregation was Davening, he was shot outside the room. Why? Because when he heard shots he ran outside to try and see if anyone was hurt and needed a doctor. That was Uncle Jerry, that’s just what he did.

An unfortunate reality of living in Israel is that you always assume – if not consciously then subconsciously – that sad news, news about death, news about attacks, will come from this side of the globe. The last thing that occurs to you, the last thing you imagine, is that news about an attack will come from your family living in Pittsburgh, PA. It is unthinkable that such a heinous act can be carried out in such a place, to people peacefully congregating in order to pray together. And it is so hard. It is so hard to be so far away, to be on the other side of the ocean, rather than hugging your loved ones, grieving with them. My heart goes out to Aunt Miri, Uncle Dan, Uncle Sam, my mother, my dear Bubbie and Zaide, and of course to the entire Rabinowitz family.

If there was one message I would encourage us all to take from this, and one message that I think Uncle Jerry would have wanted us to learn from this, it would be a message of love, unity, and of the strength and resilience of the Jewish people. Because those who seek to do us harm are trying to take that from us. Those who seek to do us harm hope that these actions will divide us, drive us to hatred and war. We must therefore show them, show the world, that we always grow stronger, more loving, we become even more united, and the memory of our loved ones will be a blessing to us all.

I love you Uncle Jerry. May your memory be a blessing.



In Pittsburgh, Hundreds Rise and Say Kaddish for the Jewish Doctor Who Always Stood for Others
Jerry Rabinowitz always stood during the Jewish prayer for mourning, saying he had no children who would one day stand for him, so he stood for others who had no one to honor their memory. His entire community stood for him Sunday.
By Dina Kraft
October 30, 2018

A particular custom of Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz was noted Sunday at a memorial service honoring him and the 10 other Jews murdered at a Pittsburgh synagogue on Saturday.

Week after week, year after year, he stood and chanted the words of the Kaddish (mourning prayer) in Aramaic at his Reconstructionist congregation – even though traditionally Ashkenazim (Jews of European descent) only rise when they themselves are in mourning.

At Sunday’s service, it was recalled that when Rabinowitz was asked why he always stood even though custom did not require it, he would say it was because he had no children who would one day stand up for him, so he stood for others who had no one to stand for them.

When the Kaddish was read at Sunday’s memorial ceremony, the 300 mourners rose as one, and stood and prayed in his memory. They ended with the words: “May there be abundant peace from heaven, and life, for us and for all Israel; and say, Amen. He who creates peace in His celestial heights, may He create peace for us and for all Israel; and say, Amen.”

Among the mourners was Brian Primack, a friend of Rabinowitz and a fellow member of the congregation he helped lead.

“There is sort of a debate about this in the Jewish community. Some people say that it is good to stand with others who are mourning, and others say that it is better to stay seated if you are not formally mourning a relative so that when you are mourning, your standing is somehow more meaningful.

“Given this experience and the loss of Jerry, I can say that from now on, I will now always stand, as he did, both for him and for others who have no one to stand for them.”

Rabinowitz was remembered as a deeply caring physician and friend, easily recognizable with his trademark bow tie and smiling face, and as one of the first doctors in Pittsburgh to treat HIV-positive patients. He was a leader of Dor Hadash, the Reconstructionist congregation that met in the synagogue (one of three different congregations that hold services in the building).

The congregation that was the main focus of Saturday’s attack was holding services in one part of the building, while Dor Hadash met in a separate section at the same time.

Avishai Ostrin, Rabinowitz’s nephew, wrote a Facebook post explaining that his uncle had been killed while trying to help others.

Ostrin wrote, “When he heard shots he ran outside to try and see if anyone was hurt and needed a doctor. That was Uncle Jerry, that’s just what he did.”

He told Haaretz that this was the account his family had been given. “It speaks to his personality … he was extraordinary,” said Ostrin.

Primack told Haaretz that Rabinowitz ran to help when they heard a loud noise. Another Dor Hadash member, a nurse, was with him and is among the injured, according to Ostrin.

Primack described Rabinowitz in a statement: “Jerry was more than a pillar of our community. … He was a gifted teacher, a truly caring family doctor, and a tremendous community leader.

“He was the first to get to the Shabbat service so he could set up chairs – and then the last to leave so he could clean up and organize the books. … I will deeply miss his smile, his wit, his positivity, and his consistent urge to help,” he added.

Ostrin said his uncle had patients who were the third generation in their family to be treated by him.

“It shows how committed he was to his patients,” he said. “His bow ties, his laughter – this is what stands out to me; he had this happy-go-lucky personality.”



Holocaust Survivor Cheated Death At Pittsburgh Synagogue Massacre By 4 Minutes
By Josh Nathan-Kazis
The Forward
October 28, 2018

Judah Samet was four minutes late to synagogue.

Services at Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh start at 9:45 A.M. Samet, who is 80 years old, pulled into a handicapped spot in front of the building on the morning of October 27 at 9:49.

“Somebody knocked on my window,” Samet said the next day. “There was this guy. Very calm and respectful. [He] told me, you better back up, there is an active shooting going on in your synagogue.”

It took Samet sixty seconds to process what the man was saying. Samet was born in Hungary. He turned eight years old at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany. He spent five and a half years in an orphanage in Israel. He has been a member of Tree of Life Congregation for fifty-five years.

“My God, my story doesn’t end,” he said.

Samet turned. Standing three feet away from him, on the other side of the car, was a police officer with a pistol drawn. “He was popping his head out from behind a wall and shooting,” Samet said.

Samet looked to see who the police officer was shooting, and saw a man aiming an automatic weapon in his direction. “He was shooting towards the cop, who was about four feet away from me,” Samet said. He saw the men exchange fire.

“I saw smoking coming out of his muzzle,” Samet said. “I was in the line of fire.”

Samet tried to back his car out of the parking lot, but other cars were trying to do the same thing. The attacker wasn’t aiming at him. “None of the bullets hit me or hit my car,” Samet said. “The policeman could kill him.”

Samet knew virtually everyone who the attacker, Robert Bowers, allegedly murdered that day. He was a leading figure at Tree of Life; had been the designated Torah chanter for four decades, and had led morning services for years. Two years ago, he led services at the shiva for synagogue member Joyce Fienberg’s husband. She was shot dead on Saturday morning. “She was a real lady,” Samet said. “She completely dedicated her life to the synagogue since her husband died.”

Samet was friendly with Sylvan and Bernice Simon, the 86 and 84 year old who were murdered together in the synagogue sanctuary. Samet and Sylvan Simon would talk about their time as paratroopers, Samet in the Israeli army and Sylvan in the U.S. army.

Irving Younger, 69, usually stood by the door of the sanctuary, Samet said, and greeted people as they arrived. He would have been the first person the attacker saw when he assaulted the service. Younter was among the dead on Saturday.

Cecil Rosenthal, 59, who was developmentally disabled, also sat near the door. “Everybody loved him,” Samet said. He and his brother, David Rosenthal, were both murdered.

Samet said that Rose Mallinger, who was in her 90’s, would attend the service each week with her daughter. “They sit behind me,” Samet said. “If I was inside the synagogue, I would be in the line of fire.”

More than anything on Sunday, Samet seemed to be going back in his mind to the 1940s, when the Nazis tortured and murdered his family. His father died of typhoid shortly after the war.

“My mother was the interpreter,” he said. “She spoke fluent German. She saved hundreds of Jews.”

The Nazis put Samet’s family on a train to Auschwitz, but Slovakian partisans blew up the railroad line. The Samets ended up in a large lumberyard owned by a man with a large swastika tattooed on his chest, which he would show the family.

“My mother taught us never listen what they have to say,” Samet said. “Look at their hands. Because words cannot kill you.”

On Sunday afternoon, Samet was preparing to travel to a local church to tell the story of his family’s experience in the Holocaust. He said he would likely say something about what he had been through the day before.

Asked what his mother, Rachel Samet, would have said about the massacre he survived on Saturday, Samet said: “It just never ends.”



What Israel Owes American Jews
The nation-state of the Jews must recognize Conservative and Reform Judaism.
By Michael B. Oren
New York Times
Oct. 30, 2018

(Mr. Oren is a deputy minister in the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.)

JERUSALEM – The massacre of 11 worshipers in a Pittsburgh synagogue has profoundly shocked Israelis. Though seemingly desensitized by years of terror on our buses and streets, much of this voluble country has been left speechless by the news of Jews being gunned down during Shabbat prayers by a ranting anti-Semite.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuben Rivlin fiercely condemned the massacre and expressed full solidarity with our American brothers and sisters. Naftali Bennet, the minister for diaspora affairs, flew immediately to Pennsylvania. And yet, for all these expressions of sympathy, Israel still refuses to recognize the Conservative movement to which all 11 victims belonged.

Conservative as well as Reform weddings and conversions performed in Israel are not accepted by the country’s chief rabbinate. The Tree of Life synagogue where the massacre took place was not even a real synagogue according to Israel’s chief rabbis. The victims, murdered solely for being Jewish, practiced a brand of Judaism that, along with all other liberal streams of Judaism, is not deemed sufficiently Jewish for the Jewish state.

Such disrespect contrasts starkly with American Jewish contributions to Israel. The record is everywhere: The names of American Jewish philanthropists are emblazoned on our ambulances, university dorms, homes for the elderly and centers for disabled veterans. American Jews have helped forest our hills and raise up our poor, unearth our past and forge our technological future. According to Israeli government statistics, investments and contributions from Jews living overseas – the bulk of them Americans – accounted for 6.35 percent of our gross domestic product, the equivalent of Israel’s defense budget.

Given all of this, why would Israel refuse to recognize the Conservative and Reform streams, which represent the majority of American Jews?

One reason is democracy. Though steadily growing, the Reform and Conservative communities in Israel remain small, while the Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox together account for 20 percent of the electorate and are rapidly expanding. Most of them view the liberal strains of Judaism as a heresy.

Such views are not shared by the majority of Israelis, yet Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox parties wield enormous political weight in our parliamentary system. Their support gives Israeli coalitions the stability necessary to grapple with our complex social and security challenges. Confronted with Orthodox opposition to the liberal American Jewish streams, Israeli governments must often choose between acknowledging their legitimacy and effectively managing and defending the state. Accordingly, not only our current government but also every coalition going back to 1948, right and left, has refrained from recognizing the Reform and Conservative movements.

Another reason for the current situation is longstanding disagreements over core Jewish issues. For decades, the world’s two largest Jewish communities differed over the definition of “who’s a Jew” – the Israeli government hews to the traditional requirement of matrilineal descent and Orthodox conversions, while liberal American congregations admit members born only of Jewish fathers and even those unwilling to undergo any conversion – so-called Jews of choice.

More recently, numerous American Jews supported the Iran nuclear deal, which Israelis viewed as disastrous to our security, and opposed moving the American Embassy to Jerusalem, celebrated by Israelis as a long-awaited acceptance of our eternal capital.

These schisms and more have eroded the willingness of many Israeli legislators to please American Jews at the price of political instability. The June 2017 decision by the Israeli government to withdraw from those parts of the Western Wall agreement that would have guaranteed equal status for all the streams at our holiest site reflected this tension.

But such disputes cannot be allowed to fracture the Jewish unity on which Israel is predicated. Beyond the financial, political and even strategic considerations, Israel is morally obligated to preserve Jewish peoplehood. Even before we received the Ten Commandments, as slaves in Egypt, we were a people – as Moses demanded: “Let my people go.”

Israel was founded as the nation-state of the Jews, irrespective of where they live or how they practice – or do not practice – their Judaism. All Jews should regard Israel as their ancestral homeland, the realization of thousands of years of yearning, devotion and dreams, no less if they live on Long Island than in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. And if Israelis expect Reform and Conservative Jews to consider Israel as their spiritual homeland, then the recognition must be reciprocal. It fulfills our raison d’être.

It is also mandated by law. Last July 19, our Knesset passed the “Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People.” Though controversial in Israel and abroad, the nation-state law commits Israel to uphold its role as the national home of all Jews and to strengthen ties with the Jews of the diaspora, especially those threatened because they are Jews. It calls on Israel “to preserve the cultural, historical, and religious heritage of the Jewish people,” including those in America. The nonrecognition of Conservative and Reform Judaism is incompatible with both the intent and the spirit of the law.

In the aftermath of this horrific massacre, the Israel government must do more than express condolences. Threatened by rising anti-Semitism, American-Jewish communities need to know that Israel is behind them and not only in words. Now is the time to realize our historic mission, comply with our own law and reinforce the unity that has sustained us for thousands of years, through exiles, expulsions, genocide and rebirth.

By recognizing Conservative and Reform Jewry, Israel will not only defy the anti-Semites but also, more important, reaffirm itself.



The Old Anti-Semitism in the New World
Attackers scapegoat Jews for both hurting and helping Muslims.
By Eliora Katz
Wall Street Journal
October 29, 2018

As the sun set in Paris Saturday, I returned from synagogue. I opened my phone after 25 hours of abstaining from electronics to read that Robert Bowers had allegedly opened fire in a Pittsburgh synagogue, murdering 11.

Such news is more common in France. French Jews today are murdered in synagogues, supermarkets, schools and their homes. The Fifth Republic has deployed military guards in front of Jewish institutions throughout the country. Will America also resort to this ugly Band-Aid, which fails to address the underlying malady?

While in form the slayings in Pittsburgh and France seem similar, they differ notably in their motives. In France most attacks are part of what is sometimes called “the new anti-Semitism,” stemming from France’s growing Muslim population. Mohamed Merah murdered three young children and a rabbi outside a French Jewish school in 2012 because, he said, “the Jews kill our brothers and sisters in Palestine.” Amedy Coulibaly, who killed four people in a kosher grocery store in 2015, did so in the name of “oppressed Muslims.”

Mr. Bowers’s complaint appears to have been precisely the opposite. He posted on the social network Gab: “Open you Eyes! It’s the filthy evil jews Bringing the Filthy evil Muslims into the Country!!” Anti-Semitism defies the law of noncontradiction, and that’s nothing new: Jews have been persecuted and blamed for both capitalism and communism.

Yet Baroness Jenny Tonge, a member of the British House of Lords, attempted to tie Pittsburgh to Israel. She posted: “Absolutely appalling and a criminal act, but does it ever occur to Bibi [Netanyahu] and the present Israeli government that it’s [sic] actions against Palestinians may be reigniting anti-Semitism?”

Similarly, in April 2016 a Black Lives Matter supporter asked Sen. Bernie Sanders: “What is your affiliation to the Jewish community?” The man prefaced the question with the claim that “the Zionist Jews . . . run the Federal Reserve, they run Wall Street, they run every campaign.”

Mr. Sanders replied that he is “proud to be Jewish.” But instead of challenging the question’s premise, he said that although he supports Israel, “we have got to pay attention to the needs of the Palestinian people.” By responding to a Jewish conspiracy theory with his views on Israel, Mr. Sanders lent legitimacy to the cloaking of anti-Semitism in anti-Zionism.

The success of American Jews means that, in the game of identity politics, Jews are classified as “white,” and therefore the racist character of anti-Semitism is denied. The liberal political scientist Yascha Mounktweeted Saturday that an unidentified editor had told him, in Mr. Mounk’s paraphrase: “You cannot, in 2018, call the murder of Jews in the United States racist in a left-leaning publication.”

The atrocity in Pittsburgh illustrates that anti-Semites target Jews because they object to our existence, not what we believe. In a sense this is liberating. It means we should continue to stand up for what is important to us – be it Israel or refugees.



Why Squirrel Hill Is a Target for White Supremacists
As a black boy growing up in Pittsburgh, I always felt welcome in Squirrel Hill. White nationalists hate the inclusion and diversity that it represents.
By Andre Perry
New York Times
October 30, 2018

“Mineo’s Pizza House in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh, makes the best pepperoni and sausage pizza in the world.”

Those were words to live by as a child growing up in the early 1980s in the black neighborhood of Wilkinsburg, in Pittsburgh’s East End. The deliciousness of Mineo’s pizza made the five miles my brothers and I biked through the predominately Jewish neighborhood of Squirrel Hill well worth it. But the sweet cheese and fresh meats weren’t the only things that brought us back. We didn’t dare enter certain neighborhoods for fear of scrapping with white boys or not being served. Squirrel Hill was one of the few nonblack neighborhoods that would welcome a group of black boys.

Up to that point, I hadn’t had much experience with people in nonblack communities. But my bike rides to Mineo’s taught me there was a difference between the Jews in Squirrel Hill and other white people in Pittsburgh. Later on, I learned what contributed to that difference.

In 1988, I transferred to Peabody High School, in the other significant Jewish neighborhood, Highland Park. It was right next to the majority-black areas of East Liberty and Garfield, and the fully integrated public school reflected the area’s diversity. I had history teachers who made connections between the Hebrew Benevolent Congregation Temple bombing in 1958 in Atlanta, and the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in 1963 in Alabama, solidifying for me how vulnerable black and Jewish communities are to white supremacy.

I learned about Pittsburgh’s unique connection to modern Judaism and civil rights. Reform Jewish leaders developed and adopted the Pittsburgh Platform, which states, “We deem it our duty to participate in the great task of modern times, to solve, on the basis of justice and righteousness, the problems presented by the contrasts and evils of the present organization of society.”

As an athlete I competed against Jewish boys from another integrated school, Taylor Allderdice in Squirrel Hill. Sometimes after track meets, we got pizza at Mineo’s. Squirrel Hill’s vibrancy didn’t come by chance. We learned how to live together. There was a deliberate investment in inclusion and peace.

The Jewish community has been able to maintain that ethic of inclusion in Squirrel Hill. In 2018, blacks, immigrants and L.G.B.T. people crowd the streets with the same level of comfort I enjoyed as a child. Chatty college students in hoodies sit next to older Jews in skullcaps in coffee shops. When passengers step off the packed city buses along Forbes Avenue, they know they know they will be able to find whatever they need – an outfit for the weekend, a bite to eat, flowers for a date – in any of the shops on nearby Murray Avenue.

Squirrel Hill is the draw, and the Tree of Life synagogue is its nucleus. The spirit of inclusivity starts there, and spills out in the rest of neighborhood. You see it in the diversity of people and also in the diversity of businesses and cultural events. They are geared to invite and support all the residents of the city – past, present and future.

Squirrel Hill, of course, is not a utopia, and it doesn’t represent all of Pittsburgh. There were places in Pittsburgh I could not go to as a child, and where I still would not go as an adult. A fellow Pittsburgh native, Brentin Mock, pointed out in a recent CityLab column, “Squirrel Hill is the change that Pittsburgh wishes to be.” The rest of Pittsburgh can learn from Squirrel Hill that diversity is a crucial part of any thriving local economy.

Today the schools in Pittsburgh are less integrated than they were in the 1980s. That means there are fewer opportunities for teachers, or even students, to have meaningful discussions about the violence that is victimizing all of us. On Oct. 25, two black shoppers were killed in a Kroger supermarket, in Louisville, Ky. Two days later, 11 Jews were massacred at the Tree of Life synagogue. If our communities and schools are less integrated, less inclusive, how can teachers or anyone else hope to make the connections for us?

Instead, we have a president whose loose and divisive language sets the table for violence.

My classmates and I may have lived in separate communities, but we learned how to study, play, eat and shop together. We had teachers, schools and synagogues that, in word and deed, made everyone feel welcome and included. Places like Squirrel Hill, Tree of Life and others like them are powerful, but they are not protected. And they will not be as long as President Trump and his followers continue to stoke the white nationalist’s greatest fear – inclusion.






There is bewilderment among many at Columbia University, after the university issued a statement on the Pittsburgh shooting that didn’t mention Jews or anti-Semitism.

The statement, which was sent out to all students, did however mention the LGBT community and African-Americans.

This is the latest in a series of anti-Semitic and anti-Israel incidents at Columbia.


* You can also find other items that are not in these dispatches if you “like” this page on Facebook

Pittsburgh: “For some, the only real culprit here is Donald Trump”

October 29, 2018

GQ writer Julia Ioffe was one of several prominent left-wing journalists to blame Donald Trump and/or Benjamin Netanyahu for the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre within minutes of it happening on Saturday.

In a tweet dismissed by others as “repulsive,” Ioffe appeared to claimed that the fault for the actions of the neo-Nazi in Pittsburgh lay with Jews (a majority) who supported the move of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.



[Note by Tom Gross]

Predictably, many journalists rushed to blame Donald Trump for the massacre at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue.

“Trump didn’t pull the trigger on Jews in Pittsburgh, but he certainly prepped the shooter,” ran the Haaretz headline of a piece by the former editor of the American magazine Foreign Policy.

Similar accusations were made in publications including The Atlantic, The Forward, The New Republic and The Washington Post – and they were made before the bodies of the murdered Jews, which included a 97-year-old woman, had even been removed from the floor of the synagogue where they were executed.

I attach two pieces below from writers that beg to differ (both are subscribers to this list).

Brendan O’Neill, the editor in chief of Spiked, writes:

Bowers’ own social-media output suggests he was more influenced by the shared left / right / Islamist conspiracy theory about Jewish power than he was by Trump’s divisive commentary. He was critical of Trump, on the basis that the president was granting Jews too much influence and presence in the US. This, worryingly, is now a mainstream view. You see it in Guardian cartoons showing Israeli leaders puppeteering Western politicians. You hear it in leftish panic about an all-powerful Israel Lobby. You see it in Press TV headlines about the US being ‘completely under the thumb’ of Zionists. Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the UK Labour Party, worked for Press TV. For years.

Jonathan S. Tobin, the editor on chief of the Jewish News Syndicate writes:

For some, the only real culprit here is US President Donald Trump. … but Bowers was a critic of Trump, specifically because of his sympathy with Jews, the presence of many Jews in key administration posts and his support for Israel, which exceeds that of all of his recent predecessors. He viewed Trump as an ally of Jews – not someone who had encouraged him to attack them…

The attempt to shoehorn Pittsburgh into the “resistance” narrative, in which Trump is seen as unleashing a wave of persecution against Jews and other minorities in America, misunderstands the nature of the anti-Semitism that Bowers espoused…

A world in which we can’t neatly place the blame for Pittsburgh on a political foe who many Jews despise is less frightening than the complex reality…

If we acknowledge that despite his flaws, Trump is neither an anti-Semite nor the reason for anti-Semitic violence here – or anywhere else in a world in which a rising tide of Jew hatred continues to surge – then we are forced to confront the same frustrating truth about this virus that previous generations struggled with. It’s easy to see why putting this in a political context is of some comfort, but those who do so in the course of a futile search for meaning in anti-Semitic hate crimes do neither the Jews nor the cause of civilization any service.



Tom Gross adds:

When providing statistics for a rise in anti-Semitism in their reports of Pittsburgh, many media fail to mention that most of the bomb threats against Jewish Community Centers in America since Trump became president, threats that form the bulk of these statistics, were not made by Trump supporters. The vast majority were made by two people: a deranged young Jew in one case, and in another case by far-left journalist Juan Thompson who worked for the online publication The Intercept, a publication set up in 2014 by a journalist for the British paper, The Guardian.


And in dozens of articles I have read about Pittsburgh and Donald Trump over the last two days I haven't seen any mention that there were also anti-Semitic shootings when President Obama was president. For example, three persons (including a 14-year-old boy and an elderly woman) were shot dead at two Jewish-related locations in Kansas City, on April 13, 2014.

There were also attacks on Jews during the terms of President Bush (for example, the 2006 murder at the Seattle Jewish Federation) and President Clinton (for example, the 1999 fire bombings on synagogues in Sacramento, California). And many people may have died during the gun attack on the US Holocaust museum in Washington DC during Obama’s first year in office in 2009, had the brave actions of security guard Stephen Tyrone Johns not thwarted the gunman. Tragically, Johns was shot dead in preventing a massacre.

None of this is to say that Donald Trump shouldn’t severely tone done his populist rhetoric (he should) but it is misleading to suggest that anti-Semitism wasn’t there before he assumed office. We need to look dispassionately at the facts and at the incidents of anti-Semitism, in order to combat it.



Anti-Semitism was to blame for Saturday’s murders, but a significant contributing factor is the ease with which Americans can buy guns, which is quite unlike any other developed country.

Australia, for example, instituted strict gun control after a mass murder -- and hasn’t had one since. But despite repeated large-scale massacres, America has not done so, and whereas Trump may be right that synagogues should have some (hopefully discreet) security presence in America, as they do throughout much of the world, Trump is surely wrong to oppose far greater gun control.

At the foot of this dispatch I attach a piece titled “Why school shootings don’t happen in Israel”. I first posted it in 2015, and ran it again in February 2018 after a 19-year-old shot dead many children at a school in Florida.



The militarisation of anti-Semitism
Blaming Trump for the Pittsburgh massacre downplays the scale of anti-Semitism today.
By Brendan O’Neill
Spiked (UK)
October 29, 2018

And still people are downplaying the seriousness of anti-Semitism. Even now. Even following the worst attack on Jews in American history. Even after the slaughter of 11 mostly elderly Jews at a bris, the celebration of the birth of a child, at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.

This time they are diminishing the scale and depth of anti-Semitism by pointing the finger of blame for the Pittsburgh massacre at President Donald Trump. No sooner had Robert Bowers allegedly executed his act of racist mass murder than anti-Trump commentators were describing it as the bloody offspring of Trump’s supposedly white-nationalist worldview and his divisive rhetoric.

This slaughter was the ‘inevitable result’ of ‘Trump’s vile nationalism’, said the Nation. Inevitable. ‘Trump didn’t pull the trigger on Jews in Pittsburgh, but he certainly prepped the shooter’, says a writer for Haaretz. Hateful violence like this is a consequence of Trump’s rhetoric, says British columnist Mehdi Hasan: ‘He preaches hate. He incites violence. He inspires attacks.’

This rush to blame Trump for a massacre of Jews is not only profoundly cynical, where the militarisation of anti-Semitism is pounced upon to the cheap, low end of scoring points against a politician people don’t like.

It also has the effect of whitewashing the true horror of anti-Semitism in the 21st-century West. It is in itself a form of apologism for the new anti-Semitism to the extent that it dehistoricises and depoliticises it by presenting it as little more than a function of the new right-wing populism.

It presents violent anti-Semitism as yet another thing unleashed, or at least intensified, by Trump and by the political turn of the past two years. And this dangerously distracts public attention – purposefully, I suspect – from the fact that anti-Semitism has been growing and becoming increasingly militarised for more than a decade now, among the left as well as the right and within Muslim communities, too.

Post-Pittsburgh, it is hard to escape the conclusion that many observers are more interested in shaming and weakening Trump than they are in truly getting to grips with the new anti-Semitism. After all, where was their rage, their concern about rhetoric, their existential handwringing over hateful ideas and hateful language, back when anti-Semitism was deepening and militarising pre-2016, pre-Trump, most notably in Europe?

Back when four Jews were slaughtered at a deli in Paris in 2015. Or when a gunman attacked the Great Synagogue in Copenhagen in 2015, during a bat mitzvah, killing one. Or during the massacre at a Jewish school in Toulouse in 2012, in which a rabbi and three children were murdered. A fourth child, an eight-year-old girl, was almost murdered: the anti-Semitic perpetrator grabbed her by her hair and pushed his gun into her face but it jammed when he pulled the trigger. He wanted to shoot her in the face for the crime of being Jewish.

Or during the Molotov cocktail attack on a synagogue in Gothenburg last year, during which 30 people had to flee to a basement to escape the missiles. Or when a synagogue was firebombed in Düsseldorf in 2014 by Muslims seeking vengeance for Israel’s actions in Gaza. Or when a Holocaust survivor was stabbed to death by anti-Semites in France earlier this year. Or when there was an attempt to burn down the Exeter Synagogue, the third oldest in England, in July this year. Or during any of the other thousands of anti-Semitic attacks in Europe in the past decade, which all have spoken to a terrifying situation where anti-Semitism has now crossed the line from racist incidents into an increasingly militarised effort to demean and dehumanise the Jewish people and their institutions.

One problem, of course, is that many of these attacks – notably the deli massacre, the Toulouse massacre, and the attempted Copenhagen synagogue massacre – were executed by radicalised Muslims. And we don’t criticise them too harshly, right? That would be a form of Islamophobia. It has in recent years been treated virtually as ‘Islamophobic’ to focus too much on the growth of militarised anti-Semitism in 21st-century Europe.

At the same time, there has been a deepening of anti-Semitic feeling among both the new left and the hard right, in both Europe and the US. Indeed, one thing the supposedly PC left shares in common with the alt-right that they claim to despise is a suspicion of Jews and a strange, deep, often hysterical hostility towards Zionism. Both subscribe to a conspiratorial worldview that says an all-powerful Jewish Lobby (or Israel Lobby, if you’re more PC) exercises huge influence over the political life of the West.

This is the bottom line: if you did not respond to the slaughter of Jews by Islamists with expressions of profound concern about the nature of political life today, about the threat posed by hateful ideologies, about the safety of Jews in an era of nasty rhetoric, then there is no reason why anyone should pay attention to what you say about the slaughter of Jews by a white, hard-right individual. Because it looks very much as though your concern is less with the slaughter of Jews than with the question of who is slaughtering them, and whether or not the murderer’s identity lends itself to the propagation of your own narrow party-political worldview. In this case, that Trump is a bad person. The wickedness of an anti-Semitic act is judged according to the act’s political usefulness: how awful that is.

In fact, it’s even worse than that. It is even worse than a situation where people check the identity of the anti-Semitic terrorist before deciding whether to make a big deal of his racist terror. Too often, as anti-Semitism has grown in Europe and the US in recent years, many so-called progressives have looked the other way. Don’t exaggerate the problem, Corbynistas have said. Perhaps some of those attacks on synagogues are political responses to Israel’s military behaviour, as a court in Düsseldorf actually ruled. Maybe the public murder of four Jews at the Paris deli was not really anti-Semitic but rather was driven by fury with Israel, as British observer Karen Armstrong argued. Perhaps if we speak too loudly about Islamist anti-Semitism we will contribute to anti-Muslim feeling. So perhaps we shouldn’t. Perhaps we should just keep quiet about the growing storm of anti-Semitism.

In this way, much of the left and some liberals have acquiesced to the rise of anti-Semitism. They have opted for maintaining the ‘multicultural’ peace over interrogating new cultural tensions and asking why Jews are being firebombed and murdered.

And this acquiescence, this failure to make a big, historic, political issue of the new militarisation of anti-Semitism, has acted as a green light to further expressions of this racist hatred. This is the most galling thing about the response to Pittsburgh: many in that section of society that is pinning the blame for the massacre on Trump actually have some serious questions of their own to answer about why they have not confronted the new anti-Semitism, and the role their moral failures may have played in allowing the new anti-Semitism to flourish. Trump ‘prepped the shooter’? It seems more likely to me that respectable society’s failure to confront anti-Semitism did that.

Indeed, Bowers’ own social-media output suggests he was more influenced by the shared left / right / Islamist conspiracy theory about Jewish power than he was by Trump’s divisive commentary. He was critical of Trump, on the basis that the president was granting Jews too much influence and presence in the US. This, worryingly, is now a mainstream view. You see it in Guardian cartoons showing Israeli leaders puppeteering Western politicians. You hear it in leftish panic about an all-powerful Israel Lobby. You see it in Press TV headlines about the US being ‘completely under the thumb’ of Zionists. Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the UK Labour Party, worked for Press TV. For years.

If you look at the fascistic slaughter in Pittsburgh and see only the problem of Trumpism, then you are being wilfully blind; politically and morally blind. For in this assault we see scarily mainstream views being given a violent expression and we see merely the latest step in a militarisation of anti-Semitism that has been growing for years. Ultimately, only one person bears responsibility for the massacre. The rest of us, however, have a moral responsibility to be honest about the rise of anti-Semitism and to treat it, finally, with the seriousness it deserves.



The Futile Search For Meaning In Antisemitic Crimes
By Jonathan S. Tobin
JNS (Jewish News Syndicate)
October 28, 2018

When something terrible happens, we demand explanations. Awful and irrational events spawn conspiracy theories because it’s part of the human condition to need to make sense of the world, even when the world makes no sense.

That is all the more true when an atrocity such as the shooting at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue occurs. The wholesale slaughter at a house of worship on the Sabbath is the sort of act that, almost by definition, defies explanation. What sane person would seek to murder total strangers at prayer? What possible end could be served by the spilling of innocent blood in this manner?

Our sole concern should be to comfort the families of the slain, to honor their memories and to heal a community torn by sorrow. Yet it is almost instinctual to seek explanations that place the incomprehensible in a context we can accept more easily. Doing so enables us to avoid the truth that we live in a world in which irrational prejudice can strike anytime, anywhere, in ways that shake us to our very core. If the real villain is a familiar target of our anger, rather than age-old hatred of Jews or the deranged ravings of an extremist, it helps us channel our rage and sorrow in a direction that seems productive, even if it is nothing of the kind.

So it is hardly surprising that the slaughter at a synagogue in a quiet, leafy neighborhood would provoke reactions that tell us more about the sickening divisions within our society than anything else.

For some, the only real culprit here is US President Donald Trump. In particular, his demagoguery about illegal immigrants is seen as a green light for an attack on a synagogue and a community that is generally supportive of asylum-seekers, such as those in a caravan from Honduras that Trump has denounced as an oncoming threat.

That has led some, like former New Republic editor Franklin Foer, to assert in The Atlantic that the only way to assure Jewish security after Pittsburgh is to ostracize all Jews who support Trump, since in his words “they have placed their community in danger.”

Following the same theme, journalist Julia Ioffe also claimed that the fault for Pittsburgh belongs to those in the pro-Israel community who supported Trump’s move of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. In a Twitter take of breathtaking obtuseness, Ioffe quipped that “I hope the embassy move over there, where you don’t live, was worth it.” She was soon appearing on CNN to double down on her spewing of such bile.

Over at the Forward, writer Peter Beinart had a more general condemnation for any Jew who agreed with Trump about illegal immigration. According to him, “Trumpism” – or at least that portion of the administration’s policies that concern enforcing existing immigration laws or expressing worry about the spread of Islamism – and those Jews who share such legitimate concerns are betraying “Jewish ethics and Jewish lives.”

But while Trump can be blamed for the coarsening of our political culture – and while his statements about immigration are often inaccurate and inflammatory – the blithe assertion that the president is an antisemite or the smear that his supporters are allies and enablers of accused Pittsburgh shooter Robert Bowers is wrong on two counts.

The first and most obvious is that Bowers was a critic of Trump, specifically because of his sympathy with Jews, the presence of many Jews in key administration posts and his support for Israel, which exceeds that of all of his recent predecessors. He viewed Trump as an ally of Jews – not someone who had encouraged him to attack them.

The second is that the attempt to shoehorn Pittsburgh into the “resistance” narrative, in which Trump is seen as unleashing a wave of persecution against Jews and other minorities in America, misunderstands the nature of the antisemitism that Bowers espoused.

While Bowers may have seen the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society and a synagogue whose members sought to aid immigrants and asylum-seekers as justifying his attack, this does no more to explain his rage than any of the other excuses that antisemites have deployed over the ages.

While some have always sought to blame Jews for the hate that was directed against them – a trend that continues today with those who believe support for Israel is a red flag that invites attacks – antisemitism is always about the antisemites, not the Jews. It is, as scholar Ruth Wisse wrote, the most successful ideology of the 20th century – a virus that morphed from fascism to Nazism to communism and then Islamism. The continuation of this trend in the 21st century has nothing to do with Trump, and everything to do with the fact that Jews remain a convenient scapegoat for extremists of all political and religious stripes.

There is much to lament in our current political culture, in which the tribes of true believers rule on both ends of the spectrum, and in which neither side is prepared to acknowledge the way they have sought to delegitimize their political opponents. But what happened in Pittsburgh is a product of a deeper malady – one that, at present, has no political cure.

A world in which we can’t neatly place the blame for Pittsburgh on a political foe who many Jews despise is less frightening than the complex reality. Trump is both a friend of the Jews and Israel, as well as a symptom of a destructive political trend that has helped loosen the bonds of community that is driving us further apart. Still, he is not responsible for the actions of an unhinged extremist.

If we acknowledge that despite his flaws, Trump is neither an antisemite nor the reason for antisemitic violence here – or anywhere else in a world in which a rising tide of Jew hatred continues to surge – then we are forced to confront the same frustrating truth about this virus that previous generations struggled with. It’s easy to see why putting this in a political context is of some comfort, but those who do so in the course of a futile search for meaning in antisemitic hate crimes do neither the Jews nor the cause of civilization any service.



Why School Shootings Don’t Happen in Israel
By Yael Shahar
October 7, 2015

Why is it that in Israel – a country surrounded by weapons of war – we don’t see the same gun violence as that which cost the lives of students in Oregon and little McKayla from Tennessee?

I spent most of last Wednesday renewing my gun license. Contrary to what many in the United States believe, owning a firearm in Israel is neither common nor easy. Applying for a license is a grueling process, often taking months of security checks and training courses. Keeping that license requires an investment of time, effort, and money.

In my case, the license was a legacy of many years as a volunteer in the Israel Police sniper unit and later in the Israel Defense Forces reserves. It had been years since I was actively involved in security work, aside from the occasional civil guard patrol. But, given the rather volatile security situation, its considered desirable that those who have the training keep up their proficiency and continue to carry.

And so, on Wednesday morning I drove into the nearest town to get the necessary forms signed by my family doctor, who certified that I’m not taking any medication that might impair my alertness, that I have no history of psychological disorders, and that I’m more or less in my right mind – at least most of the time.

And then it was off to the shooting range. Together with 15 others, I stood in line for half an hour to have my designated self-defense weapon examined, tested for any malfunctions that would endanger myself or passersby. The serial number was matched with the paperwork to make sure the weapon was legally mine and had not been put on any watch lists. Another 40-minute wait (part of it spent in the Sukkah outside the range chatting with an elderly veteran of four of Israel’s wars) and we were ushered into the range for our training session.

The session was conducted by someone whom I had known as an instructor back in my days in the police sniper unit. He went over changes to the laws of owning a firearm: If your weapon is stolen from your house and you cannot prove that a safe was broken open to get at the weapon, then you are a criminal and may do jail time.

And if we ever have to use a weapon in self-defense? You had better be certain that you had no other recourse, that you did what you could to warn the attacker, and that had you not taken action, at least one innocent life could have been lost. And you may still do jail time.

We spent about an hour at practice, refreshing our ability to deal with safety issues and malfunctions, honing our skills. One by one, we were certified as competent and sent out to collect our paperwork, duly stamped and fed into the computer, from which it would go into some government database. The process took up most of the day.

I thought of all this when I read of yet another (reportedly, the 294th this year) mass shooting in the United States – this time at a small community college in Oregon. Four firearms. An attention-seeking, imbalanced, suicidal young man walked into a classroom with four firearms. Police later found five pistols and one rifle at the college, and another three pistols, four rifles, and a shotgun at his home. All the weapons were purchased legally by the shooter or his family members.

And then Tuesday’s headlines tell us that an 11-year-old boy in Tennessee shot and killed an eight-year-old girl, his neighbor, when she refused to let him see her puppy. The boy retrieved his family’s 12-gauge shotgun from an unlocked closet, and fired at McKayla Dyer as she stood in her yard.

There is something seriously wrong about a system where a disturbed young man can acquire deadly weapons as easily as buying a new laptop. Where children can treat firearms as casually as toys.

I live in a country with wars raging on all sides, with failed states collapsing into a primordial stew of hatred and nihilism an hours drive north of me, with suicidal regimes seeking nuclear weapons in order to carry out their expressed goals of obliterating me, my family, and everyone with whom I interact on a daily basis. But for all this, I dont feel as if I’m living in a war zone. We know about death and we know about weapons of war, but we don’t fetishize them.

And the United States? A country bounded by friendly regimes and by neutral water. Apparently a nation lacking natural enemies may simply become its own enemy.


* You can also find other items that are not in these dispatches if you “like” this page on Facebook

Netanyahu returns from secret, but official, trip to Oman

October 26, 2018

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife returned to Israel a short time ago after an official but previously unannounced trip to Oman today, where he met with Sultan Qaboos bin Said. Israel and Oman have no diplomatic relations. Pictures below.




Tom Gross adds:

Netanyahu and his wife were invited to visit Oman by its ruler, Sultan Qaboos bin Said. Sara Netanyahu was permitted to shake hands with the Sultan without wearing a head covering.

It is the latest in a series of foreign policy and diplomatic breakthroughs by Netanyahu.

This week the Vice President of China, Wang Qishan, also made a historic visit to Israel, staying several days, bringing a large delegation and concluding several economic agreements with Israel. It is one of the longest visits by the Vice-President – widely regarded as the second most important person in China – to any foreign country in recent years.

Prime Minister Netanyahu was accompanied on today’s trip to Oman by the head of the Israeli intelligence service, the Mossad, Yossi Cohen, the National Security Advisor, and the NSC Maj. Gen. Meir Ben-Shabat, the Director-General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Yuval Rotem, and Chief of Staff Yoav Horowitz, among others.

Israel continues to significantly improve relations with most of the Arab world, who say they have become fed up with Palestinian intransigence and the refusal by the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority to negotiate peace with Israel

There are also further reports today that Israel and Hamas are on the verge of signing a long-term truce agreement in Gaza.


* You can also find other items that are not in these dispatches if you “like” this page on Facebook

Al Jazeera vs. Saudi Arabia (& Trump’s Mideast peace plan at risk without MbS?)

October 23, 2018

The headline of Turkey’s Yeni Safak newspaper reads: “(To the Saudi consul) Shut up”



[Note by Tom Gross]

Following up yesterday’s dispatch, I attach five more pieces on the Khashoggi affair, published in today’s newspapers.

One is by Jamal Khashoggi himself (extracted from a speech he gave earlier this year).

Another, from Haaretz, points out: “Trump’s peace initiative, if it is ever put on the table, is apparently the direct result of pressure by Mohammed bin Salman, who wishes to legitimize Israel before embarking on open cooperation with it. For 50 years we’ve prayed for a key Arab leader who agrees to sign a significant pact with Israel. Such a leader has finally arrived, and calls to depose him, such as those by former U.S. Ambassador Dan Shapiro in an op-ed are destructive and in keeping with the best Obama tradition. Anyone waiting for a world of the purely just will have to struggle all his life with the purely evil.”

And in a piece below from the New York Times, James A. Baker, who was secretary of state under President George H.W. Bush, discusses “the Trump Administration’s hard choices on Saudi Arabia.”


For new subscribers to this list:

I have on many occasions criticized the human rights of Saudi Arabia.

Here, for example, is my on stage interview with the wife of Raif Badawi, Saudi Arabia’s most prominent pro-liberal democracy (and anti-Muslim Brotherhood) political prisoner.

Here is one of several dispatches on the horrific situation in Yemen.




Saudi Arabia, Reeling From Khashoggi Scandal, Battles a New Front: Arab Media
Qatari network Al Jazeera is providing the color and the harsh analysis that is roiling the Saudi royals
By Zvi Bar’el
October 23, 2018

Over the past two weeks, the nightly news on Al Jazeera has become a fount of reports on the Khashoggi affair. Evidently the Turkish authorities have chosen to use the Qatari network to dribble out new sensational bits of information daily.

Al Jazeera was the first to show pictures of the killers who dismembered Khashoggi’s body; it knew how they arrived and what they did; it reported on the Saudi consul’s actions in the room and that Khashoggi was injected with a drug to stop him from screaming in pain. It almost seems that the network’s correspondent in Turkey was present at the scene when it all happened.

While the Turkish government maintains proper restraint, stating that it is cooperating with the Saudi authorities or announcing that an investigation has been launched, Al Jazeera is providing the color and the harsh analysis that is roiling the Saudi royals.

The Saudi regime, which controls most of the major Arabic-language media outlets, has no answer for the narrative being laid out in the Al Jazeera reports. All it and its allies can do is attack the network and its owners.

“Qatar crossed all boundaries and its rulers crossed every red line as Doha ignores the demands of the Qatari people and the country’s internal problems and has instead become a puppet in the hands of Iran, the Zionists, the world regime and the terrorist Muslim Brotherhood. All of these are using it as a tool to achieve their desires… and to minimize the central diplomatic and security role played by Saudi Arabia for the benefit of the Arab nation and regional stability,” Egyptian journalist Dina al-Husseini wrote in the Youm7 newspaper.

Al-Husseini is best known for two particular moments in her journalistic career: One when she began her interview with deposed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak by saying “I love you and I’m crazy about you,” and then congratulated him on his recent vindication in court on corruption charges; and the other when she posed as a doctor and went undercover in Cairo’s Qasr Elyni Hospital to report on the corruption and chaos there.

Al-Husseini is certain she knows who is funding the propaganda campaign designed to blacken the name of Egypt’s close friend, Saudi Arabia, and who is profiting from Saudi Arabia’s humiliation. And it is equally clear whom Al-Husseini got her talking points from and who is dictating the media narrative in some of the Arab papers.

Under the headline “The Ugly Arab,” Saudi publicist Saud Al Rayes wrote a scathing indictment of the Arab journalists and media outlets, chiefly Al Jazeera, charging that they are hurting the Saudi kingdom while disregarding the fact that in so doing they are hurting the entire Muslim world. But Al Jazeera is not the only target in Al Rayes’ sights.

Muslim Turkey, which joined ranks with Qatar and thereby put itself on a collision course with Saudi Arabia, has also become an enemy: “Right now it seems that the Turkish state prosecutor is working as an emissary of Al Jazeera in Turkey,” Al Rayes wrote. And what about the Western media that have “ganged up” on Saudi Arabia?

“The West doesn’t care if the controversial reports are correct or not as long as they can be used to accuse the Arabs and Muslims of savagery and barbarity.” Al Rayes also has a warning for his readers: “Saudi Arabia will overcome this crisis and come out of it stronger than before… And mark my words… What comes after the Khashoggi affair will be nothing like what came before.” Whoever needs to be wary of the Saudi crown prince’s expected revenge is quite well aware of that. The message couldn’t be any clearer.

The American media had been quite fond of the Saudi crown prince before the incident.

Last year, Thomas Friedman wrote in The New York Times that the crown prince was leading the true Arab Spring, but this week he said, “I do not believe for a second that it was a rogue operation and that Saudi Arabia’s effective ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is very hands-on, had no prior knowledge, if not more.”

It’s unlikely that the American press will be treated to an interview with the crown prince anytime soon, but that doesn’t matter right now. The damage to the crown prince’s “good” name goes far beyond how he is perceived in Western media.

Judging by the critical articles that have been written against his detractors, the problem is Saudi Arabia’s standing vis-à-vis Qatar and the harm done to “the Arab world” and “the Muslim world” by the stain that has been collectively imposed on them.

The Arab media paradox is that the need to defend Saudi Arabia’s reputation as the protector of Arabs and Muslims is making it seem like a collective offense against them is being committed akin to a caricature of the Prophet Mohammed that requires them all to wage a holy war against the offenders.

An equally big problem is the message that Arab press outlets and human rights activists in Arab countries are getting from the West’s reactions. If world leaders, especially the president of the United States, accept the farfetched story that says Jamal Khashoggi died in the course of a brawl in the consulate and are satisfied with just seeing some of bin Salman’s top aides dismissed (though they are sure to be shifted to other top posts), it will deal another serious blow to those media outlets that still dare to criticize their countries’ governments.

For just as bin Salman has now come to symbolize the Arab victim who is attacked by a Western-Turkish-Iranian-Israeli coalition of evil, Jamal Khashoggi has come to stand for a critical press and human rights activism. The victor in this symbolic war will determine the standing of his adherents.



Why We Should Go Easy on the Saudi Crown Prince
For 50 years we’ve prayed for a key Arab leader who agrees to sign a significant pact with Israel. Such a leader has finally arrived
By Tzvia Greenfield
October 23, 2018

Turkey, a human rights champion under Erdogan, is accusing Saudi Arabia, another human rights champion, of the abhorrent murder of a Saudi journalist who entered the lion’s den in Istanbul and, as befits horror stories typical of places like Syria China, Iran, Russia and North Korea, disappeared from sight. Now we have recordings and videotapes, allegedly from the Saudi consulate, suggesting that his body was chopped into pieces.

The underlying reason for this gruesome act, that evokes something conjured up by the Coen brothers, is not completely clear. One shouldn’t treat any death lightly, particularly not a murder committed by an evil government. However, because of the political ramifications involved, it’s worth contemplating this episode a bit more.

It’s possible that just like Putin, the Saudi royal house cannot tolerate any criticism, which is why it decided to eliminate the rogue journalist in an acid bath (a no less likely possibility that has not yet been suggested by the authorities in Ankara). It’s possible that Recep Tayyip Erdogan is gnashing his teeth over Saudi Arabia’s bolstered global status, particularly vis-à-vis U.S. President Donald Trump, and over the central role played by Mohammed bin Salman in a regional coalition meant to block Iranian influence in the Middle East – which is why Erdogan is bent on deflating the Crown Prince’s image.

Erdogan may want to humiliate the Saudis, but his main goal is foiling the plan apparently devised by Trump and Mohammed to forge a regional alliance under the aegis of the United States, an alliance that includes Israel, the Gulf States, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt (and possibly Iraq). These countries will jointly try to block Iran, which endangers all of them. Turkey, which is struggling to find an as-yet-undetermined place within the Arab Muslim world, does not strive merely to lead the Sunni world. It also wants to depict Israel as a foreign colonialist implant in the Middle East. Any legitimization afforded Israel thanks to an alliance with Arab states has negative implications for Erdogan.

But fate obviously has a sense of humor. It has embroiled the Turkish rivalry with Saudi Arabia in the U.S. midterm elections. Since Mohammed is currently Trump’s most important international ally, mainly for economic reasons, the campaign advocating a “liberal order,” espoused by international media assailing the Saudi leader, is buzzing with excitement. Its main objective is not the brushing aside of Saudi Arabia, but the delivery of a humiliating knockout blow to Trump and his economic plans.

According to Time magazine, the level of public support for Trump remains stable at 43 percent, similar to that of Obama, Clinton and Reagan at comparative phases in their terms. It’s no wonder that after the failed attacks on Trump, who immerged unscathed from the intimidation of migrant children, the Stormy Daniels saga and the attempt to prevent the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh, the left is eager to pounce on the Saudi murder case as if it has found a treasure trove.

However, this time it’s necessary to treat the suspect with kid gloves. Trump’s peace initiative, if it is ever put on the table, is apparently the direct result of pressure by Mohammed bin Salman, who wishes to legitimize Israel before embarking on open cooperation with it. For 50 years we’ve prayed for a key Arab leader who agrees to sign a significant pact with Israel. Such a leader has finally arrived, and calls to depose him, such as those by former U.S. Ambassador Dan Shapiro in an op-ed in Haaretz (October 21) are destructive and in keeping with the best Obama tradition. Anyone waiting for a world of the purely just will have to struggle all his life with the purely evil.



The Saudi Crown Prince’s Uncertain Fate
If he loses power, it could be by the gentle hand of his father or, like Caligula, in a violent overthrow.
By Karen Elliott House
Wall Street Journal
October 23, 2018

As the Trump administration wrestles with whether to buy Saudi Arabia’s belated and befuddled explanation for the death of Jamal Khashoggi, a thoughtful Saudi tells me: “Morality aside, the critical question is the sanity of our very own Caligula.”

Comparing Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to the brutal and unbalanced first-century Roman ruler may be harsh, but it’s not entirely inaccurate. Both blazed to power as shining stars of change at a very young age: 25 for Caligula, 30 for Crown Prince Mohammed. Each loved organizing grand entertainment for bored citizens, building extravagant projects and, more to the point, humiliating and silencing associates. Caligula cruelly forced Roman senators to run for their lives before his chariot. The crown prince incarcerated his royal relatives, ministers and prominent businessmen at the Riyadh Ritz-Carlton until they agreed to return some $100 billion of ostensibly ill-gotten gains. Now his regime is offering two of his closest associates to take the blame for Khashoggi’s murder and dismemberment at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

“Remember,” Caligula loved to say, “that I have the right to do anything to anybody,” according to Suetonius, his biographer.

Crown Prince Mohammed has thus far enjoyed the same sweeping power – forcing the visiting Lebanese prime minister to resign on Saudi television, destroying the Gulf Cooperation Council by declaring Qatar an enemy, and now presiding over a system in which, by his own account, Khashoggi’s murder was carried out by his closest associates and numerous royal-court security guards.

If those associates and guards aren’t punished for the roles they allegedly played, Congress – and much of the world – isn’t likely to return to business as usual. And if they are executed, the royal guards of the crown prince may feel exposed and set against each other, which is what led the Praetorian Guards to cooperate with Caligula’s enemies and facilitate his assassination at age 29.

The looming question in U.S.-Saudi relations: Can the crown prince retain unchecked authority in the Kingdom? And if he does, can the U.S.-Saudi relationship – including close cooperation on Gulf security and global oil policy and large infusions of Saudi money into U.S. Treasury bills – remain undamaged? In short, can King Salman retain his son as crown prince and the U.S. as a close ally?

The latest accusation – that the Saudi coverup included sending a Khashoggi double out the back door of the consulate – raises further questions about what the crown prince knew. He told Bloomberg News the day after the disappearance that Khashoggi “got out after a few minutes or one hour.” If his subordinates fed him this cover story, it appears to have taken the prince a long time to get their version of events even though the Saudi team returned to the kingdom within 24 hours.

It is no small irony that a crown prince defined by his determination to control every aspect of the kingdom – a control freak even according to his fans – effectively put control of his own future and the U.S.-Saudi relationship in the hands of two adversaries: Congress and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Congress, never a friend of Saudi Arabia, can override President Trump to punish the kingdom. Congressional action is that much likelier if the results of Turkey’s investigation are released and prove as lurid as the press leaks of the past two weeks, thereby giving the lie to the Saudi explanation.

An additional threat to the crown prince is the thus-far muted opposition within the Al Saud family, many of whom he has humiliated and shunted aside. Their catalyst for unifying to force the prince from power could come from Turkish revelations that embolden Congress to oppose Mr. Trump’s efforts to continue a strong strategic relationship with Saudi Arabia and Crown Prince Mohammed. Most of the Al Saud family, along with most young Saudis, want access and acceptability in the U.S.

Given that the crown prince has decimated much royal, religious and other opposition over the past two years, his hold on power is seemingly strong. King Salman stood behind his son by putting him in charge of revamping Saudi intelligence in the wake of Khashoggi’s death. Yet it has become possible to imagine that the young prince won’t be the long-term ruler of Saudi Arabia. If not, what happens to his social and economic reform agenda, ranging from liberalization of social life to reducing Saudi dependence on oil exports? The reforms he has tried to institute are necessary, long overdue and largely popular with young Saudis. The tragedy is that he has put the reforms at risk along with his own reputation and rule.

If the crown prince loses power it could be either by the gentle hand of his father or, like Caligula, at the violent hand of cooperation between disgruntled princes and praetorians. “If the king stands by him, I believe there is plotting under way to remove the crown prince violently,” warns Bruce Riedel, a Brookings scholar with 30 years at the Central Intelligence Agency. Even before this, the crown prince’s concern for his security was evidenced by the growing number of nights he spent on his yacht in the Red Sea, seen as safer than princely palaces.

In the first scenario, the king would have plenty of princes to choose from within his immediate family, such as Mohammed’s elder half-brother Prince Sultan, a former U.S. Space Shuttle astronaut and the kingdom’s tourism director, or from the wider Al Saud family, such as Khalid Faisal, 78, a widely respected nephew of the king who serves as governor of Mecca. In this scenario, the reform program wouldn’t be reversed but could slow down to the glacial pace under past Saudi rulers.

In the violent scenario, all bets would be off. An assassination could set off a full-scale power struggle not just among princely branches of the Al Saud family, but including the religious fundamentalists seeking to overturn reforms and restore the restrictive social strictures the crown prince overthrew. What this would mean for U.S.-Saudi relations is anyone’s guess. Surely, however, if Mr. Trump has the ability to influence events, the first scenario is far preferable to the second.



The Trump Administration’s Hard Choices on Saudi Arabia
In responding to the death of Jamal Khashoggi, the U.S. should balance its values with its national interests.
By James A. Baker III
New York Times
Oct. 23, 2018

(Mr. Baker was secretary of state under President George H.W. Bush.)

In formulating and implementing United States foreign policy, there is often a tension between the promotion of America’s values and the protection of our interests. Toward the end of the Cold War, our espousal of democracy and free markets converged with our efforts to work with the Soviet leadership to achieve a peaceful conclusion of that conflict. But sometimes effective foreign policy requires balancing our principles and values with our geopolitical interests. That balancing act can demand painful compromises.

Such is the case with the death of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi dissident and Washington Post columnist. If he was murdered inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on the orders of the Saudi government, the affront to American values is clear. Opposition to the killing of dissidents and support for a free and robust press are fundamental American principles.

On the other hand, Saudi Arabia has been an important strategic partner of the United States since President Franklin Roosevelt met with King Ibn Saud, the founder of the Saudi state, at the close of World War II. In recent years, the United States has worked closely with Saudi Arabia on issues critical to both countries. Stabilizing global oil markets, combating terrorism and countering Iranian regional adventurism are just three. We also need to engage the Saudis in areas where we are not in 100 percent agreement, such as their debilitating war in Yemen and their conflict with Qatar.

In reacting to Mr. Khashoggi’s killing, the Trump administration should balance our values and interests. A critical first step is establishing the facts. The Saudi government should issue a comprehensive and accurate detailing of the circumstances of Mr. Khashoggi’s death. United States intelligence can do its part by gathering and assessing all materials necessary to determine what exactly happened to Mr. Khashoggi and on whose order. For example: What happened to his remains and why?

Partner or not, if it is established that the Saudi government arranged a murder, the Trump administration should provide a swift, firm and substantial response that makes it clear that the United States condemns behavior of this sort.

A good model would be the approach President George H.W. Bush took with China in the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

In June of 1989, after several weeks of peaceful protests in Beijing and elsewhere, Chinese soldiers attacked demonstrators in Tiananmen Square. Estimates of the death toll ran into the thousands. The public reaction in the United States was one of horror followed by demands that President Bush punish China.

Mr. Bush had to strike a balanced response, just as President Trump must today. Mr. Bush wanted to safeguard the underlying geopolitical relationship between the two countries while also letting Chinese leaders know that killings couldn’t be business as usual in the future. The United States could not be viewed as a cynical paper tiger on human rights.

Two days after the massacre, Mr. Bush announced the first in a series of substantial penalties against the Chinese government that included suspension of military arms sales and a halt to all visits between American and Chinese military leaders. Further sanctions followed, including economic ones imposed by Congress and supported by the administration.

But even as Mr. Bush punished China, he strove to keep diplomatic relations between the two countries alive. While it was important that the Chinese understood he considered their behavior abhorrent and not to be ignored, he took no joy in imposing sanctions and sought ways to ease the estrangement. Mr. Bush dispatched high-level officials to China to let its leaders know that while he would not accept what they had done, he wanted to preserve the relationship.

Not being privy to intelligence reports about this matter, I cannot suggest a specific response that the White House ought to take if Saudi government responsibility is established. But it should include actions that signal clear disapproval and a message that reform, not repression, is the best route forward for Saudi Arabia. The response must also reflect a sober assessment of the substantial and abiding value of our strategic partnership with the Saudis.

Few will be pleased with the administration’s ultimate response to this crisis, particularly the hard-line realists on one side and the hard-line idealists on the other. Nevertheless, United States officials should consider how President Bush reacted to Tiananmen Square 29 years ago. This is the time for reasoned, careful actions that fully take into account both our national interests and our principles and values.



Why the Arab World Needs Democracy Now
In April Jamal Khashoggi gave this speech, saying the dangerous idea of the benevolent autocrat, the just dictator, is being revived in the Arab world.
By Jamal Khashoggi
New York Times
Oct. 23, 2018

Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi Arabian journalist who was killed by Saudi agents inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, was the keynote speaker at a conference in April organized by the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Denver and the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy in Washington. Excerpts from his speech, edited by the New York Times, are below.


I am from Saudi Arabia, where the issues of democracy and Islam are very much relevant. When a Saudi official wanted to brush away the question of democracy, in the past, he would always raise the question of whether democracy is compatible with Islam.

The debate about the relationship between Islam and democracy conclusively ended with the coming of the Arab Spring, when the people of the Arab world, – especially the youth, and even the Islamists, including some Salafis, who were always critical of democracy – supported the protests for democratic and political change. Other Salafis remained very critical of democracy, viewing it as “kufr,” or un-Islamic, based on the belief that democracy represents a rejection of religious values.

The long voting lines during the 2012 elections in Tunisia and Egypt clearly demonstrated that the people of the Arab world were ready for change. They enthusiastically participated in democratic elections, including Islamist parties that had often been the focus of the debate on Islam’s compatibility with democracy.

Those images from Egypt and Tunisia of men, women, young, and old going to the polls should be contrasted with the sham elections we see today in Egypt and in other parts of the Arab world. This is an argument we can use against anyone who might claim that “Arabs are not ready for democracy.”

Today, Saudi Arabia is struggling with different aspects of modernity – with cinemas, art, entertainment, mixing of the sexes, opening up to the world, rejecting radicalism. The tight grip that the religious establishment has had on social life is gradually loosening.

But while we’re pursuing all these forms of modernity, the Saudi leaders are still not interested in democracy, They aren’t advancing the old, lame excuse that democracy is not compatible with Islam, however. Instead, as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic they’re saying that absolute monarchy is our preferred form of government.

Indeed, we are living in the age of authoritarianism. Some people believe that it is a better form of political rule. They argue that societies need a great leader and that democracy will undermine the ability of the great leader to guide his people to a better future.

Today around a dinner table in Riyadh, Cairo or Amman, you are likely to hear intellectuals who were once considered liberals, who once supported liberty, political change and democracy, say, “Arabs are not ready for democracy.” If you push back against this argument, you would be told: “Even if Arabs are ready for democracy, they don’t know how to take advantage of it. They always make the wrong choice.”

A related argument is, “The Islamists and the Muslim Brotherhood have kidnapped the Arab Spring.” In my country, a variant of this argument is: “The Saudis don’t know how to choose. If we have democracy, they will not vote out of their conscience, they will vote based on their tribal loyalties.”

A popular argument in the Arab world is that we need a strong leader. You can hear it in Egypt from an Egyptian businessman who supports the ruling regime. You can hear it from a doubtful Jordanian, maybe even a doubtful Tunisian who seeks a return to the old order.

A Saudi friend of mine who was raised abroad openly defends the term “benevolent autocracy.” He is prepared to write about the value of benevolent autocracy in an American newspaper and thinks it is the best choice for Saudi Arabia.

It is the old notion of the “mustabidu al-adl,” or the just dictator, that died with the rise of Abd al-Rahman al-Kawakibi, a late-19th-century Arab-Muslim reformist of Syrian origin. The Arab and Muslim intellectuals who followed Kawakibi supported democracy or at least some variant of it.

Regrettably, though, the idea of the benevolent autocrat, the just dictator, is being revived in the Arab world. A chorus of anti-democratic Arab and non-Arab voices are using the media and the lobbyists to oppose democracy. I’m told that at the Riyadh International Book Fair in March, which I was not able to attend, one of the books on display was called “Against the Arab Spring.”

Democracy in the Arab world is also under attack from radical Islamists who are making a comeback as the so-called Islamic State or as the Salafis fighting in Libya alongside Khalifa Hifter (who was a general in Muammar Gaddafi’s army and is now backed by the United Arab Emirates and Egypt). They preach against democracy in the mosques – and through acts of violence.

We must reassure people in the Arab world who either have lost hope in democracy because of its perceived failures or because they fell victim to the concentrated propaganda about democracy coming from television networks run by states and the intellectuals aligned with them.

When I use the term “democracy” I mean it in the broader sense of the term that overlaps with values such as liberty, checks and balances, accountability and transparency. We were aiming for these goals in the form of good governance, equality, and justice in the Arab world. There is another reason we need democracy now in the Arab world: to stop mass violence.

Today, there are two kinds of Arab countries. Some countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Morocco, need democracy for good governance and the checks and balances it brings.

But for war-torn countries like Libya, Syria and Yemen, democracy would lead to some form of power sharing. It can be along the lines of the Afghanistan arrangement, where you bring all of the factions in one huge room and force them into an agreement on how to share power. The chief reason the wars in these countries are continuing is the lack of a mechanism for power sharing.

The immediate need for Libya, Syria and Yemen is not good governance, but a mechanism to stop the killing. Inevitably, the question of good governance will emerge. There is great hope for democracy in other countries that have not been mired in civil or internal conflict, such as Tunisia, which is struggling toward a lasting democratic system.

Many of my Tunisian friends, despite the progress they have made, are also worried about democracy. They do not want to appear to be preaching to the rest of the Arab world. They simply want to be left alone. Yet I still think that Tunisians have an important responsibility.

News channels that are supportive of freedom and political change in the Middle East should spend a considerable amount of time covering even municipal elections in Tunisia. Every Saudi, every Egyptian and every Syrian should see what the Tunisians are enjoying. I hope it will inspire the rest of the Arab world to work for a similar form of government for themselves.

We need to defend the rights of the Arab people to have democracy in our own countries, in our own localities, but at the same time we must speak to foreign leaders, foreign powers and foreign parliamentarians. They have a role to play and many of them have begun to lose hope in the prospects of Arab democracy.

Some of them are now repeating the old racist statement, “Arabs are not ready for democracy [because they are Arabs].” The Trump administration has zero interest in supporting democracy in the Arab world. Even the French president, Emmanuel Macron, has suggested that there will be little political change in Egypt or in Saudi Arabia.

People are losing hope in democracy because of the failure of the Arab Spring revolts. They’re afraid of ending up like Syria. Many Arab regimes, their television networks, their writers, their commentators, are trying to scare people off democracy by actively promoting this idea.

Both Arab citizens and foreign leaders are affected by the limited reforms that Arab leaders are pursuing. In Saudi Arabia there are serious reforms that Prince Mohammed is leading. Many of my Saudi colleagues are saying I should support them. I do support them.

My position is that we should take what we have and build on it.

When Mr. Macron stood next to Prince Mohammed, he made this point and he was correct to do so. We need to support the crown prince in his effort to reform Saudi Arabia because if we let him down, he will come under pressure from radical elements who are not willing to reform.

These limited reforms and the general political condition of the Arab world today are adding strength to the argument of the anti-democracy forces. This unfortunate reality puts more responsibility on our shoulders to resume our work and to redouble our efforts to push for democracy in the Arab world as a realistic choice for people and a solution to the failure of many Arab states.


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Why are some pro-Israel voices speaking out against Jamal Khashoggi?

October 22, 2018

Here is an American journalist who died in recent days who the media are barely mentioning, let alone obsessing about. Jerry Wolkowitz, above left, died Thursday , after sustaining horrendous injuries in a vicious unprovoked beating as he approached his car outside his apartment building in New Jersey at 7.15 am. Police say it was a racially charged hate crime. (At the time of writing neither The Washington Post nor The New York Times have mentioned his death. Fox News and Newsweek are the only two major news outlets to have mentioned it, three days ago.)

Both Wolkowitz’s elderly parents are Holocaust survivors who Wolkowitz, 56, spent much of his time taking care of. The local Jewish community is raising money to ensure his parents continue to receive care. Wolkowitz was unmarried but had a fiancée.

Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni said that Jamil Hubbard (above right), the man charged with the murder, and Wolkowitz, did not know each other.



[Note by Tom Gross]

There have been many hundreds of articles about the murder of Saudi writer-dissident Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey earlier this month.

I attach two below. The first is an interesting analysis by Ron Kampeas of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency critiquing some American conservatives for providing a more nuanced, but in some cases hostile portrayal of Khashoggi. (This being the JTA and Kampeas, the piece is written with a somewhat leftist slant.)

The second article (“The Kingdom and the Power: How to punish Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman”) is by Elliott Abrams in The Weekly Standard.

(Both Abrams, who is the former US Deputy National Security Advisor responsible for the Middle East, and many of the people mentioned in the JTA piece, are subscribers to this list.)

While Khashoggi’s murder is clearly despicable, some of the media coverage in papers including The New York Times and Washington Post has not, in my view, been helpful in that it seems to be part of a concerted effort to pull the U.S. back into the pro-Iranian and pro-Turkish regime camp.

The Saudi regime is vile but the human rights situation in Turkey and Iran is in many ways worse and it would probably be a strategic mistake once again to move too close to the Iranian regime, as Barack Obama and John Kerry did.

The Saudi, Iranian and Turkish regimes all kill and torture people, including journalists, but unlike the others, the Saudi regime under the young crown prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) is at least undertaking some reform steps in the right direction (allowing women to drive, opening cinemas, and so on). Among the many human rights outrages in Turkey, hundreds of innocent children remain in prison. Video here.

The West should be wary of forcing the king to replace MbS with a more conservative crown prince who won’t take such measures. However, as Elliott Abrams argues, the crown prince needs to broaden his circle of advisors to include persons who would encourage greater reform and curtail the kind of horrendous abuse we have witnessed that led to the murder of Khashoggi.



Why Are Some pro-Israel Voices Speaking Out Against Jamal Khashoggi?
Notably, the mainstream pro-Israel groups, like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the Anti-Defamation League, were not joining in the attacks, and Israeli officials were silent as well
By Ron Kampeas
October 22, 2018

Two weeks after he disappeared, Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi Washington Post columnist, is getting his reputation run through a wringer, and some pro-Israel voices are joining the pile-on.

Even as gruesome allegations emerge that he was tortured, murdered and dismembered after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, some Israel supporters have joined other figures on the right in describing Khashoggi as a terrorist sympathizer and fierce opponent of Israel. Their goal appears to be to counter a portrait of Khashoggi as a Saudi reformer and free speech activist, and perhaps derail pressure building on the White House to punish Saudi Arabia for his disappearance and presumed murder.

Notably, the mainstream pro-Israel groups, like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee, were not joining in the attacks, and Israeli officials were silent as well.

Purveyors of the attacks on Khashoggi said they wanted to set the record straight. Other observers suggested that the public fight over Khashoggi’s reputation has to do with a number of issues central to the latest crisis in U.S.-Saudi relations: cultivating Saudi cooperation in the diplomatic fight against Iran, keeping the Saudis on board the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and maintaining the kingdom as a bulwark against violent forms of radical Islam.


The hits on Khashoggi, deriding him as a radical Islamist and an anti-Semite, have emerged alongside gruesome reports by official Turkish sources about his disappearance: According to the Turkish reports, the U.S.-based columnist entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul for some paperwork ahead of his planned wedding to a Turkish national, and a team of 15 Saudi agents was waiting to torture and kill him.

As reported Friday in The Washington Post, the anti-Khashoggi narrative is emerging among hard-line conservatives and is being circulated in Republican congressional offices.

Donald Trump Jr. retweeted one of the earliest attacks on Khashoggi, from a correspondent for the PJ Media conservative website. The correspondent, Patrick Poole, had posted photos of interviews Khashoggi had conducted in the late 1980s with Osama bin Laden, who went on to found al-Qaeda and to plot the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

“I didn’t realize until yesterday that Jamal Khashoggi was the author of this notorious 1988 Arab News article of him tooling around Afghanistan with Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda co-founder Abdullah Azzam,” Poole tweeted on Oct. 12, 10 days after Khashoggi’s disappearance. “He’s just a democrat reformer journalist holding a RPG with jihadists.” A photo showed Khashoggi posing with a rocket-propelled grenade.

The interview was at a time when the Reagan administration was backing insurgents in Afghanistan. Khashoggi was indeed sympathetic to bin Laden (the Khashoggi and bin Laden families were close). When bin Laden launched terrorism operations against the West, however, Khashoggi disavowed him.

Other joined the fray. FrontPage mag, helmed by right-wing provocateur David Horowitz, ran an article the same day declaring, “Jamal Khashoggi blamed 9/11 on U.S. support for Israel.” The article cites a piece Khashoggi wrote in 2001 after the attacks, published in Arab News and the Guardian, in which Khashoggi sympathetically describes Saudi reactions to the attacks but does not outright endorse them.

Khashoggi’s piece falls short of blaming U.S. support for Israel for the attacks, although he says that Saudis saw the Sept. 11 attacks as of a piece with Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians – a posture that would offend Israelis and many Americans. When Khashoggi does express his opinion, it is to condemn bin Laden for targeting civilians.

On Oct. 17, the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s European office sent out a release titled “Wiesenthal Centre Exposes Jamal Khashoggi Antisemitic Tweets.”

“The Wiesenthal Centre expresses its horror and revulsion at the presumed gruesome murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi,” the release said. “In a search, however, of his official Twitter account, Simon Wiesenthal Centre Director for International Relations, Dr. Shimon Samuels, discovered the following tweets of 16 October 2015.” Samuels is a respected analyst who monitors extremism on the left and the right. “If you have a tweet and it is of interest and in the public domain, it shouldn’t be hidden,” Samuels told JTA.

In the tweets, Khashoggi denies any Jewish connection to the land of Israel, and says the Western Wall was a Muslim construction – a false narrative that infuriates Israelis, and is commonplace in the region, particularly among Palestinians.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the Wiesenthal Center’s Los Angeles-based associate dean, told JTA that Samuels’ post was premature. “It could be that Shimon in Europe is not as sensitive” to the repercussions of Khashoggi’s reported murder, he said. “There’s a lot of appropriate anger” at the Saudis. At a later date, the center might publish a fuller and nuanced account of Khashoggi’s life and influence, Cooper said.

Josh Block, the CEO of The Israel Project has posted multiple tweets implicating Khashoggi in an array of terrorist activities. On Oct. 18, Block quoted a New Yorker article describing Khashoggi as a journalist, and commented, “Uh, U mean frontman for Islamists & paid spook for Qatar, Turkey & Turki al Faisal, whose ‘journalism’ was a cover for his real work, just as he wrapped his Islamist ideas in flowery language of ‘human rights’ as he praised Hamas & called for Israel to be destroyed by violence.” Block declined to comment and his sources are not clear. Following publication of this article, he tweeted: “Noting his anti-Semitic views & close ties 2 radical Islamists (w/whom he spent his final week in London) & his ties to the financiers of Hamas [Al Qaeda] ISIS etc, is about preventing whitewash of history.”

What is motivating the attacks on Khashoggi? Some possibilities:


Some accounts in mainstream media have suggested that Khashoggi was a more complex figure than the reformer that his friends and allies have depicted.

“Several Muslim Brothers said this week that they always felt he was with them,” The New York Times reported, referring to the multinational Islamist group, the Muslim Brotherhood. “Many of his secular friends would not have believed it.”

If Khashoggi was a member of the pre-eminent Islamist organization in the Middle East, his critics charge, whitewashing that affiliation is a disservice to history, and helps elevate a group that should be marginalized.

“#Khashoggi did not deserve his fate,” tweeted David Reaboi, an analyst with a conservative think tank, Security Studies Group. “That said, the misrepresentation of his Islamist views as championing ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ is a repulsive whitewash.”

“[U]nless you are rooting for an Islamist Middle East, it seems doubtful that Khashoggi’s vision for the region was a big improvement over the agenda of the autocratic Saudis,” wrote Petra Marquardt-Bigman, a journalist, in an op-ed in Haaretz outlining Khashoggi’s sympathetic views on Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.

(Haaretz,October 21: “Jamal Khashoggi Was a Victim of Saudi Terror. He Was Also a Keen Supporter of Palestinian Terrorism” )

Tamara Cofman Wittes, a senior fellow at the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brooking Institution, knew Khashoggi for a decade. She warned against a simplistic take both on Khashoggi’s views and on the Muslim Brotherhood. The Muslim Brotherhood, she pointed out, is a presence in parliaments of U.S. allies in the region, like Jordan, and in the governments of allies like Morocco.

“The Muslim Brotherhood is in the mainstream,” Wittes said, and noted that Saudi hostility to the group was recent. For decades, Saudis welcomed and promoted the group.

“There was nothing out of the mainstream, nothing oppositional about being sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood in Saudi Arabia until a few years ago,” she said.


White House adviser Jared Kushner sees the Saudis, and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in particular, as key to advancing the Israeli-Palestinian peace proposal he hopes to unveil soon.

Right-wing pro-Israel figures have embraced Trump because he has embraced their outlook, moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and pulling out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, and now they may be returning the favor, said Michael Koplow, the policy director for the Israel Policy Forum, a group that backs the two-state solution.

Kushner has not revealed details of the plan, but right-wingers are hopeful that it rolls back many of the pro-Palestinian orthodoxies of past plans, including statehood as an outcome and a presence in Jerusalem’s Old City.


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has touted emerging ties with Saudi Arabia and other countries as validating his strategy of downplaying peace with the Palestinians, believing he can make Israel at home in the region without the Palestinians. Bin Salman was a key figure in this strategy.

“Much of the Israeli argument for the lack of Israel’s isolation hinges on the fact that Saudis are behind the scenes friendly in ways we couldn’t imagine before,” Koplow said.

Wittes was skeptical that Israeli officials have encouraged the efforts to puncture Khashoggi’s reputation. Instead, she said, the attacks seemed to be a result of the polarization on the American political scene, in which allies on the left or the right attack the other side in a way that does not necessarily serve their particular interests.

“What we’ve witnessed in American politics is this intense polarization, and when a stance is taken” by your side, “you tend to echo that without reflection on your interests,” she said.


Israel and the Trump administration see Saudi Arabia as key to containing the influence of Iran in the region. Some of the pundits highlighting Khashoggi’s Muslim Brotherhood past suspect that supporters of the Iran deal are behind an effort to smear the Saudis. Isolating the Saudis, they fear, would undercut support for the Trump administration’s hard line on Iran, and his rejection of the sanctions-relief-for-nuclear-rollback deal negotiated by Trump’s hated predecessor, President Barack Obama.

Khashoggi “made a tactical alliance with former Obama officials who seek to depict Trump’s pro-Saudi and anti-Iranian policy as a disaster,” Mike Doran of the conservative Hudson Institute and Tony Badran of the hawkish Foundation for Defense of Democracies, write this week in the New York Post. “Trump, in this view, is the enabler of a young, impetuous crown prince. Conflicts such as Yemen result from Saudi recklessness rather than Iranian expansionism.” Bin Salman has directed a bombing campaign against Iranian-backed forces in Yemen.

Daniel Shapiro, Obama’s ambassador to Israel, rejects the argument that confronting Iran is more important than dealing with Khashoggi’s murder.

“It has a whiff of trying to say this murder wasn’t as bad as it is because of the investment made in Saudia Arabia under [bin Salman] as a strategic anchor under the anti-Iran coalition,” Shapiro, a visiting fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies in Israel, said in an interview.

Groups that want Iran isolated, and quickly, are frustrated by the Khashoggi distraction, Shapiro said.

“If indeed the United States cannot conduct business as usual while this is unresolved, it puts at risk that whole kind of strategic concept Israel has counted on and strong opponents of Iran have counted on,” he said.



The Kingdom and the Power
How to punish Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
By Elliott Abrams
The Weekly Standard
October 20, 2018

While the details of Jamal Khashoggi’s death have not fully emerged, we know the essentials. He died at the hands of Saudi agents in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, and the decision to kidnap or kill him must have been taken at the top of the Saudi political structure. Whether crown prince Mohammed bin Salman asked “will no one rid me of this meddlesome journalist” or specified the methods to be used, he is responsible for Khashoggi’s death.

The Saudi decision to name several senior intelligence officials as sacrificial lambs will fool no one, and the official description – that Khashoggi died in a brawl with the 15 thugs surrounding him – beggars belief. On Friday night I (and no doubt thousands of others) received no less than five emails in English from the Saudi embassy explaining the new official line on Khashoggi, which is that “the discussions that took place between him and the persons with whom he met him during his visit to the Kingdom’s Consulate in Istanbul led to quarrels and an altercation, which tragically resulted in his death.” The official way forward, in addition to prosecuting some intelligence officials and agents, was naming a committee in response to the “urgent need to restructure the General Intelligence Presidency, and overhaul its rules and regulations, as well as, to determine its authorities and assess its procedures and powers within its administrative and ordered organizational sequence to ensure the proper functioning of its work and the determination of responsibilities.” Its chairman: Mohammed bin Salman.

In a cold assessment of this entire incident what leaps forward first is its dangerous stupidity. Khashoggi was a legal permanent resident of the United States, a Washington figure with a huge network of contacts, and a Washington Post columnist. Any harm to him – including “merely” his kidnapping and disappearance into prison or the holding of a show trial – would inevitably become a cause celebre and damage relations with the United States. It would also inevitably damage Mohammed bin Salman’s own reputation. So the decision to act against Khashoggi was a revelation of ignorance about the United States, impulsiveness, brutality, or all three. In the shadow of the Khashoggi killing we can now see the forcible detention of Lebanon’s prime minister, Sa’ad Hariri, last year as a prelude. It too revealed a thuggish approach and a remarkable lack of understanding of how such events would be viewed in the outside world. It is perhaps not coincidental that MbS, rare among Saudi princes, has spent his entire life in the kingdom and never lived or attended school in the West.

But even after the Hariri debacle, it seems that at the top of the Saudi pyramid there was no one with sufficient knowledge to advise against the assault on Khashoggi, sufficient power to stop it if MbS wanted it, or sufficient courage to disagree with him. So the decision was made and Khashoggi is dead. Now what?

The financiers and businessmen who canceled their trips to Riyadh were acting in part out of hypocrisy: They would all happily get on a plane to Beijing tomorrow. But their professional business judgment about investing in Saudi Arabia today is another matter, and they appear to share the conclusion of many diplomats and Western governments: What happened to Khashoggi is shocking not only in its brutality but because it reveals important facts about the Saudi government. MbS had told an attractive story: that under his leadership the Saudi regime was fast on the road to becoming modern and fully rationalized. Many of the steps he took fit very well in that official Saudi line. He has fully understood for example that they must become less dependent on oil, that their economy cannot prosper without a role for women, that the Wahhabi clergy are a menace to Saudi development, that royal family members must stop stealing the kingdom’s patrimony, and that Iran and not Israel is their enemy. All that was true a month ago and remains true. He is in many important ways a modernizer.

But the image that MbS so carefully built has been smashed. Everyone has been reminded there is no modernizing of the Saudi government, just the sometimes praiseworthy and sometimes disgraceful efforts of one 33-year-old man. Moreover, that man has decided that criticism is tantamount to treason. He has decided that to force the pace of change in the kingdom as he believes he must, all opposition must be crushed – whether it comes from within the royal family or elements of broader Saudi society. No doubt he sees himself as an enlightened despot who must seize all the reins of power or see the brighter future slip away.

This cannot work, for us or for Saudi Arabia. That conclusion is not based only on sentiment or on moral revulsion at what was done to Jamal Khashoggi, whom I knew, but on a realist view of Riyadh. It would not be fair to say that the current Saudi arrangements inevitably led to the gruesome scene in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, but that denouement was more a logical byproduct than an accident. The non-lethal versions were the detention of Hariri and more recently MbS’s bizarre assault on Canada when that nation’s foreign minister published one tweet criticizing Saudi human rights practices. MbS pushed the Canadian ambassador out, stopped flights between the two countries, pulled Saudi investments, and ordered all the thousands of Saudi students in Canada to leave immediately. Both times his reactions were impulsive and excessive, but nobody died – until now.

No single 33-year-old raised entirely inside the kingdom can possibly possess the knowledge of the world his government needs, any more than such a person can combine in himself all the elements needed for sound decisions – including the ability to discern the occasions when morality itself must determine a government’s decisions. But MbS has brutally made it clear that contrary opinions are unwanted and indeed will be punished.

Contrast the governance situation in the United Arab Emirates. The UAE is no more democratic than the kingdom and its human rights record leaves plenty to be desired. But Abu Dhabi is ruled by a group of full brothers in what amounts to a collective leadership, not governed by one young man. Those brothers are able to confer and debate, and one can say to another “that’s the dumbest damn idea I’ve ever heard” perhaps even as impolitely as that. And because the UAE is a federation, there are several ruling families whose interests and opinions must be taken into account before important decisions are made.

This leads us back to “now what?” An instant decision to cut off all arms sales to the kingdom, being pushed now by many Democrats in Congress, would not be sensible. The main beneficiaries of weakening U.S.-Saudi defense ties would be the regime in Iran, which is the enemy of both Saudi Arabia and the United States, and those who would happily sell whatever arms we do not – China and Russia, for example. Similarly, weakening intelligence ties will hurt not only the Saudis but the United States and our allies in dealing with terrorism. Steps that harm the Saudi economy are equally senseless as reactions to the killing of Jamal Khashoggi.

Instead, the United States should be demanding the kinds of changes that will prevent any future incident like the Khashoggi killing. Such changes would themselves be a punishment for MbS because they would mean his brief period of absolute power is over. Saudi Arabia is and will remain for some time an “absolute monarchy” but that does not mean that all power must be concentrated in one individual with zero checks and balances. Over the last 65 years (since the death of the founder of modern Saudi Arabia, Ibn Saud, in 1953) that was not the Saudi system. The experiment with one-man rule by the crown prince has failed; along with Jamal Khashoggi it died in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

MbS is today crown prince, deputy prime minister (the king always has the additional title of prime minister), defense minister, head of the Council for Economic and Development Affairs, head of the Council on Security and Political Affairs, and more. That arrangement is unprecedented for Saudi Arabia and is alien to every other Arab monarchy. Patterns vary: In Jordan and Morocco commoners serve as prime minister and the king fires them whenever he sees the need; in Kuwait, Qatar, and Bahrain, other members of the royal family but not the emirs and crown princes serve as prime minster. In Saudi Arabia the concentration of all power in the hands of one young man has very quietly been debated, but now the debate should be over. Whatever MbS loses in his ability to force through beneficial changes must be given up now, because unrestrained, unlimited power has too often been used badly.

The replacement of MbS as crown prince is a separate matter of royal politics. If the king has lost confidence in MbS, which I doubt, he will choose another son for that post now. Or possibly there is enough rebelliousness in the wider House of Saud to demand that the king take that step, or even to push the king himself aside on grounds of ill health. It has happened before: King Saud was forced out in 1964 in a power struggle with his brothers. The United States should not engage in the royal succession sweepstakes but we should state that our interests require a Saudi government with which we can work.

This is not a call for a coup but for a combination of American pressure and reasoning with the king – whose views will be crucial – and with the crown prince himself. The king chose him above three older sons and wants him to succeed to the throne and keep it for decades. We must tell him that that won’t happen unless Saudi Arabia replaces whims and ukases with something that looks like a government. (The king may have reached that conclusion himself; we won’t know until we try.) Nor will the kingdom attract the investment that it desperately requires unless the rule of law replaces the crown prince’s fiat. We must tell both of them that even in the cold world of business and international politics, the vicious murder of a journalist can change the image of a nation and a prince overnight. We should clearly express our moral outrage. And then we should then harness it – not to abandon Saudi Arabia, but to insist that Saudi Arabia move further away from gruesome violence, and start to create a system of governance and law that can truly modernize the country and sustain the alliance with it that we have had since 1945.


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What if ‘The Wire’ were set in Ramallah? (& Jewish-Arab celebrity wedding in Israel)

October 11, 2018

Fauda: “Why is this Israeli drama such a hit with Palestinians? because it tells the truth,” notes one British magazine


Former (Israeli-Jewish) special operations commando turned actor Tzachi Halevy (who plays Naor in Fauda) married Israeli-Arab TV news anchor Lucy Aharish last night in a small private ceremony in northern Israel. The pair have been together for four years, but their relationship was kept secret until yesterday so as not to arouse the anger of some members of her family.



[Note by Tom Gross]

I prepared a dispatch in June on the Israeli hit TV show Fauda (“your new favourite TV series” as the British magazine The Spectator calls it in the article below). But I didn’t send it then because of other more pressing news dispatches.

I attach four pieces below, including one from last week.

As James Delingpole writes in The Spectator:

“Yet amazingly the Palestinians love this Israeli series too. Or perhaps not so amazingly, because it does them the service of taking them seriously, even treating them with grudging respect. Their brooding killers are intelligent, capable, single-minded, devout – the ultimate expression of a culture which combines the Mafia’s obsession with honour, blood feuds and family loyalty with unswerving submission to the will of Allah.

“So apart from providing edge-of-seat entertainment, compelling character acting and location shots so atmospheric you wonder how they were ever able to film it (especially in places like Nablus), it gives you a far clearer understanding of what’s really going on in the Middle East than anything you’ll ever see on the BBC.”

In the second piece below, the influential American magazine Foreign Policy notes that:

“A hit TV series has found audiences among Israelis and Palestinians alike with its brutal honesty about the ugliness of war and the complexity of human life.”

It adds that Fauda is “a stunning Israeli drama that depicts not only an undercover unit chasing terrorists in the West Bank, but also the world of those terrorists themselves, complete with the wives, children, and mundane family matters that mark them as entirely human.”


“More than a television event, Fauda is also a political event,” wrote the bestselling Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot. “It’s much more than a successful action drama: It is authentic, honest, and painful.”

The program was embraced by nearly every media outlet in Israel, including the right wing, pro-Netanyahu newspaper Israel Hayom, which called it “relevant, exact, and thrilling.”

Viewers in Palestinian cities in the West Bank and Gaza have also been hooked on the show.

Whereas other Israeli-originated TV hits such as “Homeland” have earned Emmys in the U.S., this show – which was originally shown on Israeli TV but then bought by Netflix – is considered much more authentic.

Hamas has even promoted Fauda on its various websites for example, here:

A rare media exception that was less than fully enthusiastic about Fauda was (predictably) the New York Times. In a front-page article in its international edition earlier this year, the paper managed to misrepresent the show and criticize Israel.

Another detractor was the hard left Israel-born critic of Israel, Rachel Shabi, writing in The Guardian who (unlike Hamas) didn’t think the show was sufficiently sympathetic to the Palestinians.



Meanwhile one of the (Jewish) stars of Fauda, actor Tzachi Halevy, wed Israeli-Arab TV news anchor Lucy Aharish yesterday evening in a small private ceremony in northern Israel.

The pair has been together for four years, though their relationship was kept out of the media glare.

Marriages between Jews and Arabs are relatively rare in Israel, but there has been a very positive reaction by most people in Israel this morning after the couple announced their wedding last night.

(Even more rare is journalistic restraint in Israel, yet the many reporters who knew about the relationship agreed not to report on it out of respect for the couple’s privacy. Aharish had made a special request to keep the relationship a secret so as not to arouse the anger of some members of her family.)

Aharish, who currently hosts a program for Israeli channel Reshet 13, previously served as an anchor for Israeli Channel 2 (in Hebrew) and for i24 (in English).

I have been interviewed by her on several occasions, for example, here, here and here.

Aharish has repeatedly criticized Arab leaders for abandoning Syrian refugees now living in abysmal conditions in the Greek island of Lesbos and elsewhere, calling them “traitors” for example, here.

Halevy, a former special operations commando turned actor is best known for his role as Naor in Fauda. Most recently, he portrayed Libyan dictator Muammar Gadaffi in the Netflix film The Angel.



Why is this Israeli drama such a hit with Palestinians? Because it tells the truth
Unlike most American drama series, Fauda isn’t there to make friends

By James Delingpole
Television columnist
The Spectator magazine (London)
June 9, 2018

‘The rule in our household is: if a TV series hasn’t got subtitles, it’s not worth watching,’ a friend told me the other day. Once this approach would have been both extremely limiting and insufferably pompous. In the era of Netflix and Amazon Prime, though, it makes a lot of sense.

There’s something about English-speaking TV – especially if it’s made in the US – that tends towards disappointment. Obviously there have been exceptions: The Sopranos; Band of Brothers; Breaking Bad; Game of Thrones. But too often, what’s missing is that shard of ice in the creative heart that drama needs if it’s to be truly exceptional.

American drama is a slobbering puppy dog. No matter how dark or weird its subject matter, there’s invariably a fatal moment where it suddenly rolls over onto its back and begs you to tickle its tummy. Its urge to show you how secretly lovable it is is more powerful than its desire to be great art. Perhaps I’ll go into more detail on another occasion but The Looming Tower and Ozark are both victims of this tendency.

Fauda (Netflix), on the other hand, doesn’t give a shit whether you think it’s caring or sharing or has a wholesome moral core. It’s Israeli. It’s not there to make friends. Or take prisoners. And as a result it’s honest, true, gripping, real – and definitely your new favourite TV series.

You can see immediately why it has been a huge hit in Israel. It’s a thrillingly gritty series about an undercover Israeli Defence Force intelligence unit whose job is to fight mostly Palestinian terrorists. There’s moody, downbeat ox-like Doron (played by Lior Raz who, before becoming an actor, did this sort of thing for real); handsome Mickey Moreno; ludicrously hot Nurit; careworn but pragmatic Captain Ayub. They’re tough, fit, committed, brave; their banter is terse; they love one another like family; they’re the defenders of their fragile, perpetually threatened civilisation.

And, by extension, of our civilisation. Their womenfolk are bareheaded, open, sexually promiscuous; they drink beer and smoke bongs at barbecues; their bars serve the same array of spirits, play the same dance music, entertain the same beautiful young things you’d find in London, Paris, New York, Tokyo; they’re religious, some of them, but not oppressively so. Life is good, the economy is booming, the future is bright.

Not so the world on the other side of the wall – so alien it might as well be Mordor or the land of the Wildlings and the White Walkers. The men all chain smoke (about the only thing they have in common with the Jews), but drink only endless sugary drinks (coffee or juice) or water. Women lurk mainly in the background, behind veils. Homes are much shabbier, except when you’re senior in Hamas which buys you a bit of bling. The general mood is one of sexual repression, simmering resentment, dogged piety – enlivened only by the constant threat of violence. You really wouldn’t want this world view to end up the winner.

Yet amazingly the Palestinians love this series too. Or perhaps not so amazingly, because it does them the service of taking them seriously, even treating them with grudging respect. Their brooding killers are intelligent, capable, single-minded, devout – the ultimate expression of a culture which combines the Mafia’s obsession with honour, blood feuds and family loyalty with unswerving submission to the will of Allah.

So apart from providing edge-of-seat entertainment (drawn-out scenes of unbearable tension suddenly bursting into car chases or shoot-outs or explosions), compelling character acting and location shots so atmospheric you wonder how they were ever able to film it (especially in places like Nablus), it gives you a far clearer understanding of what’s really going on in the Middle East than anything you’ll ever see on the BBC.

One thing you’ll quickly notice – and for goodness’ sake, watch it in Hebrew and Arabic with English subtitles, not in the dubbed version – is the extraordinary degree to which Arab culture is defined by religion. Besides all the praying and visits to the mosque which punctuate the day, every greeting and every expression of hope implicitly or explicitly invokes God (‘Inshallah’, etc). Even a trip to the hairdresser isn’t complete without the blessing to the barber ‘may God bless your hands’.

If it hadn’t been made in Israel, I suspect more effort might have been made to sanitise, prettify or otherwise westernise this culture in order to make the Palestinians more ‘sympathetic’. Fauda takes the more respectful path of simply showing things as they are: two peoples, often so similar in appearance you cannot tell them apart, often fluent in each other’s languages, yet utterly and impossibly riven by a set of inimical values derived from a wholly different religious and cultural mind set. Sadly, this one is going to run and run.



What if ‘The Wire’ Were Set in Ramallah?

A hit TV series has found audiences among Israelis and Palestinians alike with its brutal honesty about the ugliness of war and the complexity of human life.

By Debra Kamin
May 29, 2015
Foreign Policy magazine

TEL AVIV, Israel – For 20 years, the Israeli actor Lior Raz has had the same dream.

He is chasing a terrorist down a long hallway, or an alley, or perhaps a dark street. The terrorist turns and pulls a gun from his hip. Raz, in the nick of time, pulls his own weapon and squeezes the trigger. But something is wrong with the gun. Instead of hitting their target, the bullets fall short, clattering to the ground like harmless pebbles. Raz is then left stranded, trapped by his own unconsciousness, the cold metal taste of death slowly seeping into his mouth.

It’s a nightmare, Raz says, that is common among veterans of the Israeli Special Forces.

Some special forces soldiers are trained in intelligence gathering, while others are navy commandos or highly-skilled aerial fighters. But the most famed among Israelis are the mista’arvim, the deep-cover officers who speak accent-free Arabic and can slip unnoticed into the heart of enemy territory.

Military service is mandatory for Israeli citizens, and Raz served out his in one such special forces unit. He speaks fluent Arabic, and has years of training in the customs, mannerisms, and dress of the Palestinians. Like most of his fellow mista’arvim soldiers, his relationship with the Arab world is complicated. These soldiers understand that to infiltrate Palestinian society, you must do more than just study your enemy. You must also learn to love him.

Now, two decades after completing his service as a special forces officer, Raz, 43, is applying his training to an entirely different target: Israeli television audiences.

Alongside journalist and Arab affairs specialist Avi Issacharoff, who himself was also stationed in the West Bank during his military service, Raz created Fauda, a stunning Israeli drama that depicts not only an undercover unit chasing terrorists in the West Bank, but also the world of those terrorists themselves, complete with the wives, children, and mundane family matters that mark them as entirely human. Raz also stars in the series.

The program, which premiered in Israel on Feb. 15 and wrapped up its first season earlier this month, marks a departure for Israeli entertainment. Such an even handling of Israelis and Palestinians is radical for television here, where dramas traditionally stay rooted in the Israeli perspective – or avoid the conflict altogether.

With a majority of Arabic dialogue, a cast packed with Arab actors, and a plot line that makes it clear that both sides are as complicated as they are culpable, Raz and Issacharoff have taken the black-and-white narrative of Israel and its enemies and spun it into all kinds of gray. In war, the show insists, you don’t know if you are right or wrong. You only know your orders.

Raz plays Doron, the commander of an undercover mista’arvim unit who has retired from action and is attempting to bury his demons by working a vineyard in central Israel with his wife. When the unit gets wind that a Palestinian arch-terrorist Doron thought he had killed is in fact alive and hiding underground, he agrees to rejoin them for one final mission.

The terrorist, Abu Ahmed, is responsible for the deaths of 116 Israelis, but he also has a little brother who is about to get married. In the show’s pilot episode, the team has a hunch that Abu Ahmed will risk his cover in order to attend the wedding, so they cook up a complicated undercover mission to infiltrate the hall where the celebration will take place. By the end of the episode, Doron, out of shape after 18 months crushing grapes and living the easy life, gasps for breath as he chases Abu Ahmed down a dark back alley in a village north of Ramallah. He keels over, pulls his weapon, and fires. But the terrorist is too fast, and much like in Raz’s dream, the bullets fall short. Abu Ahmed yet again slips away.

“I know that I had post-traumatic [issues],” Raz says of his time after the army while sipping carrot juice at a bustling Tel Aviv café. Trim but heavy-jowled, he is sporting the same second-day stubble that his character wore all season. “And you know, to heal trauma, many people go to a psychologist and they talk about the trauma. But I didn’t just talk about it. I relived it in the show, again and again.”

Raz’s mission may have been personal, but Fauda has struck a nerve with millions of other Israelis. It has seen week-on-week growth on the Israeli cabler YES, and is now the most-watched program in that platform’s 15-year history. YES, which holds the Israeli rights to HBO programs and other major dramas, reports that Fauda grabbed 60 percent of Israeli viewers, while Game of Thrones and House of Cards, both of which have passionate followings in Israel – earned only 31 percent and 8 percent, respectively.

Weekend news magazines have splashed the show’s characters on their covers, and the program’s white-knuckle plot twists – including suicide bombings, hostage negotiations, and all the other things that Middle Eastern nightmares are made of – are parsed out over office water coolers and in cafés.

“[Fauda is] more than a television event, Fauda is also a political event,” a critic wrote in the Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot on May 4. “It’s much more than a successful action drama: It is authentic, honest, and painful.”

The program was embraced by nearly every television critic in the country; even the staunchly right-wing, pro-Netanyahu newspaper Israel Hayom called it “relevant, exact, and thrilling,” and a piece on popular web portal called it “an almost perfect depiction of the insane entanglement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

But Israel has had cult-status TV hits before. Long before In Treatment and Homeland earned Emmys for wowing U.S. audiences, their Israeli predecessors B’Tipul and Hatufim were breaking their own records on Israeli screens. What sets Fauda apart is that, like its storyline, the craze isn’t stuck on one side of the border. Viewers in Palestinian cities in the West Bank and Gaza are also hooked on the show.

Raz and Issacharoff have allowed full episodes of Fauda to flourish on YouTube and downloading sites, which has created a major following among Palestinian audiences. Arab Israelis, who make up 20 percent of Israel’s population but rarely watch its mainstream television offerings, are also tuning in, and sharing their feedback – some good, some bad, but almost all of it passionate – on online message boards and Raz’s own Facebook page.

Posts on the official Facebook page for the show are peppered with comments from both Arabs and Jews. One Arab viewer, born in northern Israel and now living in Jerusalem, called Fauda, “A sad reality,” adding, “I hope the day will come when Arabs and Jews can live together in peace.”

On Raz’s Facebook page, the praise continues. An Israeli from just outside Tel Aviv wrote to Raz, “We watched the entire series in three days. Because we couldn’t excuse our ignorance anymore. Well done! A wonderful show. The saddest part? The similarity. The enemy who seems loving and the loving one who seems to be the enemy … The humanity you showed in these well-rounded characters tugs on all the heartstrings, on both sides of the [separation] barrier.”

Even the militant organization Hamas, which is given a blistering treatment in the show, has inadvertently boosted ratings. Hamas posted a notice on its own website decrying the show as Israeli propaganda, but in doing so included a hyperlink to a site where the episodes could be streamed for free.

Because the show’s dialogue is so heavy in Arabic, and the cast features so many beloved Palestinian actors, the show has resonated with Arabs on both sides of the Green Line. And in doing so, it has shown them Israeli soldiers who are not just enemy combatants, but fully-formed characters with siblings, stunted love affairs, and dignities they wish to protect. They are in Palestinian streets and speaking in Palestinian dialects, but beneath their deep cover there are rich and compelling backstories.

“This show cut me to my bone,” one young Arab woman wrote on Raz’s Facebook page. “It’s shocking,” she said, explaining that she had never looked at either Jews or Arabs in the way the show portrays them. “I felt like it gave me a slap in my face, and I felt it in my soul.”

For Issacharoff, who reports routinely from the West Bank and is regarded in Israel as one of the nation’s most respected analysts on Arab affairs, Fauda was a chance to force Israelis and Palestinians to look more closely at each other.

“I’m trying to educate Israelis, to give them more knowledge about these soldiers and the way they fight, and I’m also trying to tell the story of Palestinians. The average Israeli, when he hears the word ‘Palestinian,’ he just thinks terrorist. I’m an Israeli and a Jew, but because of my personal background I know there is much more to the story of both sides,” he says.

Many of the show’s scenes gnaw at Israeli taboos about ethics and reverence for the military. In a country where nearly everyone is a soldier and every year seems to bring a new war, even most left-leaning citizens see the army as their protector. While Fauda never challenges this narrative, it does scratch relentlessly at Israelis’ image of their soldiers, digging beneath the uniform to reveal the knotty realities below.

In episode seven, deep into a subplot that sees Doron and his team going rogue and kidnapping a Palestinian sheikh to save one of their own soldiers, Nurit, the unit’s sole female member, starts to question whether the moral potholes she is being asked to maneuver are worth it. She steps outside of the team’s safe house, her pretty face streaked with tears, and turns to Avichai, a grizzled older member of the team, to ask him for advice.

Nurit: I don’t know how you guys do it. How?

Avichai: Did you ever see a fight dog get an order to attack? Did you, Nurit?

Nurit: Yes … he gets the command and immediately attacks.

Avichai: Exactly. He does it immediately. Nothing else matters to him. He pounces with the aim to kill. He doesn’t care if his head gets chopped off doing it. We, Nurit, are just like those attack dogs. That’s how we were trained …We were trained not to think. You know why? Because if I stop to think about [my son] for just a split second, I’ll become petrified with fear. I won’t be able to move.

Nurit: I don’t want that to happen to me. It’s like being dead.

Avichai: Then you don’t belong here. You’re putting us at risk.

The show is equally blistering in its handling of Palestinian characters. In a later episode, Abu Ahmed – cornered, desperate, and with his legacy at risk – decides that the life of his own daughter is less important than the execution of a mission. He issues a near-unspeakable order, and his subordinate, a pimpled Palestinian teen who reeks of unchecked ambition, waffles under the weight of what he is being asked to carry out. But then he remembers his training. Like an attack dog, he pounces with the aim to kill.

“You see that everybody is much more complicated than the posters we like to show,” Raz says, sitting in a Tel Aviv café just days before the finale of Fauda’s first season is set to air. “It’s not just the bad guys are the bad guys and the good guys are the good guys. The narrative is Israeli, yes, but if there’s a terrorist, he may be a scumbag and I may hate him, but he still has a wife and he has kids, and what he does affects his family. It’s here that you get the real story.”



‘Fauda’ screenwriter faces his next chaotic challenge: BDS on American campuses

Fresh from his success on the Israeli TV show, Moshe Zonder is teaching a screenwriting course at Rutgers University

By Curt Schleier
October 3, 2018

(JTA) Moshe Zonder noticed it quickly: “My students are completely serious. They are writing. They are doing the assignments. All of them. It’s great teaching here.”

Zonder shouldn’t be that surprised. For an aspiring screenwriter, who better to study with than the man who wrote the entire first season of “Fauda” – the controversial international Israeli hit that airs on Netflix in the United States?

Zonder is spending the fall semester teaching a course called Screenwriting and Television at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. It’s part of the Schusterman Visiting Israeli Artists Program, which brings Israeli artists to American universities and other cultural institutions.

“Fauda,” whose second season launched worldwide in May, is the Arabic word for chaos. And that’s what viewers experience. It is centered on an elite Israeli undercover military unit whose members pose as Arabs, cross into the West Bank, and use harsh and often deadly violence to root out terrorists. It’s at once exciting and depressing, leaving the impression that there is no hope of a peaceful resolution to the contentious divide.

Zonder was involved in the show from the beginning, when creators Lior Raz (who also plays the show’s lead character, Doron Kavillio) and Avi Issacharoff first tried to sell it. The process took over four years, Zonder said in a telephone interview.

The reluctance of Israeli networks to air the show is perhaps understandable. The trio had created a story arc that involves a morally compromised Israeli counterterrorism unit that lives by its own rules, indiscriminately shooting Palestinians, invading their homes and kidnapping them.

What’s most frightening is that “Fauda” seems to reflect the reality on the ground. It has been reported that Raz served in Duvdevan, an elite commando force known for posing as Arabs. Zonder spent years as an investigative reporter covering the Mossad and the Shin Bet, Israel’s security services.

“Of course the world we describe is totally realistic, although the characters are from our imagination,” Zonder said.

“Fauda” also has been noted for putting a human face on Arabs living in the West Bank, including terrorists. Zonder was a big part of that daring move.

“I felt – how to say?” Zonder then asked his wife in Hebrew to translate a phrase. “I don’t know exactly how to say this in English. Members of Hamas didn’t exist as real human beings [for some Israelis], and I wanted them to have a wife and kids they loved that they cannot [visit and] see. It is a motive [for their behavior] that you can understand.

“This was something of a revolution. There were no such characters in TV before.”

Zonder said it was his intention to humanize them.

“The creators all went along with me,” he said. “We all felt this way.”

In his view, the show has another distinguishing characteristic.

“There isn’t any hero in the sense of a good guy or a bad guy,” Zonder said. “Life is more complicated. There is a protagonist and an antagonist – Doron is the protagonist and Abu Ahmad [Hisham Suliman] is the antagonist.

“It’s not that Doron is good and Abu Ahmad is bad. … It was important for me as an Israeli to show that members of the Hamas military wing have their families and their motives. They are not [totally] evil. This is the basis of the DNA of the first season of ‘Fauda.’”

The show has been praised for this refreshing perspective and equally for its gripping plot. Palestinian writer Yasmeen Serhan wrote in The Atlantic in June that, despite her qualms with watching a show about the conflict from an Israeli perspective, it is “binge-worthy TV.”

“Fauda” was a surprise hit in Israel and, subsequently, in much of the rest of the world.

“The settlers loved it. Even Hamas,” Zonder said. “Their spokesman posted online that ‘the Zionists could not kill us in the field, so they’re killing us on TV.’ Then they put a link to the first episode on their website.”

In March, the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel insisted that Netflix drop the series, claiming it “promotes and legitimizes the war crimes committed by death squads.” It may, in fact, do the exact opposite, and give even the staunchest Israeli supporter pause about tactics used by the Israeli military.

Before “Fauda,” Zonder wrote the multi-award-winning docudrama “Sabena Hijacking: My Version,” about the 1997 hijacking of a Sabena Airlines flight and the rescue of its passengers. It was Israel’s entry in the 2015 Academy Awards’ best documentary race.

Between classes, he’s at work writing another docudrama, about the Mossad’s Operation Wrath of God (aka Operation Bayonet) – the effort to kill the terrorists responsible for the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre (it was depicted onscreen in Steven Spielberg’s film “Munich”).

Zonder came to Rutgers at about the same time the federal government reopened its case charging that the school failed to respond to discrimination aimed at Jewish students. A suit by the Zionist Organization of America alleges that organizers of a pro-Palestinian event singled out Jewish students by charging them admission for the free event.

If BDS protesters were to show up when he speaks at Rutgers, Zonder said he wouldn’t argue with them.

“I must tell you I’m really not a hero, but I would like to meet with [them],” he said. “I’m prepared to hear what they have to say in case they are ready to listen, too. Otherwise not.”



What Critics Left and Right Get Wrong About ‘Fauda’
The show’s depiction of visceral hatred and common humanity makes it truly great
By Josef Joffe
Tablet magazine
June 11, 2018

If a Jew sympathetic to Israel and a pro-Palestinian critic writing for the Guardian both dislike the Netflix hit Fauda, now in its second season, it can’t be all bad. In fact, it is a series that like Homeland and Breaking Bad has cracked the mold and pushed the genre into uncharted TV territory.

Which binge watcher could have predicted the bizarre success of a shoot-‘em-up where they speak only Hebrew and Arabic, with tiny subtitles in English? Made with a modest budget by U.S. standards, Fauda (Arabic for “chaos”) does without Hollywood’s bag of shticks. There are no romantic vistas like Breaking Bad’s New Mexico skies–morning, day and starry night. Just the dusty roads of the West Bank and the treacherous warrens of Nablus. Why plunge into the nightmare of Middle East politics where, no matter how gingerly you tread, you are bound to offend one or the other side?

Writing in Tablet, Simon Israel Feuerman, pooh-poohs Fauda for showing the wrong kind of Jews. These are neither the “gentle, learned scholars“ his mother taught him to revere, nor the ”new Zionist heroes negating the old nebbishy Jewish stereotypes.“ Fauda’s main character, Doron, a member of an IDF hit team operating in the West Bank, is merely a “curious new form of the Jew as shlemiel.” He is a confused, angry dude who should be in therapy instead of roaming the Kasbah of Nablus with a Glock in his waistband.

Doron’s wife cheats on him with a colleague, and he takes up with Shirin, a proud Palestinian princess right out of A Thousand and One Nights, but with an M.D. degree and a perfect command of French. Blindly obsessive in his quest to take down the Hamas or ISIS bad guy du jour, Doron keeps violating his commander’s orders, botching the team’s missions and leaving a trail of mayhem behind. Feuerman calls him a “shmendrik,” a bungler and boob.

Yet Doron, like so many flawed heroes, is anything but a shmuck, to add yet another sh-word. Hounded by demons, he just has to kill the abominable Hamas top operative Abu Ahmad, aka “The Panther,” in the first season. In the second, he goes after the self-appointed ISIS leader, al-Makdasi. An aside: The murderous Makdasi (Firas Nassar) makes a better heart-throb with his moist eyes and seductive smile than Omar Sharif in his glory days..

To do what he has to do–to avenge his father, who has been decapitated by Makdasi on camera, Doron lies, betrays, and tortures. Meanwhile, his buddies, only slightly less adrenaline-driven, regularly go mano-a-mano with one another, fired up by jealousy or rivalry. The only balanced person in the anti-terror group is a woman, Nurit. A taciturn pro, she kills out of necessity, not fear or fury.

Shlemiels and shmendriks are victims, predestined losers. They don’t set elaborate traps, nor do they threaten their captives with immolation to make them talk. This is the West Bank, not a shtetl in the Pale where Jews had no choice but to cower before the Cossacks. These “shlemiels” are in fact third-generation Zionists who fight like their forefathers did–except with drones and data bases, not with home-made Sten machine guns.

Writing in the Guardian, Rachel Shabi, an Israel-born critic of Israel, gets it wrong, too–or “right” if you believe in the moral obtuseness of the Israelis and the justice of the Palestinian cause. Yes, the series makes an effort at evenhandedness, Shabi concedes. But it is still “overwhelmingly narrated from an Israeli viewpoint.” The “Israeli occupation is nowhere to be seen–there is no wall, no settlers, no house demolitions [and] none of the everyday brutalities of life under occupation.”

This is a generic critique that affirms the author’s political bona fides. Yet to castigate Fauda for ignoring the occupation, which is actually the backdrop for every episode, is like faulting Richard III for failing to condemn the squalor and misery of 15th century England. These were indeed nasty times. But Shakespeare wanted to make a different point. Richard is about treachery, murder and unbounded ambition–about universal human traits.

For Fauda, the occupation is a given, hence not the core of the story. What distinguishes the series from a run of the mill tale of Good & Evil, is its ambivalence and its ever-changing perspective as the narrative switches back and forth between Israelis and Palestinians. That is its claim to originality and excellence.

How shall we count the ways?

To begin, the protagonists look, walk, dress and speak the same, with Palestinians and Israeli switching smoothly from Hebrew to Arabic, and vice versa. Their common bond are those classic Arabic swear words centering on the sexual depravity of one’s mother. It doesn’t require a subtle mind to get the subtext: Look how alike we are.

Nor does Fauda squelch the voices of the Palestinian. They keep articulating their grievances and their claims to justice. They love their children, and they cry over their fallen. No black and white hats here. The Jews defend their homeland; the Arab kill because they want one. Both sides believe they are in the right, though the Hamas types also invoke Allah. Both feast and fornicate. They have families and rebellious sons. In-group power struggles keep overwhelming the existential national conflict. They go after each other as they plot their next attack on the enemy.

Those uber-clever Israelis regularly screw up–out of ignorance or arrogance. They form friendships with their next-door Muslim neighbors. Captain Gabi Ayub, who directs the Israeli team, develops a respectful, indeed affectionate relationship with Abu Maher, the head of Palestinian Preventive Security, one of the Palestinian Authority’s many domestic spy agencies. Ayub and Abu Maher share intelligence over cups of high-octane Arab coffee, trying to figure out how to best their common foe, be it Hamas or ISIS. To drive ISIS from the West Bank, even Hamas cooperates with the Israelis.

There is no insoluble enmity, the second season whispers–though interspersed with unimaginable cruelty. There is visceral hatred, but also a common humanity, which is a far cry from Rachel Shabi’s “Blame Israel” stock-in-trade. These operatives pontificate about blood-for-blood, honor and vengeance, but they are all caught in a conflict that deforms their souls. Israeli hasbara–PR–Fauda ist not.

“I won’t watch Fauda,” avers Feuerman in his closing sentence. You will watch it, once you turn on the first episode and binge your way through the second season. With Kevin Spacey having been fired from House of Cards, there is nothing more gripping on the screen than Fauda. Alas, it will take a few months before the third season is released. The best way to suffer through the wait is to re-watch Homeland, which is based on the Israeli series Prisoners of War.

(Josef Joffe teaches international politics at Stanford)


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America’s first female president? (& Inside the top-secret Israeli anti-terrorism operation that’s changing the game)

October 09, 2018



[Note by Tom Gross]

I attach an article from the forthcoming November issue of Vanity Fair below.

But first my initial quick take on Nikki Haley’s surprise announcement a few minutes ago that she would step down as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations at the end of this year.

Haley has been the best UN ambassador for decades. She has been fearless about speaking truth to despots and dictators the world over – and to the often corrupt and undemocratic UN itself.

In her resignation press conference she appeared to be in complete harmony with President Trump, who afforded her the honor of inviting her to sit in the chair in the Oval office normally reserved for visiting heads of state.

My guess is that Haley probably wants plenty of time to plan strategically and carefully for a 2024 presidential run.

And it would not surprise me if Haley does indeed become America’s first female president.

Born Nimrata “Nikki” Randhawa, in January 1972, she previously served as Governor of South Carolina, and is the second Indian-American, after Bobby Jindal, to serve as a governor in the United States. (Both are Republicans.)



There is also speculation that Jeff Sessions could be pushed out as Attorney General after next month’s midterms and replaced by Lindsey Graham, opening up a Senate seat in Haley’s native South Carolina.

Even though the UN job meant she was an administration insider, domestic politics (and the Senate in particular) is a much better foundation for going up the political ladder, to the White House.



Insiders tell me that President Trump is considering asking former White House National Security aide Dina Habib Powell, who is an Egyptian-American, to replace Haley.

Powell, a fluent Arabic speaker who was born in Cairo and spoke no English when she arrived in the US as a child with her parents, was a key player in helping Trump formulate his Middle East policy in his first year in office. She is close to both Haley and to Trump’s special advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner. She is a Coptic Christian.



Governments around the world are quietly turning to YAMAM, Israel’s special police force, for help with their most intractable security problems. And now, elite commandos publicly reveal the tactics that have made it one of the most fearsome counterterrorism units in the world.

By Adam Ciralsky
Vanity Fair
November 2018

(The author Adam Ciralsky is long term subscriber to this list.)

On a spring evening in late April, I traveled to a fortified compound in the Ayalon Valley between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. The location is not identified on Waze, the Israeli-built navigation tool, and so, as far as my app-addled cabdriver was concerned, it does not exist. Then again, the same could be said for its inhabitants: YAMAM, a band of counterterror operatives whose work over the last four decades has been shrouded in secrecy.

Upon arrival at the group’s headquarters, which has all the architectural warmth of a supermax, I made my way past a phalanx of Israeli border police in dark-green battle-dress uniforms and into a blastproof holding pen where my credentials were scanned, my electronic devices were locked away, and I received a lecture from a counter-intelligence officer who was nonplussed that I was being granted entrée to the premises. “Do not reveal our location,” he said. “Do not show our faces. And do not use our names.” Then he added, grimly, and without a hint of irony, “Try to forget what you see.”


YAMAM is the world’s most elite and busiest – force of its kind, and its expertise is in high demand in an era when ISIS veterans strike outside their remaining Middle East strongholds and self-radicalized lone wolves emerge to attack Western targets. “Today, after Barcelona,” says Gilad Erdan, who for the past three years has been Israel’s minister for public security, “after Madrid, after Manchester, after San Bernardino – everyone needs a unit like YAMAM.” More and more, the world’s top intelligence and police chiefs are calling on YAMAM (a Hebrew acronym that means “special police unit”). During his first month on the job, recalls Erdan, “I got requests from 10 countries to train together.”

I made my way to the office of YAMAM’s 44-year-old commander, whose name is classified. I am therefore obliged to refer to him by an initial, “N,” as if he were a Bond character. N’s eyes are different colors (the result of damage sustained during a grenade blast). His shaved head and hulking frame give him the vibe of a Jewish Vin Diesel. At his side, he keeps an unmuzzled, unbelievably vicious Belgian shepherd named Django.

ast fall, Israeli officials agreed to provide Vanity Fairunprecedented access to some of YAMAM’s activities, facilities, and undercover commandos. When I asked N why his superiors had chosen to break with their predecessors’ decades of silence, he gave an uncharacteristically sentimental response: “It’s important for operators’ families to hear about our successes.” (Field “operators,” as they are called, are exclusively male; women sometimes serve in intelligence roles.) N does not discount less magnanimous reasons for cooperating, however.

First, YAMAM has devised new methodologies for responding to terrorist incidents and mass shootings, which it is sharing with its counterparts across the globe. (More on this shortly.) Second, Israel, as an occupying power, faces international condemnation for its heavy-handed approach toward the Palestinians; as a result, some top officials evidently felt it was time to reveal the fact that governments – including a few of Israel’s more vocal critics on the world stage – often turn to them, sotto voce, for help with their most intractable security problems. And last come the bragging rights – perhaps the unit’s most meaningful rationale.

YAMAM, it so happens, recently won a bitter, 40-year bureaucratic battle with Sayeret Matkal, a secretive special-forces squad within the Israel Defense Forces (I.D.F.). Sayeret Matkal was formerly the ne plus ultra in this realm; indeed, Vanity Fair, in an article published right after the 9/11 attacks, called the group “the most effective counterterrorism force in the world.” It counts among its alumni political leaders, military generals, and key figures in Israel’s security establishment. And yet, when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a Sayeret Matkal veteran, had to quietly designate one unit to be the national counterterror A-team, he chose YAMAM over his old contingent, which specializes in long-distance reconnaissance and complex overseas missions.

Netanyahu’s decision, supported by some of the prime minister’s fiercest foes, had all the sting of President Barack Obama’s selection of the navy’s SEAL Team Six (over the army’s Delta Force) to conduct the 2011 raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. YAMAM is part of the national police force – not the military or the Mossad, which is Israel’s C.I.A., or the Shin Bet, the country’s domestic-security service, which is more akin to Britain’s M.I.5. And yet, in recent months, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has blurred some of the lines between these agencies’ duties. YAMAM’s primary focus involves foiling terror plots, engaging militants during attacks, combating crime syndicates, and blunting border incursions. In contrast, the military, in addition to protecting Israel’s security, is often called upon to respond to West Bank demonstrations, using what human-rights activists often consider excessive force. But as Hamas has continued to organize protests along the fence that separates Israel and Gaza, I.D.F. snipers have been killing Palestinians, who tend to be unarmed. What’s more, Hamas has sent weaponized kites and balloons into Israel, along with mortar and rocket barrages, prompting devastating I.D.F. air strikes. While members of the YAMAM have participated in these missions as well, they have largely played a secondary role.

Off and on for a year, I followed N and his team as they traveled, trained, and exchanged tactics with their American, French, and German counterparts on everything from retaking passenger trains to thwarting complex attacks from cadres of suicide bombers and gunmen firing rocket-propelled grenades. YAMAM’s technology, including robots and Throwbots (cameras housed in round casings that upright themselves upon landing), is dazzling to the uninitiated. But so are the stats: YAMAM averages some 300 missions a year. According to N, his commandos have stopped at least 50 “ticking time bombs” (suicide bombers en route to their targets) and hundreds of attacks at earlier stages.

“I’ve been out with the YAMAM on operations,” John Miller, the New York Police Department’s deputy commissioner of intelligence and counterterrorism, told me in his office, a few blocks from the World Trade Center. “There are a lot of outfits that have a lot of knowledge and do a lot of training, but that’s different from a lot of experience.” He pointed out that for every terrorist attack in Israel that makes the news, there are 10 that are prevented by YAMAM acting on perishable intelligence provided by Shin Bet.

Avi Dichter agrees wholeheartedly. After serving in Sayeret Matkal, he joined the Shin Bet and in 2000 rose to become its director. He now chairs the Committee on Defense and Foreign Affairs in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament. For years, he admitted, counterterrorism officials shared only a portion of their most sensitive intelligence with covert operatives, out of fear of its being compromised. Now, Dichter says, YAMAM representatives sit in Shin Bet’s war room to ensure they have the full picture. “It took us a long time to understand that you can’t keep information from the unit you’re asking to perform a mission, because what they don’t know may undermine the entire operation.” When I asked him how he would describe the unit to outsiders, he said, “YAMAM is a special-operations force that has the powers of the police, the capabilities of the military, and the brains of Shin Bet.” They are, in effect, the spy agency’s soldiers.


The N.Y.P.D.’s Miller, for his part, claimed U.S. law-enforcement agencies benefit from YAMAM’s successes. A former journalist, who once interviewed bin Laden, Miller maintained, “You can learn a lot from the YAMAM about tactics, techniques, and procedures that, when adapted, can work in any environment, including New York. It’s why we go to Israel once or twice a year – not just to see what we’ve seen before but to see what we’ve seen before that they’re doing differently. Because terrorism, like technology – and sometimes because of technology – is constantly evolving. If you’re working on the techniques you developed two years ago, you’re way out of date.”

Kirstjen Nielsen, Trump’s secretary of Homeland Security, concurs: “We have a lot to learn from [Israel – YAMAM in particular] in terms of how they use technology as a force multiplier to combat an array of threats. Over the last 15 years, we at D.H.S. have partnered with them on almost every threat.”

“I saw a few Hollywood movies about fighting terrorism and terrorists,” N said. “But the reality is beyond anything you can imagine.” Back in the States, I trailed him and his entourage, who met with the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department’s Special Enforcement Bureau, as well as New York City’s Emergency Service Unit, which falls under Miller. “Terror organizations used to take hostages because they wanted to achieve a prisoner exchange; now they’re trying to do something different,” N observed, remembering a bygone era when terrorism was a violent means of achieving more concrete political ends.

The conventional wisdom for how to deal with fast-moving terrorist incidents has evolved over time, most notably in hostage situations. Since the 1960s and 70s, first responders have sought to establish a physical boundary to “contain” an event, engage the perpetrators in dialogue, draw out negotiations while formulating a rescue plan, then move in with a full team. Similar principles were adapted for reacting to kidnappers, emotionally disturbed individuals, and mass-casualty incidents.

But over the last 20 years – a period that dovetails with N’s rise from recruit to commander – he and his colleagues have come to treat terror attacks the way doctors treat heart attacks and strokes. There is a golden window in which to intervene and throw all their energy and resources at the problem. While units in the U.S. have tended to arrive on the scene, gauge the situation, secure a perimeter, and then call in specialists or reinforcements, YAMAM goes in heavy, dispatching self-contained squadrons of breachers, snipers, rappellers, bomb techs, dog handlers, and hostage negotiators. Metaphorically speaking, they don’t send an ambulance to stabilize a patient for transport. They send a hospital to ensure survival on scene. Moreover, they establish mobile units with clear lines of authority, not an array of groups with competing objectives. These teams can rove and respond, and are not unduly tethered to a central command base.

“The active shooter changed everything,” John Miller elaborated. Nowadays, the terrorist or mass murderer isn’t interested in negotiations or even survival. “He is looking for maximum lethality and to achieve martyrdom in many cases.” Because of this, the response teams’ priorities have shifted. The primary objective, said Miller, echoing YAMAM’s strategy, “is to stop the killing. That means to use the first officers on the scene whether they’re specialized or not. The other part is to stop the dying. How do you then set parameters inside as the people are chasing the threat, going after the sound of gunfire, engaging the gunman? How do you get to those people who are wounded, who are still viable, who could survive? American law enforcement has struggled with [this] since the Columbine case” – when responders waited too long to storm in. “We’ve got to get inside within 20 minutes. It can’t be within the golden two hours – or it’s not golden.”

Major O, the 37-year-old who commands YAMAM’s sniper team, explained that one of the unit’s signature skills is getting into the assailant’s mind-set. “We try to learn every terrorist attack everywhere in the world to find out how we can do it better,” he noted. “Our enemies are very professional, too, and in the end they are learning. They try to be better than us.”

To maintain its edge, YAMAM, after analyzing far-flung incidents, fashions its training to address possible future attacks. In the time that I spent with the operators, they rappelled down a Tel Aviv skyscraper and swooped into an office dozens of floors below, testing alternative ways that responders might have confronted last year’s Las Vegas attack in which a lone gunman on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel fired more than a thousand rounds at concertgoers, killing 58. A YAMAM squad also spent hours on a dimly lit platform taking over a stationary Israeli passenger train – alongside members of France’s elite Groupe d’Intervention de la Gendarmerie Nationale. (The French had come to Israel, in part, to practice such maneuvers, evidently mindful of 2015’s Thalys rail attack, which recently found its way to the big screen in Clint Eastwood’s The 15:17 to Paris). And at a telecommunications facility north of Tel Aviv, Israeli operatives simulated a nighttime mission with Germany’s vaunted Grenzschutzgruppe 9, facing multiple gunmen and explosions in all directions. Taking it all in, I felt like I had unwittingly been cast as an extra in a Michael Bay movie.

As they briefed their European guests, the YAMAM team preached its gospel of never allowing the perfect to be the enemy of the good. “To be relevant and to win this battle, sometimes you must go with 50 percent or 70 percent knowledge and intelligence,” N said. As he considered what his counterparts faced at places such as Orlando’s Pulse nightclub or the Bataclan concert hall, in Paris, N asserted that in today’s scenarios, unlike those in the 20th century, “we don’t have the privilege of time. You must come inside very fast because there are terrorists that are killing hostages every minute.”


The inside story of YAMAM’s genesis has not been told by its leaders, until now.

In 1972, during the Summer Olympics in Munich, members of the Palestinian group Black September kidnapped and murdered 11 Israeli teammates. The cold-blooded attack – and Germany’s botched response – prompted Israel’s prime minister Golda Meir to initiate Operation Wrath of God, sending hit squads to track down and kill the group’s organizers and others (later depicted in Steven Spielberg’s Munich). And though it may have escaped public attention, a secret second directive would go forth as well, which ordered the establishment of a permanent strike force to deter or defeat future attacks.

This mandate would not be realized until two years later, after terrorists sneaked across the border from Lebanon, killed a family of three, and took over an elementary school in Ma’alot with 105 students and 10 teachers inside – hoping to negotiate for the release of their brethren held in Israeli prisons. Sayeret Matkal raced to the scene and mounted a disastrous rescue attempt. Twenty-one students perished. Addressing the Knesset, Meir exclaimed, “The blood of our children, the martyrs of Ma’alot, cries out to us, exhorting us to intensify our war against terrorism, to perfect our methods.”

Following the attack, counterterrorism responsibilities – especially the delicate art of hostage rescue – shifted from the I.D.F. to a new police unit, initially dubbed the “Fist Brigade” and, later, YAMAM. Chronically underfunded, ostracized by the military, and deemed an unknown quantity by the intelligence services, the unit was a backwater. That is, until Assaf Hefetz was put in charge. He was a well-regarded I.D.F. paratrooper with important friends, among them future prime minister Ehud Barak. Hefetz had supported the April 1973 operation in which Barak – famously disguised as a woman – infiltrated Beirut and killed several Palestine Liberation Organization leaders as part of Israel’s ongoing retaliation for Munich. Hefetz professionalized YAMAM, persuading skilled soldiers to join his new police commando unit – whose work was a secret to all but a handful of Israelis.

In May, I visited Hefetz, aged 74, in the seaside hamlet of Caesarea and found a man with the body of a 24-year-old and the hearing of a 104-year-old. Like many of his generation of Israelis, he speaks his mind without regard for how his words may land. “After 18 months, I had recruited and trained three platoons, and I knew that my unit was much better than the army,” he insisted. “But I was the only person in the country who thought so.” In due course, he found an eager partner in the spymasters of Shin Bet, who agreed to let YAMAM try its hand at the treacherous work of neutralizing suspected terrorists.

Still, it was Hefetz, personally, who first put YAMAM on the map. On the morning of March 11, 1978, armed guerrillas arrived on Zodiac boats from Lebanon, coming ashore near Haifa. Once inland, they encountered and murdered an American named Gail Rubin, whose close relative happened to be Abraham Ribicoff, a powerful U.S. senator. Next, they flagged down a taxi, murdered its occupants, then hijacked a bus. Traveling south along the picturesque coastal highway, they threw hand grenades at passing cars and shot some of the bus passengers. The attack was timed in hopes of disrupting peace talks between Israel’s prime minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian president Anwar Sadat.

The rolling pandemonium came to a halt at a junction north of Tel Aviv. “When I arrived, my unit was [still] an hour away,” Hefetz recalled. The bus had stopped, but it was a charred wreck. “No one knows [exactly] what happened. Call it the fog of war.” Hefetz soon learned that some of the assailants had escaped on foot and were moving toward the beach. He grabbed his gun and gave chase, eventually killing two of them, capturing a third, and rescuing some of the hostages. In the process, he took a bullet to his right shoulder and lost hearing in one ear. The incident, known as the Coastal Road Massacre, claimed the lives of more than three dozen people. But Hefetz’s valor raised the question: given what YAMAM’s commander accomplished on his own, what could the unit as a whole do if properly harnessed?

The answer was a decade in coming, during which time YAMAM was bigfooted by Sayeret Matkal during its response to terrorist attacks. In the notorious Bus 300 affair, for example, Sayeret Matkal commandos stormed a bus to rescue hostages and claimed it had killed four terrorists when, in fact, two had survived. The pair were turned over to Shin Bet operatives, who, a short distance away, murdered them in cold blood. The debacle and its aftermath, which disgraced Shin Bet chief Avraham Shalom – who had ordered the on-site assassinations and then tried to cover it up – left an indelible stain on Israel’s institutions and international credibility.


In 1987, Alik Ron, a man with deep credentials and a devil-may-care attitude, took over YAMAM. He had served in Sayeret Matkal and participated in the legendary 1976 raid on Entebbe, in which an I.D.F. team stormed a Ugandan airport and successfully freed more than 100 hostages. “I was in our most elite units and took part in the most celebrated mission in our history,” said Ron, who in retirement has become a gentleman farmer. “Only when I was put in charge of YAMAM did I realize I was in the company of the most professional unit in Israel.”

And yet when he first addressed his men to say how proud he was to lead them – describing all the great things they would accomplish together – they broke out laughing. Apparently, the operatives were fed up with being highly trained benchwarmers, always left on the sidelines. Ron persevered nonetheless. And he is withering in his assessment of his old unit (Sayeret Matkal) and its overseers. “Nobody, nobody, not the head of Shin Bet, not Mossad, not the prime minister, can give me an order [to kill terrorists after they have been captured]. He can get me an order, but I will do like this,” he said, lifting his middle finger. “I will not murder them. I will have already killed them in the bus.”

Ron soon got the chance to try things his way. In 1988, he learned that three terrorists had crossed in from Egypt and hijacked a bus full of working mothers on their way to Dimona, the epicenter of Israel’s top-secret nuclear-weapons program. As Ron raced toward the Negev Desert to link up with his team, he saw CH-53 Sea Stallions on the horizon heading in the same direction. Pounding his fist on his dashboard and unleashing a stream of expletives, Ron recalled, he screamed, “Sayeret Matkal . . . again?!”

Ehud Barak was on one of those helicopters, a man who would go on to hold virtually every position in Israeli officialdom – prime minister, defense minister, commander of the armed forces, and head of Sayeret Matkal. Recalling his first encounter with YAMAM 30 years ago, Barak, now 76, expressed astonishment at how Ron and his team had somehow managed to arrive ahead of Sayeret Matkal’s helicopters, raring to go. “We asked them what they brought with them,” Barak recalled. “It ended up they brought everything which was needed for taking over the bus. So we let them do it.”

According to David Tzur, who was a major at the time and would later take over as YAMAM’s commander, the so-called Mothers’ Bus incident was a turning point because it showcased the unit’s speed, judgment, and agility. “We were called to the field at 7:30 in the morning,” he said. “Before we arrived, [the attackers] had killed three hostages.” At around 10:30, the team’s snipers shot two of the attackers while other YAMAM members stormed the bus and shot the remaining assailant. “No hostages were killed during the operation,” Tzur proudly recalled. Israel’s national-security apparatus – including skeptical I.D.F. generals – took notice and recognized that when it came to counterterrorism they had a scalpel at their disposal instead of blunter instruments. “I don’t believe that anyone has a better unit,” Barak observed. “They are kind of irreplaceable.”


Lately, YAMAM has gotten used to terror’s new face: extremists intent on inflicting maximum carnage with maximum visibility. “I’ve been in dozens of operations and many times under fire, [facing] many terrorists and suicide bombers,” N admitted. “But the [one] I remember more than all the others is the terror attack on the border in the Sinai Desert.”

It was August 2011, six months after the Arab Spring ouster of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak – and three years before ISIS formally declared its caliphate. YAMAM, tipped off by Shin Bet that a large-scale attack was imminent somewhere along Israel’s southern border, dispatched one squadron and a sniper team by helicopter. They waited through the night before getting word that shots had been fired at a bus, injuring passengers inside. A family of four, traveling the same highway, was ambushed and slaughtered. “This group of ISIS-Salafi jihadists that came from the Sinai Desert, they were a different challenge for us,” N said of the 12-man death squad. “We know from intelligence that they received training abroad. They were proficient with weapons, grenades, explosive charges, [and even] had handcuffs to kidnap people.” They also brought cameras to film their handiwork.

N, who was a squadron commander at the time, was fired at twice as his YAMAM team arrived on the scene. In the skirmish, one militant detonated a suicide vest, killing himself and a bus driver, and, N recalled, “a terrorist shot a surface-to-air missile at one of our helicopters, but it missed.” Two gunmen were spotted crossing the highway. One was killed in an exchange of fire while a second took aim at a passenger vehicle, killing the driver. By midafternoon the scene seemed to be under control, and Pascal Avrahami – a legendary YAMAM sniper – briefed his superiors, including then defense minister Barak. A short time later, shots rang out from the Egyptian side of the border. Four YAMAM operators scrambled for cover, and in the frenzy a 7.62-mm. round hit Avrahami above the ceramic body armor covering his chest. The sniper, a 49-year-old father of three, had been killed by an enemy sniper, who simply melted back into the desert.

I joined N this past April at Mount Herzl, the final resting place of many of the nation’s fallen warriors. It was Israel’s Remembrance Day, a somber holiday when life and commerce grind to a halt. On this day, N spent time with Avrahami’s parents at their son Pascal’s grave, embracing them and reminiscing about his outsize role in the unit. (The previous evening, as the sun descended, squad members had stood in the courtyard of the YAMAM compound, having refreshments and trading stories. Family members of slain commandos were taken inside a darkened shooting range where their loved ones’ holographic images were projected in midair. The scene was otherworldly but somehow appropriate for this secretive, high-tech cadre.)

On this Remembrance Day, N mourned the loss of his friend, whose 24 years of service made him YAMAM’s longest-serving member. But he stopped at one point to stress that his team is focused less on the past than on the future: “We know the enemy will always try and do something worse, something bigger, something extraordinary that they never did before. And for this scenario we are preparing ourselves.”


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In defense of social media and the internet: correcting fake news

October 01, 2018


“In those pre-social media, pre-blogging days, there were very few means of correcting the misreporting of the supposedly reliable mainstream media.”

I attach a piece I wrote that ran alongside an article by a former Harvard fellow who argues that the Internet and social media are a dangerous space for news, and we should rely solely on the traditional mainstream news media. I argue that in some circumstances, for example, where Israel is concerned, it isn’t always that simple.



Social media can correct as well as deceive
By Tom Gross
Jewish Chronicle (London)
September 28, 2018

It is fashionable to claim that the internet is a purveyor and spreader of fake news. This may be true in certain respects, but when it comes to Israel, I would argue the opposite is often the case.

Take one small example from April 2002, before Facebook, Twitter and YouTube had been invented, and the term blog was barely known.

That month, almost every British news outlet repeated the same lie, day after day, about events in the West Bank town of Jenin – and it was all but impossible for audiences to know the truth.

The Daily Telegraph reported the IDF had “stripped [the Palestinians] to their underwear, they were searched, bound hand and foot, placed against a wall and killed with single shots to the head.”

The Evening Standard spoke of Israel’s “staggering brutality and callous murder.” “We are talking here of massacre, and a cover-up, of genocide,” wrote a columnist for the paper.

Janine di Giovanni of the Times wrote: “Rarely in more than a decade of war reporting from Bosnia, Chechnya, Sierra Leone, Kosovo, have I seen such deliberate destruction, such disrespect for human life.”


These reports seem to have been based on the claims of a single individual: “Kamal Anis, a labourer” (The Times), “Kamal Anis, 28” (The Daily Telegraph), “A quiet, sad-looking young man called Kamal Anis” (The Independent).

The Independent reported: “Kamal Anis saw the Israeli soldiers pile 30 bodies beneath a half-wrecked house. When the pile was complete, they bulldozed the building, bringing its ruins down on the corpses. Then they flattened the area with a tank.”

The Times wrote: “Kamal Anis says the Israelis levelled the place; he saw them pile bodies into a mass grave, dump earth on top, then ran over it to flatten it.”

The Western media claimed 500 Palestinian civilians had been killed, mostly in mass graves.

None of this was true. You only had to read Palestinian reports, as I did, to realize this.


Later, Human Rights Watch reluctantly acknowledged that Israel had been telling the truth: 52 Palestinians (mostly gunmen) and 23 Israeli soldiers had died in door-to-door combat. The Israelis were trying to close down suicide bomb making factories. The Palestinian media termed the fighting a “great victory against the Jews”.

There were no people lined up against walls and shot, and no mass graves. Palestinian hospital sources in Jenin also put the total number of dead at 52.

I wrote an article (Jeningrad: What the British media said) pointing this out. Yet not a single British publication agreed to publish it, and it was left to an American magazine, the National Review, to run the piece – not a publication that would enable most British readers to find out they had been lied to.

Years later Alan Rusbridger, then editor of The Guardian, apologized for some of the paper’s Jenin coverage.

But in those pre-social media, pre-blogging days, there were very few means of correcting the misreporting of the supposedly reliable mainstream media.


Fast forward to May 2018, when the media again rushed to claim Israel was massacring Palestinians civilians, this time on the Gaza border.

Yet, as was the case with Jenin, some Palestinians officials acknowledged the truth: Hamas and Islamic Jihad said the vast majority of the dead were its operatives, naming them. Gaza doctors said that the only baby that had died was not killed by Israel, as the media claimed, but had passed away from a pre-existing medical condition.

This time, social media was awash with reports and links to Hamas’ website, enough to force much of the mainstream media (including the BBC, though not Jeremy Corbyn) into quickly re-adjusting their reports.


While it is distressing that social media often allows extremist and abusive views to be aired, including anti-Semitic ones, it also serves as a necessary corrective to much traditional reporting.

Consider The Holocaust. Had papers such as the New York Times (then the most important news outlet in the world) not deliberately minimized news of the death camps, had they been cajoled into reporting on them properly by social media, FDR may have been forced to intervene and bomb the railway lines to Auschwitz, saving hundreds of thousands of lives.

(Tom Gross is a former Jerusalem correspondent for the Sunday Telegraph)


Traditional media wrongly accused Israel of murdering a baby in Gaza in May 2018 whereas social media revealed that Palestinian doctors said the baby had died naturally of a pre-existing condition.


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