Dec 13, 2011


I never thought that in my lifetime I would disagree with anything that Martin Sherman wrote. But, I guess there is a first time for everything.

If I understood the point of his excellent article in the December 9, 2011 Jerusalem Post (p. 23) it is that Begin was wrong to sign the peace treaty with Egypt in 1979, and withdraw from all of Sinai, because look at the situation today!

According to him Begin should have foreseen this possibility and not withdrawn from all of Sinai, which means, to be fair, not have peace with Egypt. He sees the cup as empty or half empty. I want to give some reasons why it can also be seen as half full.

1. The agreement survived the assassination of Sadat, which was not a given.

2. Egypt sat quietly by when Israel launched "Operation Peace for Galilee" otherwise known as the First Lebanese War, advanced all the way to Beirut and drove Arafat off to Tunis.

3. Egypt also sat by when Israel destroyed the Osirak nuclear reactor in Baghdad, Iraq.

4. The peace agreement broke up the Egyptian alliance with Syria, which has never been resumed.

5. Israel remains to this day in military control of Judea and Samaria (the "West Bank"). No one enters or leaves it without inspection by and consent of Israel's authorities.

6. When the Egyptian mob threatened to lynch the security guards in the Israeli Embassy in Cairo, they were rescued by an elite Egyptian military unit in an action coordinated with the US and Israeli governments, and returned safely to Israel.

These are all elements of the "half full" cup which must be considered together with the "half empty" elements, which Sherman cites so correctly.

On the other hand he is absolutely on target when he writes that we must not repeat the withdrawals on the Syrian front and in Judea and Samaria. In those areas geography leaves not the slightest margin for error.

Nov 20, 2011


  Is the main purpose of the IDF to defend Israel against its enemies or to force ultra-orthodox soldiers to listen to women soldiers sing and jail them if they refuse?

It sounds like a no-brainer, but unfortunately for some people, like a group of left-wing former IDF generals, it's not. They just wrote a public letter to the Head of the IDF General Staff, Benny Gantz, demanding he force these combat unit soldiers to listen to the singing or jail them.

These are the same people who complain that the ultra-orthodox are draft-dodgers, but in fact prefer them not to join the IDF, so they can continue complaining.

What they don't want to recognize is that in recent years more and more "dati" (orthodox) and "hareidi" (ultra-orthodox) soldiers are serving in essential IDF units. These are mainly combat units like Nahal Hareidi, infantry, armored corps, etc., but also top-secret electronic and cyber war units, for which apparently Talmud study is a comparative advantage.

The left wing former generals are concerned that the soldiers and junior and middle rank officers of the combat units are more and more wearers of kippot. At the same time the phenomenon of draft-dodging among left wing secular youth is increasing to worrying proportions.

Even religious girls are choosing full IDF service over non-military National Service (Sherut Leumi) in ever increasing numbers, while draft-dodging among secular girls is on the upswing. It is no longer a handicap for show business celebrities not to have served in the IDF.

Most religious soldiers have no problem listening to female singers. In fact they like it. For the small number who feel unable to do so for halachic reasons, excusing them from the fun is a small price to pay for making the IDF more representative of all population groups in Israel.

Oct 31, 2011


Over the years American Generals and Admirals, certainly those on the joint chiefs of staff, were less ready to go to battle or war than their civilian superiors. They saw all the drawbacks, inadequacy of forces, unacceptable casualty expectations, difficult logistics, disbelief that their civilian superiors would permit them to do everything necessary for victory. This is not only a recent phenomenon.

During the American Civil War (1861-5) Pres. Lincoln suffered from the disinclination of his northern generals to attack rather than stay in their defensive positions. Once he wrote to one of his commanding generals, “If you will not be needing the army over the weekend, I should like to borrow it.”

When he finally found in Ulysses S. Grant, a general who was prepared to attack, others complained that Grant was a drunkard. Lincoln responded, “Tell me what he drinks so I can send cases of it to my other generals.”

For many years, Israeli generals were considered the opposite, more ready to go into battle than their civilian governments. When Prime Minister Levi Eshkol hesitated on the eve of the Six Day War, Ezer Weizman tore off his epaulets and threw them on the floor in disgust.

In 1976 the IDF conceived and carried out the daring Entebbe raid, rescuing over a hundred Israeli and Jewish hostages of an Air France flight kidnapped by bloodthirsty terrorists who threatened to kill them one by one. They didn’t tell Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin that the mission was impossible and he had no choice but to negotiate with the terrorists. They gave him a plan and carried it out brilliantly.

In 1981 when Saddam Hussein’s Osirak nuclear reactor threatened Israel with atomic destruction, the IDF did not tell Prime Minister Menachem Begin that it was impossible to overfly so many Arab countries to reach the target at the extreme limit of the air force’s capability. They made a plan and carried it out.

But in recent years something has changed. In the Second Lebanon War the senior officers commanded from behind their plasma screens instead at the fore with the famous rallying cry, “Follow me!” Second rate officers turned excellent soldiers into second rate troops with second rate results.

Military doctrines which failed for the Americans in various parts of the world were adopted by the IDF and failed here too. Zero casualties became the main aim of military actions, which immediately put victory out of grasp.

Thus for over five years the IDF did not give successive Israeli governments a military option to free Gilad Schalit. Either they were “eyeless in Gaza” or they were afraid of casualties in an action, or both.

Paradoxically, during this time the U.S. armed forces carried out an “Israeli style” raid in Pakistan to eliminate Osama bin Laden.

Junior and middle range Israeli officers, many of them wearers of knitted kipot, are as good or better than ever, but the IDF General Staff needs to reverse its “Americanization.”

Oct 16, 2011

The Gilad Schalit deal

The Gilad Schalit deal has generated tremendous quantities of heat in the Israeli media and public.  I want to try to generate some light.  First, while Israel freed terrorists at a ratio of over 1,000 to one, the Hamas did not get everything they wanted, not even everything they insisted on for most of the five years.  Thus the final result was not 100% Hamas: 0 Israel, but 100% minus something – Hamas, and O plus something for Israel.

The crunch came when Hamas realized that they could not rely on the Gilad Schalit lobby to force the government to give them everyone and everything on their wish list, no matter how many former heads of the Shabak, Mosad and IDF pressed for that.  At that point Hamas began to compromise on some terrorist names and destinations.

Thus it is not true to say this is the same deal which could have been had five years ago.  There was some movement, very little, but important nevertheless.
I find it hard to believe that in over five years the IDF and Shabak could not find any chance to rescue Schalit by a military operation.  I think it is more likely they determined that he would probably be killed in such an operation as would an unacceptable number of the rescuers, and therefore decided not to attempt it.

However, all of this is crying over spilt milk.  It is more useful to look ahead and consider how Israel should react when the next person is kidnapped and held incommunicado by Hamas, which demands thousands of imprisoned terrorists for his/her release.

In such event Israel should refuse to enter into any negotiations or even to acknowledge officially that anyone has been kidnapped until the Red cross visits him and makes a report on his condition.  We learned from Regev and Goldwasser that the terrorists concealed their deaths for years and returned coffins instead of live soldiers.

On the other hand if Hamas publishes a list of terrorists whose release they demand, all those on the list should immediately be denied all privileges usually granted to terrorists in Israeli prisons.

Furthermore Bin Laden treatment should be meted out to one Hamas leader a week, the higher the better, until the person being held is released.

An Israeli media feeding frenzy should be avoided by use of Court Orders banning publication of details.  These have proved very effective, more so than military censorship.  They cannot prevent publication abroad, but nothing is perfect. 

Several years ago a commission was established, chaired by Meir Shamgar, Retired President of the Israel Supreme Court (and a veteran of the Irgun, who was exiled to Africa by the British mandatory authorities), to devise a plan for Israel in the event of a kidnapping after Gilad Schalit.  The commission prepared such a plan, which, considering the quality of its chairman, is probably a good one, but has not been published for obvious reasons.

Therefore, I feel free to chime in with my modest proposals.

Oct 14, 2011

Israeli Democracy

This is an article I originally wrote in 2007.  Nothing changes.

Israel is a peculiar kind of democracy. In practice, ultimate power does not rest with the Knesset, the Cabinet or even the Prime Minister. It is held by a small group of highly paid appointed officials in the Treasury. Every time there is a strike in Israel you will note that the relevant Minister is powerless to negotiate a settlement. Instead, the appointed Treasury official has total discretion.
            Years ago, the Cabinet decided to fortify Sderot against the Kassam rockets fired from Gaza, but almost nothing has been done because the Treasury officials have not allocated the necessary money. Similarly, the Israel anti-missile defense program is years behind, because the Treasury officials have not allocated the funds, as though nothing was learned from the Second Lebanon War. Another example is the “Chok Hahesderim” (The Arrangements Law) which is submitted to the Knesset together with the government budget.
            In the Arrangements Law, the officials can and do nullify legislation and change government and Knesset decisions as they see fit. There are laws which were adopted by the Knesset years ago but their implementation date is postponed time and again by the Arrangements Law.
            The appointed Treasury officials are a tough bunch who are not known for making any concessions. I think we should send them to negotiate with the Arabs while having other government officials negotiate with the Israelis strikers.
            Meanwhile the length of public sector strikes can be reduced remarkably by lowering the salary of the Treasury officials who are negotiating, to the average monthly salaries of the strikers (e.g., NIS 5,000 for teachers, NIS 4,000 for social workers) for the duration of the strike.

Sep 26, 2011


Pres. Obama’s speech to the UN General Assembly can be understood on several levels.

It was an excellent speech. All Obama’s speeches deserve A plus for form, but this one also deserves A plus for content, both for what it included and for what it left out. There was nary a word about 1967 borders or settlements or other divisive issues.

It was a tribute to the quietly strong stance of P.M. Netanyahu since the previous speech at the State Department, the confrontation in the Oval Office, and the triumph before both houses of Congress.

An experienced negotiator presses the side he thinks is more likely to give in. If that side retreats, he presses them even more. For many months Obama thought Israel was the side on which to exert pressure. Bibi proved him wrong. That is another way to regard the UN speech.

Obama wants to be reelected to a second terms as president. His “tough love” stance toward Israel along with the failure of the American economy to recover despite Obama’s initiatives, have put that ambition in danger. This speech is part of a rescue operation. No one should think it will go on forever.

In his first two years Obama tried to appease the Moslem world and the UN. It hasn’t worked and now he is shifting gears.

The US provides more of the funding for the UN than any other country. If the majority of UN members think it is their job to “stick it” to the US, Obama wants to remind them of “purse principles”.

Two groups were very unhappy with Obama’s speech, the Palestinian Arabs and the Israeli Leftists. Both feel betrayed. The difference is that the Israeli leftists are not burning American flags, while the Palestinian Arabs are.

The Friday UN speeches of Abu Mazen and Bibi were reminiscent of the definition of a dialogue: First you must define monologue, which is one man talking to himself. A dialogue is two people talking to themselves.

Each man spoke to his own audience; Bibi in English to the Israeli public and the world, Abu Mazen in Arabic to the Arabs and the pro-Arabs in the General Assembly.

Abu Mazen made it clear his goal is an Arab Palestinian State without making peace with Israel—no recognition, no demilitarization, continued demand for “return” of all Palestinian Refugees; the whole tamale. This played very well with the Palestinian Arabs and the General Assembly.

The best thing Abu Mazen could do for himself now is resign immediately as “the Father of his country” and leave others to pick up the pieces. His place in the Palestinian history books would be secure and in any event his term actually ended two years ago. But, don’t hold your breath.

Bibi spoke to a very different audience, the Israeli consensus. He repeated again and again that he was ready to negotiate immediately without preconditions. But even though he was physically standing before the General Assembly, there was no chance he could convince the great majority of them, whose minds were made up in advance.

There is no chance the Palestinian Arabs will come back to negotiate one on one, unless Israel surrenders to their demands in advance, and that will not happen. When they rejected the offers of Barak in 2000 and Olmert in 2008 they showed that they will never agree to anything any Israeli government can offer. They will continue to try to internationalize the conflict and so the stalemate will continue.

Due to Pres. Obama, Israel came out not badly from this week at the UN, but the conflict will go on.

Sep 11, 2011


Our sages, of blessed memory of the Mishna and Talmud (חז"ל) were very wise people. We would do well to learn from their wisdom. They taught: A king cannot excuse insults to his honor. This is in contrast to an ordinary person, who can do so [[מלך המוחל על כבודו אין כבודו מחול.

In the Middle East honor is very important. The king, who represents the entire nation, cannot forgive insults to his honor, which is the national honor. If he does this, he is regarded by all our neighbors as weak, and invites further insults and injury. Perhaps he will be regarded differently in Washington or London or Paris, but they are not our neighbors in the Middle East.

Turkish Premier Erdogan began to “stick it” to Israel as early as 2009. On Jan. 29, 2009 at the World Economic Conference in Davos he publicly insulted our president before the eyes of the entire world. And not any president, Shimon Peres, the prophet of the “new Middle East”! Erdogan rose and deliberately and demonstratively walked out while Peres was speaking, in front of all the world media. He knew exactly what he was doing and achieved the effect he wanted.

What was Israel’s response? We figuratively wiped off the spittle from our faces and said, “It must be raining.” At that moment Erdogan saw Israel as weak and he has never stopped attacking us and insulting us ever since. The Mavi Marmara incident is instructive. Turkey was well aware of the plans and preparations of the IHH terrorists and encouraged them to try to break the blockade by force. It could have been a turning point, but after our soldiers heroically defended themselves from the terrorists who tried to kill them and killed those terrorists first, Israel slipped back into the routine of excusing and justifying ourselves and our actions.

Every time Erdogan insulted us again, we responded weakly. So the insults and injuries increased, until now they reach a new climax every day. Some Israelis and “friends” tell us, “Why don’t you apologize already and stop all these attacks on you.” Apologize for what, to whom and what good will it do?

Erdogan demands not only an apology for Israel’s killing the terrorists on the Mavi Marmara, but also payment of compensation and cancellation of the blockade on Gaza. Without the latter, the first two won’t help. And who will be crazy enough to cancel the blockade at Erdogan’s behest after the U.N. Palmer Commission declared it legal?

Next, apologize to whom? The man who sent the IHH terrorists on their mission? And why, because we foiled them?

Rather, we should look truth in the eye. For almost three years, Erdogan has been engaged in a campaign in which Israel is only a part. His first purpose, in which he has succeeded, was to become the dictator of the Muslim Republic of Turkey. To the surprise of many, he defeated the army generals who were his major obstacle and jailed many of them where they await trial for treason.

His second purpose is to become the leader of the Muslim world. He is well on his way to achieve this, especially after Mubarak fell and Egypt is in shambles, Iran is shunned, and Syria is engaged in bloody civil war. He is about to make a triumphal tour of Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, and is considering a stop in Gaza (which he may postpone at present.) To realize this ambition, he insults, denigrates and attacks Israel, its leaders, people, army and industry and will continue to do so. In Tsarist Russia the anti-semites had a motto, “Beat the Jews and save Russia.” Erdogan has modified this to, “Beat the Jews and conquer the Muslim world.”

So far he is succeeding and that is why, no matter what we do, he will not stop his anti Israel escalation. Israelis are not the only ones who do not understand this. The Obama administration is also clueless, which is why all they do is to keep repeating that Turkey and Israel should “make up”.

For quite a while Israel has been a favorite Turkish supplier of sophisticated military equipment. No matter what he says publicly, Erdogan wants this to continue. Note his complaint that Israel has not returned to Turkey unmanned aircraft which were sent back here for servicing. Also note the Turks are coming to the annual Israel Defense and Security Expo in October. No boycott there.

However, we must realize that any weapons system we supply to Turkey will end up in the hands of Hamas and Hezbullah, sooner rather than later. If we are not willing to supply anything directly to Hamas, we had better rethink the wisdom of supplying it to Turkey.

Israel’s response to Erdogan’s Turkey should be taken from Teddy Roosevelt’s famous advice, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” There is nothing we need to say to drive Erdogan up a wall. He will do that all by himself. On the other hand there is really nothing we can say or do to conciliate him. He wants to beat us on the head as his stepping stone to Islamic hegemony and as long as that works (as it is working) he won’t stop.

Israel’s actions should be guided by the principle expressed by the Romans as, “If you want peace prepare for war.”

Aug 31, 2011


At the outset, I admit I am not objective. I believe that anything in Israel called a “Reforma” (reform) makes things worse than they were before. If anyone disagrees with me, I am willing to debate the issue whether orally or in writing.

The latest disaster called a reforma is the major reconfiguration of bus lines in the Gush Dan area. In theory this was supposed to make public transport faster, more convenient, and more efficient. Unfortunately, as is usual, in this case the theory has no resemblance to the reality.

Every day new horror stories arise regarding the unfortunate results of this transportation reform. The Minister, despite his protestations to the contrary, is not doing anything visible to ameliorate the situation. If they simply reversed the entire process and went back to the way it was before, the public would benefit greatly.

Another example of the reforma is the swindle removing water distribution from the local authorities to the new water companies. This enables the government to charge the consumer two to three times more for the same water while piling taxes on top of taxes, including VAT which was never previously charged on water.

What happens when a consumer complains to the Water Company about his outrageously inflated water bill? He gets a call from a nice young clerk, reading from a script prepared by the Water Company, who tells him that he must have a leak and he should hire an installator (plumber) at his expense to check it out. This fiendishly clever response must have been prepared by a top advertising or PR mind. In one moment it achieves multiple purposes.
1.    It puts the blame on the consumer for the inflated bill.
2.    It tells him he has to pay money out of his pocket to check the accusation of the Company, made automatically without any knowledge of the real facts.
3.    They also tell him that if he is late in paying the bill they will charge him interest.
The intended effect on most consumers is that they figure it will cost less to pay the bill than to hire an installator and they give up. Score three points for the Water Company and its genius PR advisor.

The proper consumer response should be, “I have nothing personally against you young lady, but your company charges me exorbitant fees, and claims in expensive advertising handouts to give me service. So let them hire an installator to check whether there is really a leak.” Also demand a written answer.

When I said this, the clerk asked me plaintively, “What do you want me to write?” I told her to pass my complaint to her superior or her legal department and let them decide what to write.

In a recent story which was reported on the radio, the Bat Yam Water Company sent a bill for NIS 30,000 (yes, thirty thousand new shekels) to a senior couple living on Bituah Leumi old age pension. Even with the intervention of the radio program they decided they could only reduce it to NIS 12,000 and all the wise men of Chelm could not find a legal way to solve the problem. They offered the old couple the chance to pay it out over time, but then (of course) they would have to pay interest!

The Water Companies Law grants companies a license to steal. They claim correctly that their fees for water are set by the government and they cannot change them. I think if the issue ever reaches the High Court of Justice (Bagatz) they will decide it is "ultra vires" (beyond the competence) of the Knesset to give any private company a license to steal, and the law is unconstitutional.

In too many cases enacting a law means that the Treasury text automatically becomes the Knesset text, without passing through the minds of the MK’s. Charles Dickens wrote in “Oliver Twist”, “The law is an ass.”

Aug 29, 2011


 Allowing the Egyptians to bring additional troops into Sinai despite the terms of the peace treaty would be a terrible mistake. Their soldiers will not come to fight Arabs on behalf of Jews, but to fight Jews on behalf of Arabs.

Even under the best of circumstances the efficiency of Egyptian troops in defeating terrorists and Bedouin marauders does not come close to the efficiency of the IDF. These are not the best of circumstances.

There is a growing mob psychology in Egypt calling for cancellation of the peace treaty, removal of the Israeli Embassy and Ambassador from Cairo and yearning, if truth be told, for another war with Israel.

I am not only referring to the Moslem Brotherhood. The supposed democratic fruits of the “Arab Spring” are just as anti-Israel and anti-Semitic as the Islamists. The belief that they would be more disposed to live in peace with Israel is a tragic mistake for which much blood will yet be spilled.

The Egyptians are now claiming that their honor was impugned by the killing of several Egyptians soldiers in the fire fight between Israel forces and the terrorists. Foolish Israelis are rushing to appease them, which only leads to their making ever more outrageous demands.

In the Middle East “honor” is a very important subject. Since we live in this neighborhood, the correct response called for by the Israeli government is to inform the Egyptians and the Americans that our national honor has been insulted by the attacks on the Israeli Embassy in Cairo and the burning of the Israeli flag, which the numerous Egyptian military units present did next to nothing to prevent. Since our honor has been insulted the Egyptians must make immediate amends.

In the Bible the prophets frequently referred to Egypt as a broken reed, when the Kings of Israel or Judea wanted to rely on it for military support. Those words have never been more true than they are today.

Aug 18, 2011

Laugh So You Don’t Cry


The Rothschild Blvd. protesters did not “discover the wheel”, but their cry touched a raw nerve with many Israelis regarding a problem which has lasted for many decades.

The story is told that in the 1950’s, Ben Gurion visited Pres. Harry Truman in the White House. Ben Gurion was curious about how much the average American worker earned and Truman told him, “$100 per week.” Ben Gurion said, “We figure by the month, so let’s say $400 per month; and how much does it cost him to live?” Truman answered , “$300 per month.” Ben Gurion asked, “What does he do with the extra $100?” Truman said, “It’s a free country, we don’t ask.”

Then Truman asked Ben Gurion, “How much does the average Israeli worker earn?” Ben Gurion answered, “IL 400 per month.” Truman asked, “And how much does it cost him to live?” Ben Gurion said “IL 500 per month.” “Where does he get the other IL 100?” Ben Gurion, “It’s a free country, we don’t ask!”

So we see that the discrepancy between the earnings of Israeli workers and their cost of living has been around since the early days of the State. It did not disappear over time, as shown by the Hebrew skit of the “Gashash” troupe:

“Will anyone who can finish the month on his salary, please stand up.” (Not even one person in the audience rises.)

“Not a one stands up,

“Not even one stands up,

“And nonetheless from here and there, from hand to mouth, from mouth to mouth;

“And from under the table, the People of Israel lives,

“Lives and exists.”

Thus the Rothschild Blvd. protestors are not complaining about anything new. Many, many Israeli workers with full time jobs have take home pay of NIS 5,000, NIS 4,000 or even less per month, while the cost of living is higher than many European countries and even the U.S.

Since the time of my aliya in 1968, I have been wondering how the veteran Israelis manage, and I haven’t figured it out yet.

But let’s be serious. Most Israeli workers are underpaid and have been since Israel’s socialist period. There is no point in waxing nostalgic for a return to those socialist years, as some of the protest leaders, with more heart than brains, yearn to do. Only because Israel has such a strong economy now, and is not a Socialist basket case like Greece or Portugal, is there a chance for their protest to achieve something.

However, there is a real problem, and leaving it in the hands of a small coterie of highly paid officials in the Treasury, will not solve it in the future, as it hasn’t solved it in the past. They think that saying “NO!” to all strikers is the only worthy policy and continue to say, “NO” until they move on to even higher paying jobs in banking, insurance or business in the private sector.

Maybe now there’s a small chance something will change.

Aug 16, 2011

The Failures (& Successes) Of The American Jewish Establishment, Past And Present



No one seriously doubts anymore that European Jewry was abandoned by the U.S. and England during World War II. The British national unity government under Churchill did not want the problems with the Arabs which would be caused by permitting Jewish immigration to Palestine. The American government under Roosevelt was not willing to have European Jewish refugees come to the U.S. Even the visa quotas permitted by the draconian Immigration Laws were never filled during the war. U.S. Consuls were instructed to place every obstacle before would be immigrants, even those whose parents, brothers or sisters were U.S. citizens. Consuls who nevertheless issued visas did so at the risk of their careers.

The Nazi death camps were not bombed by the U.S. or Britain, even though targets a few miles away were repeatedly bombed. Churchill said that when he met with Dr. Weizmann, the Zionist leader, he couldn’t sleep at night. He solved the problem by not meeting Dr. Weizmann again. The countries of the world were divided into two groups, those (the Nazis and their allies) who were killing the Jews, and those (the U.S., England and their allies) who didn’t want to take in any Jews to their own countries or places under their control.

The official U.S. and British policy was that only the defeat of the Nazis and the end of the war could save Jewish lives. Any rescue attempts before then would impede the war effort. The official Jewish and Zionist leadership cooperated with this policy. The Zionist leaders in Palestine led by Ben Gurion and Moshe Shertok (later Sharett) and the Jewish leadership in the U.S. led by Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, hushed up the news of the holocaust, cooperated fully with the U.S. and Britain, and attacked any Jews who tried to do otherwise, such as the Irgun and Stern group in Palestine and the groups led by Peter Bergson (Hillel Kook) in the U.S., for example, “The Committee to Save the Jewish People of Europe”.

The Jewish establishment, worshipped Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) first for bringing American out of the great depression and then as the great war leader. His picture graced the walls of many Jewish homes. The leaders were unwilling to think or hear anything bad about him. The foremost leader of American Jewry, (reform) Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, was a close friend and ardent supporter of FDR. He denied all news of extermination of Jews and constantly attacked the Bergson Group for revealing it.

When 400 (mainly Orthodox) Rabbis marched on Washington to seek FDR’s help to save Jews, Wise advised Roosevelt not to meet with them and FDR slipped out of a side door of the White House, so as not to be at home when they came.

400 mostly Orthodox rabbis march to the White House on October 6, 1943. Roosevelt avoided meeting with them.

Nor surprisingly the Bergson group found its main political supporters among non-Jews; the most prominent among them was Sen. Guy M. Gillette. Only in 1944 did Henry Morgenthau, Jr., Roosevelt’s Secretary of the Treasury prevail on FDR to set up the War Refugee Board, which succeeded very late in the war to rescue some Jews. How many more could have been saved if it had been done earlier?


The response of the American Jewish community and Israel to the plight of Soviet Jewry was very different, much more proactive and eventually successful in rescuing the Russian Jews. It was far from the dismal record in WWII.

A number of factors contributed to this difference. Books can, have and will be written about this, but I will briefly list several of these factors.

1. The American Jewish Community was larger, stronger and less fearful of anti-Semitism than in WWII.

2. Experience in public protest had been gained from the Black voting rights movement and the anti-Vietnam War movement.

3. Israel’s lightning victory in the Six Day War in June 1967 had empowered Jewish activists in the U.S., the USSR, England and other countries.

4. There was a guilt feeling about the failure of rescue in WWII and anger at the establishment of that period.

5. The Israel government encouraged activism up to a point. Many activists were willing to go beyond that point.

The movement to free Soviet Jewry began in the 1960’s among sporadic groups such as SSSJ (Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry) on campuses, led by Jacob Birnbaum and Glen Richter, and the Councils which sprang up all over the U.S. and joined together in the Union of Councils for Soviet Jewry.

Betarim and Revisionists, being activists took readily to this effort and the American League for Russian Jews, Inc. headed by Morris Brafman, a Revisionist leader, was established. Rabbi Meir Kahane and his Jewish Defense League (JDL) joined the effort years later, but their dramatic protests succeeded in Rabbi Kahane’s expressed goal of bringing the issue from page 23 to page 1 of the New York Times.

The mainstream organizations were still cautious, lest the Soviets take revenge on the Jews there. This was a hard argument to answer until eventually the Jews in Russia themselves said that activism and publicity were their only protection against the regime.

A group of former Betarim and other activist lawyers including Moshe Brodetzky, Morty Dolinsky, Yitzhak Heimowitz, Mel Stein and Judah Harris joined forces with SSSJ to set up the “Center for Russian Jewry” chaired by the movie mogul Spiros Skouras with a suite of offices in the Empire State Building. At its dedication the keynote speaker was Congressman (later President) Gerald Ford.

In June 1967 when Premier Kosigin came to the U.S. to try to gain for the Arabs what they lost in the war, American Jews protested non-stop at the Soviet Mission to the U.S. I broadcast an editorial reply on WCBS-TV explaining why.

The Israel government representatives who dealt with Russian Jewry matters in the U.S. were Nehemia Levanon in Washington and Meir Rosenne in New York. They were listed as Consuls, but were connected with the Prime Minister’s office. They used the Center as a lever to push the mainstream Jewish organizations into greater activity. These organizations established the National Conference on Soviet Jewry as part of the National Community Relations Advisory Council (NCRAC). Once this happened, support for the Center was reduced or terminated.

By 1973, when I was sent from Israel to the U.S. on a mission to deliver a Petition of 17,000 Russian Jewish Olim in Israel to Sen. Jackson and Rep. Vanick,

the National Conference was a strong presence. I remember participating in their rally of 10,000 people on the steps of the Capitol, at which Yehezkel Pularevitch, Chairman of the Organization of Former Prisoners of Zion in the USSR, presented the petition to Sen. Jackson.

On a prior mission to the U.S. in June 1970 I had quoted the language of the leaders whom Moses sent from the desert to spy out the Land of Canaan, “We looked like grasshoppers to ourselves, and so we must have looked to them.” (Numbers 13:33) I applied this to our struggle. If we thought we were powerless, we could never overcome the mighty USSR, but if we believed in our ability, no matter how far-fetched, we could eventually rescue Russian Jewry. The Yiddish proverb says, “If G-d wishes it, a broom can shoot.” and Russian Jewry was rescued. (NUMBERS 13:33)


Fast forward to today. Which way will the American Jewish establishment go this time?

Our sages said that since the Temple was destroyed, the power of prophecy was limited to women, children and fools. I don’t see myself as fitting into any of these categories, but nevertheless I will try to point out a few salient factors which may give some indication of trends.

1. Will the American Jewish establishment follow Obama blindly as the establishment followed FDR during WW II? J Street certainly will, since they are marching in the same direction toward “peace now”! AIPAC, the President’s Conference and other organizations will probably not follow him as the mesmerized crowd followed the Pied Piper of Hamlin.

2. Will they believe Ahmadinijad’s threats to wipe Israel off the map while killing all the Jews, unlike the 1930’s leaders who disbelieved Hitler’s blueprint in “Mein Kampf”? Most likely most of them will believe him, athough there will still be some “useful idiots” who will not.

3. Will they be active, as in the “Let my People Go” struggle or passive like the World War II leaders? Most likely many will be active, having learned the lesson. A minority will probably refuse to recognize the facts because their minds are made up in advance.

I fear Obama will never do enough to prevent a nuclear missile armed Iran, so if that is to be accomplished he will have to be a one term president.

Gerry Kandel: Victory of the Spirit

The 20th of Av (Aug. 20, 2011) is the 5th Yahrzeit of Gerry Kandel, an extraordinary person. Below is the Eulogy I wrote for him in 2006.


Gerry Kandel, z"l, (Yosef Aaron ben Leibel v’Rachel) faced up heroically to terrible adversity for most of his life. Gerry’s mother died shortly before his Bar Mitzva leaving him and his younger brother David with only their father. Their aunt Betty, who lived very close by, stepped in to care for them along with her own two children, Stuart and Linda, but not long after she also died.

Gerry became active in Betar and Camp Betar. From what I understand he was an excellent Madrich, Head Counselor of Camp Betar, and eventually Netziv. He was one of the 19 Betarim who took over the Syrian Mission to the UN on October 14, 1966. Thus, he was one of the clients I had to get released on bail and eventually, got suspended sentences. When our son Dani was born on May 14, 1968, Gerry sent him an honorary Teudat Betar.

Gerry Kandel z"l
Gerry married the love of his life, Evelyne, and they had two children, Elan and Mia. Evelyne died when Mia was almost 4 and Elan was 8. Gerry raised the children on his own, repeating the tragedy of the prior generation.

Gerry became the Assistant to the President of City University and when I used to visit New York for business or Shlichut, we would generally have lunch in the top floor dining room of the university building on 42nd Street. Gerry suffered from multiple sclerosis and by then his physical condition had deteriorated significantly. He told me that he insisted on coming to work by subway as long as he was able, rather than getting a special vehicle permit to which he was entitled. Eventually he could no longer climb the subway steps and was forced to accept the permit and park on 43rd Street just opposite the rear entrance of the University, but he continued to work as long as he was able.

Even close to the end of his life, Gerry taught a weekly university class; his helper wheeled him into the room on his wheelchair. Disability could limit his physical performance, but nothing could quench his spirit.

Aug 2, 2011

The rabbinical courts brought it on themselves

A committee appointed by Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman (himself a religious Jew and excellent lawyer) and chaired by Rabbi Dichovsky, formerly one of the most highly regarded judges (Dayanim) on the Rabbinical Supreme Court (Bet Hadin Hagadol) and presently Director of the Rabbinical Courts, is expected to submit a most surprising report.

Indeed, Rabbi Dichovsky has resigned as Chairman of the Committee and may even resign as Director of the Rabbinical Court System.

The surprising report will recommend that all aspects of divorce, except for the Get ceremony itself, be relegated to the exclusive jurisdiction of the Family Courts (part of the civil court system), instead of concurrent jurisdiction as exists today.

This means that only the Family Court will make the binding decisions regarding custody, child support, alimony and property distribution, even if the litigants would prefer the Rabbinical Courts to do so.

I can only say the Rabbinical Courts brought this on themselves.

When I settled in Israel in 1968, was admitted to the bar, and began to practice matrimonial law here, I defended the Rabbinical Courts against all detractors. As time went on I began to see that many of the criticisms were justified. The judges (dayanim) with few exceptions were very reluctant to order a husband to grant a Get or a wife to accept it no matter how convincing the justification.

They preferred to conduct a “war of attrition” against the couple. They would hold a hearing for 15-30 minutes and then adjourn the case for three months. After that they would hold another short hearing and adjourn for another three months. If either side did not show up on the next date, that was reason for another three month adjournment. Frequently the three judge bench was short one or even two dayanim although they only had binding power when all three were sitting.

They wanted the spouses to come to a “divorce agreement” settling all the issues between them. Then the court would give it the force of a judgment and arrange the formal Get ceremony.

There were those who said this system gave an unfair advantage to the husband, since it forced the wife to “buy” the Get by giving him part of the property to which she was entitled. My own experience was that it gave the advantage to whichever spouse was the worse “bastard”, which could also sometimes be the wife.

There were a few exceptions, Rabbis whose great knowledge of Torah enabled them to be daring in their decisions, like Rabbi Yitzhak Yedidia Frankel, Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv, or Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen, Chief Rabbi of Haifa or Rabbi Shlomo Goren, first the chief Rabbi of the IDF and later Chief Rabbi of Israel. But these were the exceptions. Most of the Religious Judges continued to decide not to decide.

As a result of the failure of the Rabbinical Court system to serve the public as it needed, public pressure led to the establishment of the Family Courts, which replaced the District courts regarding all aspects of matrimonial law except for the Get ceremony itself. From their outset the Family Courts had concurrent jurisdiction with the Rabbinical Courts, and there was often a race to the courthouse door to determine which would get the case. Now the recommendation is to give the Family Court exclusive jurisdiction over all aspects of divorce except the ceremonial aspects of the Get.

In my experience most of the Family Court judges are not such a great bargain either, but public disillusionment with the Rabbinical Court is so pervasive that it looks like they will win.

Aug 1, 2011

A good word for Obama

Believe it or not, I have a good word to say about Pres. Barak Hussein Obama. He is not the only U.S. President to believe erroneously that the way to make peace between Israel and the Arabs is to force Israel to become smaller and weaker and to make the Arabs stronger. All American presidents since Eisenhower have held that erroneous belief.

Furthermore, no American president has ever understood that the Arab concept of peace is “without Israel, not with Israel”, or the Arab concept of negotiations, “to cut Israel down step by step like a salami, until they are able to destroy us militarily,” which they have never yet been able to do.

Every American president has compared the size, population and oil of the Arabs to the size and population of Israel and neither they, nor their military advisers have ever understood why Israel won each of the wars the Arabs started.

No American president has understood that Islam is not a religion like other religions in America, but an ideology that calls for world conquest.

True, Obama does go further than all or most prior presidents. Apparently he really believes the nonsense he spouts about Islam being a religion of peace and its honored place in American history (!) His mind is made up and you’ll never confuse him with facts.

The Israeli population density is the greatest in the world, on the order of Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea and Taiwan. It is thus a very tempting target for nuclear armed missile attacks. What is the Obama solution? Make Israel smaller and its population density greater.

The Palestinian Arabs have never honored any agreement they signed (not even with each other). What is the Obama solution? Get them to sign another agreement.

So maybe my “good word” isn’t so good after all.

Jul 26, 2011

The four fateful words

  What are the four words that brought a million Russian Jews to Israel?
            Any veteran of the struggle to free Soviet Jewry will probably think of the four words: “Let My People Go”, but the four words I have in mind are: “Most Favored Nation Treatment”, the words of the Jackson-Vanik Amendment submitted by Sen. Henry ‘Scoop’ Jackson and Rep. Charles Vanik to the U.S. Congress.
            The Amendment provided that in order for the Soviets to get most favored nation treatment in trade with the U.S. they must let the Jews go. This connection was anathema to the Soviets, but very effective, as history shows.
            Every one of the activists inside and outside the USSR played a role in the exodus of Russian Jewry, but I think the Jackson Amendment was the most effective lever. I am convinced that Sen. Henry ‘Scoop’ Jackson and Congressman Charles Vanik should be recognized as “righteous gentiles”.
            I had a small part in the saga of the Jackson Amendment as described below.
            By 1973, tens of thousands of Jews had come to Israel from the Soviet Union. The Jackson-Vanik Amendment was before Congress. It linked “most favored nation” treatment which the USSR needed economically with progress on “let my people go.”
            Seventeen thousand Russian immigrants to Israel signed a Petition to Congress to adopt the Jackson-Vanik Amendment. The Petition ran to many volumes. Yechezkel Pulerevitch, a wonderful person, was the Chairman of the Organization of former Prisoners of Zion in the USSR which sponsored the Petition. He was a Betari who had been imprisoned for many years in a Siberian forced labor camp. He described his experiences in his book, “Short Stories of the Long Death”.
            Even after he was released, he was a victim of the Soviet policy not to allow former prisoners to leave the country, in order to prevent them from revealing their experiences. Menachem Begin got the Prime Minister of Norway to intervene so that Pulerevitch, his wife and their only son could come to Israel. His troubles did not end there. His son, who was named Shabi for Shlomo Ben Yosef, was a physician, and he was the doctor on the Israel submarine “Dakar”, which was lost with its entire crew. Despite these blows, he remained a kind, optimistic person.
            Menachem Begin called me. He wanted to send Yechezkel to Washington to deliver the Petition to Senator Jackson and he wanted me to accompany him, to make all the arrangements. In addition to delivering the Petition on the steps of the Capitol, he wanted me to arrange for a full page ad in the New York Times publicizing the Petition.
            On the night before the flight, Mr. Begin invited me to his home for final instructions. Also present were Yitzhak Shamir (who later followed Mr. Begin as Prime Minister) and Dov Shilansky (later to become the Speaker of the Knesset), who were then in charge of the immigrant division of the Likud.
            Once we were in the U.S., Mr. Begin gave me a third assignment to translate into English the Stenogram of the Knesset Session in which almost all the speakers expressed overwhelming support for the Amendment. Then I was to present and explain it personally to Senator Jackson. I fulfilled his instructions. I remember how I walked alongside the Senator through the long corridors of the Senate explaining it to him and then giving him the original extract from the Knesset Record Mr. Begin had sent me.
            Even before that, I arranged for us to meet Senator Jackson and Congressman Vanik on a morning in the middle of the week on the Capitol steps to present the Petition. The National Conference on Soviet Jewry, with which I cooperated, wanted to take over this event but I refused, and we agreed only that they would send the Russian Jewish emissary who was assigned to them to be present as well.
            I tried to arrange all the details, but I forgot to check one thing. Yechezkel stayed overnight with us in Scotch Plains, NJ, near Newark Airport. I knew that there was a shuttle from LaGuardia Airport to Washington every hour and assumed that there was a similar shuttle from Newark. This was a mistake. There were only about two flights from Newark to Washington and the result was that we came late. We managed to partly rescue the situation. Senator Jackson received the Petition and he and Yechezkel both spoke, but the media results were not successful.
            The National Conference was planning a mass rally at the Capitol for the following Sunday. On my preliminary visit to Washington, Moshe Brodetzky had informed me of a meeting of the local chapter of the Conference to plan the demonstration. We both attended and I was astonished to hear that there was no plan to invite Senator Jackson, but only some Congressmen who had a minor role in the campaign for Russian Jews. I addressed the meeting and told them that Jackson was the one who symbolized the struggle in the public mind and that no one would understand why he was not there. I suggested they get on the phone to New York and present this view strongly to the National leaders. They did this and Senator Jackson was invited to play a central role.
            When we did not receive enough publicity for our presentation, Jerry Goodman, Executive Director of the Conference, suggested that we re-present the “final signatures” to Senator Jackson as the central activity of the National Conference demonstration. This was good for all concerned since they did not have an attractive focus for the rally. On that Sunday, Yechezkel and I again went to Washington where he again presented the final signatures to Senator Jackson. This time there was lots of publicity.
            We were in Washington a third time to attend a reception in Congress for supporters of the Jackson-Vanik Amendment. This time Senator Jackson and Yechezkel embraced as old friends.
            I asked the National Conference to pay for an ad in the New York Times. They said that their graphic artist could prepare the ad, but that they did not have money to pay for it. I visited my client, Aaron Ziegelman, a wealthy real estate man, and told him what it was about. Without extra words he called his secretary to bring his checkbook and signed a check for $3,000. After that, the Conference found someone to make up the balance of $1,000 and we published the ad. The headline was “Last Week 17,000 Russian Jews Wrote a Letter to Your Congressman.”
            When we returned to Israel we learned that there had been a strike of radio and TV while we were in America. Everyone I met said, “We didn’t hear anything about your mission. Why were you late to Jackson?” I replied, “If you know we were late to Jackson, you must have heard something!”
            I was requested to report to the World Council of Herut-Revisionists on our mission. I started off, “The late President of the United States, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, said when he returned from a visit to France, ‘I am the man who accompanied Jackie Kennedy to Paris.’” There was complete silence in the packed hall at this unusual opening. I went on, “In the same way I say, I am the man who accompanied Yechezkel Pulerevitch to Washington.” At this point Menachem Begin called out, “But she is prettier.” I continued, “We met Senator Jackson three times. The first time we both shook hands with him. By the second and third times he shook hands with me, but embraced Yechezkel warmly.
            I cannot end without saying again that Henry ‘Scoop’ Jackson was a righteous Gentile. His four fateful words, “Most favored nation treatment” eventually brought a million Russian immigrants to Israel.