Guest Post: Is it Antisemitic?

This is another guest post by frequent contributor Brian Goldfarb. Brian wrote this article since arguments about what constitutes antisemitism continue to rage on on the internet, social media and in political circles, this despite the publication of the IHRA definition of antisemitism which has been accepted in many academic institutions and political parties worldwide.

Defining antisemitism

“Is it Antisemitic”?:

This is a question I’ve often faced on reading some material on websites (not this one, of course), in the paper or listening to radio or television commentators, especially on the BBC (my home radio station) when the topic of Israel and the Middle East comes up. And frequently when the reporter is Jeremy Bowen. Why can’t they send him somewhere else? Please!! Anywhere out of the region.

The answer, yes or no, is rarely simple, except in the most obvious of cases. Sometimes, writers or speakers are simply unaware that what they are saying is, or can be construed – without violence to the words used – as antisemitic, and when this is pointed out to them, they are only too willing to apologise, reword their statement and move on. The whole issue is further complicated by noting that, here in the West, we prize free speech, as we should. In turn, this means that, in principle, nothing is beyond saying.

To illustrate the complexities this can create, six years ago, there was an attempt to run a conference at Southampton University (UK) with the title “International Law and the State of Israel: Legitimacy, Responsibility and Exceptionalism” (which Anne reported on in this blog). There was a long-running debate on the then very active Engage Online website, running from March 2015 over the following month or so, in which I took an active part (click on the link above to read the discussion and the subsequent comments).

You will notice that I do not mention antisemitism in what follows, and many of the commenters are good friends of Israel, but some of them still made comments that I found “odd”!

My starting point was that anybody could say anything they liked (within UK law) to whoever was willing to listen in any place that the owner was willing to allow them to do this. But it wasn’t an academic conference if there wasn’t at least an implicit question in the title, because the essence of academia is debate, discussion, consideration of evidence and so forth. Further, without the presence, or space for, dissent, it couldn’t be regarded as a proper academic conference, and holding it on University premises didn’t make it so.

I found myself facing opposition (always polite: we are British, after all!) from some surprising people: people I would have expected to agree with my general position. Much of this opposition took the line of the right of academic freedom: academics should be able to say what they liked. My counter was that, in the UK at least, there is no absolute right to free speech: we have libel and slander laws, which put limits on what can be said. We also have laws against racial discrimination, sexual discrimination, and so forth, both  written and spoken and in and out of the workplace [there is no intent here to present myself as a lone voice – the dissident speaking “truth to power” – but who said what is not important here].

It took time, but eventually the idea that academic freedom isn’t an absolute was accepted.

The battle over one case study was the next major issue. All sorts of “proper” academic conferences people had attended with only one issue were raised. This was readily dealt with: China’s part in the rise of global warming would hardly confine itself to just the one case; any conference on the partition of India in 1947 must involve at least 3 groups: Indians, soon-to-be Pakistanis and the British.

The debate then moved on to my and other people’s further major problem: that with only one case, it couldn’t be a proper academic conference. By definition, academic conferences allow and expect debate citing more than one case. There was an attempt to argue that Israel was “unusual”: its Declaration of Independence was unilateral and it was born in blood and involved the expulsion of some former inhabitants of what became Israel. My counter was that the USA was born of a revolution, as was the Soviet Union and China: were these independences to be now brought into question? And, further, in all three cases, legitimate inhabitants of the lands were killed, sometimes not even opposing those seeking a new order.

I have to note that I never received a clear rebuttal of that point.

Eventually, the Southampton authorities cancelled the event, not least because it had become obvious this was a partisan event (of the papers to be presented, well over half were clearly anti-Israel and the keynote address was to be given by that paragon of anti-Israel sentiment Richard Falk).

You will notice that not once was antisemitism mentioned in the above nor was it, for the most part, by the commenters. However, there were a number of potential paper-givers of ex-Israeli origin and notoriously anti-Zionist bent.

To round this section off, I must note that I had attended the Sunday before this controversy arose a one-day event sponsored by Stand By Israel. It was an unashamedly partisan event for the attendees to learn more about how to defend and promote their favourite foreign affairs topic: Israel. It was attended by a fair number of past and present academics, but no-one pretended it was an academic conference or other than I have stated.

All on its own, the paragraphs above illustrate one of the problems of both identifying and confronting antisemitism.

But we can drill further down into this issue and make it clearer in our own minds as to whether or not those who cause us problems are being, even unwittingly, antisemitic.

The acceptance of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism by a very broad group of countries and organisations within those countries (such as trade unions, political parties and trade unions) has very much helped in this process. The IHRA definition grew out of the EU Provisional Definition of Antisemitism and is, or can be, a powerful tool in clarifying these issues. For example, it is made abundantly clear in the IHRA definition that criticism of the actions of the Israeli government are not, per se, antisemitic. By definition, all governments are open to criticism (but sometimes not by their own citizens): they purport to be the arbiters of what is best for their citizens and if they are judged to be falling short of that, they are open to criticism. Just look at the newsstands in the UK, the USA, etc and, even more so, if one can read Hebrew, in Israel!

It is when Bibi, et al, (or any other Israeli politician) is criticised because he is the Prime Minister of Israel and not because of any particular policy or action he has (or they have) carried out that the suspicion of antisemitism might, legitimately, creep in.

I can perhaps illustrate what is meant here with the following (true) tale:

A senior academic at a prestigious UK University (and both shall remain anonymous. because this is an illustration, not an attack) made the following response when their institution was berated for the apparent intellectual hardship Jewish students had to face during the course of their studies there. It has been accepted that although this is true for other UK Universities, it appeared to be particular noticeable here.

The response was that:

“Attending X forces Jewish students to examine their Jewish identity and their relationship to Israel. They emerge stronger and better informed than their elders and peers.”

When this was first published, I responded, in part, as follows:

“Many people here will be aware that I am a retired H.E. lecturer, and I would have been (and still am) horrified that that students of any ethnicity and/or religion should be forced to examine their ethnic or religious identity, other than through a conscious choice of a course of study (voluntarily adopted) designed to do just that (perhaps a non-Marxist deliberately opting for a series of lectures & seminars by a noted Marxist scholar on just that topic).”

I chose that particular example of the Marxist scholar, because I was thinking of another institution and a different academic, who ran such a course and was, by repute, gentle with his non-Marxist students.

Later, I added the following comment:

“On second thoughts, I’m more than horrified, I think that [the academic] is excusing X. If we revisit the sentence “Attending X forces Jewish students to examine their Jewish identity and their relationship to Israel. They emerge stronger and better informed than their elders and peers”, and substitute “female” or “black” or “Christian” or “Muslim” or “Hindu” for Jewish (and change “Israel” as appropriate), then, I suspect, we would all immediately be condemning X for allowing such a breach of faith between a higher education institution and its student body in this country.

Instead, the academic actually defends what’s happening.”

It’s taken me quite a while to get here, and I hope that you’re still with me. What I am arguing is that if we come across an argument, statement or claim that we believe to be, to be polite, dubious, and especially given where we are, that it might be antisemitic, then my acid test has become: “what happens if we take out “Israel” or “the Jews” and substitute women, Black people, Christians or Moslems, or another country that might be seen as “objectionable”, would we be upset, outraged or even angry at the implied or actual prejudice and discrimination? If the answer is yes, then it’s antisemitic.

Anne adds:

Brian, as ever I thank you for this very necessary and thought-provoking analysis of what constitutes antisemitism. For us Jews it is relatively easy to understand: we “know” it when we hear it or see it, it’s almost a subconscious instinct ingrained into our national psyche from centuries of persecution and discrimination. But when challenged, it is sometimes so hard to find the right words and the exact terms to explain to the speaker or author just what it is that is so objectionable. If they are acting in good faith they will be willing to listen and accept the terms of the IHRA. And if they are not, then they are an antisemite.

Posted in Academia, Antisemitism, Incitement, Lawfare and Delegitimization, Media and journalism | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

International Holocaust Memorial Day 2021

It is International Holocaust Memorial Day today, and although it is not marked in Israel since we have our own Yom Hashoah after Pesach, this is a fitting time to both talk about the Shoah and those who would deny it.

The pathology and psychology of Holocaust deniers is a subject which I won’t discuss here today though I have addressed it on this blog in the past. Suffice to say that the Holocaust deniers seek to belittle the Jewish people’s experience on the one hand, and thus to deny us the ability to complain about antisemitism or the right to live in safety in our own country, in fact they deny Israel the right to exist at all, while at the same time they compare us to the very Nazis who they deny committed any crimes. I did say it was a pathology.

But this week, putting the lie to the Holocaust deniers, it was revealed to us that an excavation project being carried out at the site of the Sobibor concentration camp has uncovered ID tags belonging to Jewish children who were murdered there (via DAP):

Four metal identity tags belonging to young children murdered at the Sobibor extermination camp were uncovered in a joint excavation project carried out by Yoram Haimi from the Israel Antiquities Authority, Wojtek Mazurek from Poland and Ivar Schute from Holland, the IAA announced on Tuesday.

The four tags carried the children’s names, date of birth and hometown – Amsterdam.

“With this information, we were able to find more about them by consulting the relevant archives,” Haimi explained to The Jerusalem Post. The researchers contacted the Herinneringscentrum Kamp Westerbork, a former transit camp where Dutch Jews were gathered before being sent east, that today serves as a research center and memorial.

Seeing the pictures of smiling children and thinking of their terrible end has been especially hard, the archaeologist said.

Leah de la Penha on the right

The ID tag of Leah Judith de la Penha Hy’d

Lea Judith De La Penha was only six when she was killed. Her pendant was found near the camp’s railway platform. Deddie Zak was just a little older than her. He was deported to Sobibor on a train that became notorious for the large number of children that carried – some 1,300, ages 4 to 8 – many of them alone.

The ID tag of Deddie Zak Hy’d

“We found his tag in the area of a crematorium, which probably means that his body was burned while wearing it. This is all that remains of him,” the researcher said.

Annie Kapper, age 12, was deported to Sobibor with her family on March 30, 1943. All 1,255 Jews who were on the train were immediately sent to the gas chambers. Her tag was found near one of the mass graves in the camp. On the same train was also 11-year-old David Juda Van der Velde, whose aluminum tag was uncovered in the area of one of the chambers.

About 250,000 Jews were killed at Sobibor, most of them immediately upon arrival. The camp was destroyed by the Nazis after the prisoners attempted a revolt in October 1943.

Haimi explained that when his team started to work, very little of the camp remained. Over the years, they managed to uncover the site of the gas chambers, the crematoria, some of the mass graves and even a tunnel that the prisoners were trying to excavate in order to escape along with some digging tools.

Moreover, the archaeologists unearthed some 75,000 objects.

“We found plates, forks, jewelry, all sorts of items that the prisoners would bring with them,” he said. “In a well, we found some 20 golden wedding rings that the victims chose to throw away to avoid leaving them in the hands of the Nazis.

I would remind you that my mother’s three brothers, who were sent to ostensible safety at age 5, 7 and 9 on a kindertransport from Frankfurt to Holland in 1938, were subsequently transported to Sobibor in March 1943, aged 9, 11 and 13 and murdered on the day they arrived. You can read about my mother’s family story on my family history page.

Above: David, Elchanan and Uri HY”D Below: The 3 brothers with Judith תבדל”א

Not only must we never forget and always remember, we must make sure that others never forget as well, so that history cannot be denied and the victims made victims once more.

As international human rights lawyer and former Canadian Minister of Justice Irwin Cotler stated yesterday on the eve of International Holocaust Remembrance Day:

May the memories of the 6 million martyrs be for a blessing.

יהי זכרם ברוך.

As I always do on these days of commemoration, I invite readers to visit my pages on my family history during the Shoah.

Posted in Antisemitism, History, Incitement | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Guest Post: What will President Biden mean for Israel?

This is another guest post by Brian Goldfarb about newly elected US President Joe Biden which I hope is not too optimistic! At some point after this article is published (and comments are welcome as usual) I shall post a review of sorts of Trump’s time in office and especially his influence on the Middle East.

I watched the inauguration yesterday and was impressed with the organization, and also the discipline regarding covid regulations. I also liked Biden’s speech although I have already heard remarks that I am naive and he’s “just another politician”. That’s as may be, but I suppose we don’t have much choice, especially from such a distance, other than to hope and pray that Biden really meant those fine words.

US President Joe Biden delivers his Inauguration speech at the US Capitol in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Semansky / POOL / AFP)

I congratulate America on a peaceful transfer of power despite the riots of last week, and the grave security threats hovering over it all.

Let’s see what Brian has to say:


The article below was written after former President Trump grudgingly acknowledged that he was no longer going to have a second term (although he hadn’t yet said so in so many words) on 26 November, but before the events of 6 January. I feel that a few extra words might be necessary and useful.

Donald Trump’s refusal to accept that the election was fair, that there was no fraud in the election of any significance, and certainly not enough to affect the declared result in any state (in Pennsylvania, a state Biden regained, someone found three votes cast in the names of dead people…for Trump!), did nothing to enhance his stature. Even the official appointed by Trump to oversee the fairness of the election, a life-long Republican, declared the election the fairest in living memory…and was promptly sacked. Even after 60 failed court cases attempting to overturn various results were thrown out by Federal judges, some appointed by Trump – and the Supreme Court, now weighted 6-3 in terms of Republican appointees – flatly refused to even hear a case, Trump refused to accept the result. He even coined a slogan for his efforts: “Stop the Steal”.

Violent protesters, loyal to US President Donald Trump, storm the Capitol, January 6, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

I am aware that 70% of Israeli Jews would have voted for Trump, had they been US voters, an exact mirror image of the actual Jewish vote in the US. I am also aware that Trump has been responsible for a number of policy changes concerning the Middle East that are to Israel’s benefit (see the 4th and 5th paragraphs of the article itself), including acting as the Godfather (or Midwife/father) to the Abraham Accords.

However, care needs to be taken here: if we aren’t careful we fall into the trap of following the precedent of applauding Mussolini because he made the trains run on time, and ignoring all the evil he did, by praising Trump for the good things he did, as though these are not far outweighed by the evil.

And all this before his deliberately provoked mass rally on 6th January that led to the invasion of the US Capitol. This was nothing less than an attempted coup, along the lines of Mussolini’s “March on Rome” in 1922. Except that this time, the state and the forces of law and order stood firm and this led to an unprecedented second impeachment of him: only two previous President had ever been impeached (Andrew Jackson [Lincoln’s successor] in the 19th Century and Bill Clinton in the 1990s) and neither were convicted by the Senate). It turns out that having left office is no bar to impeachment and conviction: a Cabinet Member in Grant’s administration (in the 1870s) was convicted in the Senate, despite having already resigned office.

Furthermore, anyone who stayed up late enough (we watched until 01.45 GMT, when the rioters were clearly starting to be pushed back out of the Capitol) will have seen all the slogans that clearly reflect deep-rooted antisemitism among the rioters, such as “Camp Auschwitz Works make free” and 6MWE, meaning “6 Million Weren’t Enough”.

Finally, to add to my evaluation of President-Elect Biden, I feel sure that he will find it difficult just to return to the flawed Treaty with Iran, if only because he will face not only very vocal opposition from Israel (irrespective of who is PM) but also from all of Israel’s new friends in the region, thanks to the Abraham Accords.

And now without further ado, here is my assessment of what Joe Biden would mean for Israel.

Newly elected President Joe Biden

Those words are the title of an article in Labour Friends of Israel  which I have forwarded to friends who were and are dubious about Biden’s relationship with Israel, were he to be elected to the US Presidency. The original article was published in October. Please read the article and make up your own minds. Israel is going to have deal with this man for the next four years.

First there is a review of Trump’s record:

Trump also couched the recent normalisation agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates in similar terms. “It’s an incredible thing for Israel, [and] it’s incredible for the evangelicals, by the way,” the president said. “The evangelicals love Israel. Love Israel.”

It’s not the first time that Trump has suggested that his approach towards Israel is driven chiefly by political concerns and that American Jews – who traditionally vote overwhelmingly for the Democrats and are expected to do so once again in November – aren’t sufficiently grateful to him. Last August, he notoriously claimed: “I think any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat – it either shows total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.” That comment reflected both Trump’s transactional view of politics and his deployment of antisemitic tropes, as well as his determination to present the Democrats as anti-Israel.

By contrast, Biden pledges to “ensure that support for the US-Israel alliance remains bipartisan, reversing Trump’s exploitation of US support for Israel as a political football, which harms both countries’ interests”.

Note, especially, this sentence from the second section:

“As he argued in a TV interview last November: “I strongly oppose Israel’s settlement policy on the West Bank. I have made that clear to Bibi when … I was vice president. I have made it crystal clear to the Israelis. But the idea that we would cut off military aid to an ally, our only true, true ally in the entire region, is absolutely preposterous. It’s just beyond my comprehension anyone would do that.” The former vice-president repeated that pledge earlier this summer, stating: “I’m not going to place conditions for the security assistance given the serious threats that Israel is facing.”

The article also states:

So what should Israel and its supporters expect from a Biden presidency? A clear priority for Biden will be to put support for Israel back on to a bipartisan footing. Trump himself has been clear that he views his policies in the Middle East strictly through a partisan lens. On the campaign trail in Wisconsin in August, for instance, the president said that his decision in 2017 to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was done with the aim of pleasing his evangelical base. “We moved the capital of Israel to Jerusalem [sic]. That’s for the evangelicals,” he bluntly stated. “You know, it’s amazing with that –the evangelicals are more excited by that than Jewish people.”

Note also this section from further into the article:

“Biden’s commitment to its security and opposition to BDS is rooted in his long-standing view of Israel as the ultimate safeguard of the security of the Jewish people, as former Democrat congressman Steve Israel has described: “Biden would often tell me how his support for Israel was formed. He was a young kid sitting at the dinner table. It was around the time of the debate on the establishment of the modern state of Israel. His father was unable to comprehend how anyone could oppose this historic step. To this Irish American Catholic salesman, it was obvious why Israel had to exist. The establishment of a state for the Jewish people was the only way to fulfil the promise of ‘never again’ after the tragedy of the Holocaust. It was the first time Biden ever heard that phrase, and he never forgot the lesson.”

Having already conceded much on domestic policy to supporters of his former rival for the Democrat nomination, Bernie Sanders, Biden in July refused to agree to a tougher approach towards Israel in his party’s platform. As Peter Mulrean, who served for three decades in the State Department and subsequently oversaw UN aid programmes for Palestinians, argued: “The party platform section on Israel and Palestine is a clear victory for those supporting a return to mainstream Democratic policies of the past and a loss for the progressives seeking more restrictive or conditional support for Israel.”

He is very strong on standing up against antisemitism as we see in his statements to AIPAC:

Decades later, in his final address to AIPAC as vice-president in 2016, Biden echoed the lessons he learned as a child. “When swastikas are painted on synagogues, when Jewish people are targeted in terrorist attacks, when thousands of European Jews immigrate to Israel out of fear when a seemingly organised effort to discredit, delegitimise and isolate Israel persists on the international stage, it’s dangerous, it’s wrong and every time we encounter it, we have an obligation to speak out against it.”

He presents his views on Middle East peace here too:

Decades later, in his final address to AIPAC as vice-president in 2016, Biden echoed the lessons he learned as a child. “When swastikas are painted on synagogues, when Jewish people are targeted in terrorist attacks, when thousands of European Jews immigrate to Israel out of fear when a seemingly organised effort to discredit, delegitimise and isolate Israel persists on the international stage, it’s dangerous, it’s wrong and every time we encounter it, we have an obligation to speak out against it.”

But Biden also strongly believes that a two-state solution and the establishment of a viable, independent Palestinian state is key to Israel’s security. Last month, he told a Jewish community virtual event that a two-state solution is “the only way to ensure Israel’s long-term security while sustaining its Jewish and democratic identity”.

Biden has framed his support for a two-state solution in terms of the responsibilities and behaviour he expects from both the Israeli government and the Palestinian leadership, with his campaign pledging to “work with the Israeli and Palestinian leadership to support peacebuilding efforts in the region”. Biden, it says, “will urge Israel’s government and the Palestinian Authority to take steps to keep the prospect of a negotiated two-state outcome alive and avoid actions, such as unilateral annexation of territory and settlement activity, or support for incitement and violence, that undercut prospects for peace between the parties.”

Indeed, Biden’s vocal and consistent opposition to annexation, commentators suggest, may have played a part in Benjamin Netanyahu’s u-turn on the issue in the summer. “Had Netanyahu moved to annex parts of the West Bank in the coming months,” wrote Shibley Telhami of the Brookings Institute, “his government would have started its relationship with a possible new Democratic administration on the wrong foot, even as the Biden-Harris ticket seems palatable to Israel on issues pertaining to Israel-Palestine.”

Biden – who had previously urged Arab states to “move beyond quiet talks and take bolder steps towards normalisation with Israel” – has also supported the historic recent steps taken by the UAE and Bahrain. “I think Trump is going to accidentally do something positive here, in terms of this issue of … other Arab states,” he said last month.

His position on the Palestinians seems to be somewhat carrot and stick, promising to reengage with them while insisting on holding them to account for their violence and obscene “pay-to-slay” policy:

Biden has thus promised to “reengage the Palestinians”, saying he will “reverse the Trump Administration’s destructive cut-off of diplomatic ties with the Palestinian Authority and cancellation of assistance programs that support Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation, economic development, and humanitarian aid for the Palestinian people in the West Bank and Gaza”.

At the same time, as his comments regarding its “support for incitement and violence” show, Biden will also hold the Palestinian leadership to account for its failings. He has, for instance, vowed that any financial assistance to it will have to comply with the requirements of the 2018 Taylor Force Act, including its requirement that the PA end its policy of paying salaries to imprisoned Palestinian terrorists and their families. “The Palestinians need to end incitement in the West Bank and rocket attacks in Gaza,” Biden said in May. “What they are teaching in their schools is still in the school books. No matter what legitimate disagreement they may have with Israel, it’s never a justification for terrorism, and no leader should fail to condemn as terrorists those who commit these brutalities.”

And this brings us to the most crucial of all problems in the Middle East: Iran.  Biden thinks that rejoining the JCPA will improve the situation:

… Biden has also framed his desire for the US to rejoin the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action in similar terms. “Trump has put Israel in danger by tearing up the Iran nuclear deal, and replaced it with nothing,” Biden said last month. “Iran is closer to a [nuclear] weapon than when we left office in 2017,” he suggested. “And instead of Iran being isolated, we are the ones being isolated.”

But while Biden has said he will rejoin the JCPOA if Iran returns to compliance with it, he also wants to make the deal “longer and stronger”, so that it also encompasses “Irans other destabilising actions” in the region, which were not covered by the original agreement.

Brian now adds:

Please note how Biden views Israel, from its foundation (he and I are of an age): “never again” resonates deeply with him, thanks to his originally blue-collar (but at the time of his talk with his son, a white-collar worker) father.

We can argue how deeply he holds to this view in the comments, but note that he refers to the current Israel prime Minister as “Bibi”, despite, undoubtedly, disagreeing with many of his governments policies. Note also the anecdote about his meeting with Golda Meir (who undoubtedly spoke with him in her US  Brooklyn accented English, having been born and raised in the US.)

I am convinced that he will be a good friend of Israel. Don’t fall for the propaganda from the naysayers.

Anne adds:

First of all, thank you Brian for your opinions and analysis.

As you can imagine, Brian’s views are very dissimilar to mine on the issue of politics. However since he is of the “sane left” it is worthwhile to listen to his voice and hear his analysis.

I myself have grave doubts about how the Biden Administration will turn out, however good Biden himself is.  When I expressed my concerns about the pro-Israel bona-fides of the people surrounding Biden, Brian also sent me this article from the Algemeiner (a very pro-Israel and anti-antisemitism American news site), which talks about his Secretary of State, Tony Blinken:

In his first speech since being named as US President-elect Joe Biden’s choice to be the next secretary of state, Antony Blinken — who is Jewish — recalled the Holocaust experiences of his late stepfather, Samuel Pisar.

Pisar, Blinken said at an event in Wilmington, Delaware, where Biden officially introduced his national security team, was “one of 900 children in his school in Bialystok, Poland, but the only one to survive the Holocaust after four years in concentration camps.”

Jonathan Tobin (a conservative writer) in an article in the JNS, also asks what a Biden presidency could mean for Israel: and he expresses many of my own (and my friends’ and family’s) concerns:

True, some concern about a possible Biden administration is warranted.

It’s a certainty that those who would fill positions at the State Department and the National Security Council will be Obama administration alumni or share their opinions about the Middle East.

It’s equally certain that, at a minimum, his foreign-policy team would re-enter the Iran nuclear deal and likely seek to revive the moribund U.S. relations with the Palestinian Authority, which were downgraded due to its refusal to stop funding terror or to even discuss Trump’s ideas about Middle East peace.

But there is still the chance that, as Biden’s top campaign foreign-policy spokesperson Anthony Blinken (the current favorite to be his National Security Advisor) has hinted, the United States would maintain the sanctions put in place against Iran by Trump. That means the most important task for both Israel and Jewish groups in the upcoming months will not be to refight the political battles of 2015. Rather, it should be to seek to persuade Biden that he not be tempted into simply erasing the last four years of progress made towards pressuring Iran to renegotiate the nuclear deal so as to strip it of the sunset clauses that put Tehran on a certain track towards achieving its nuclear ambitions.

Similarly, on the Palestinian issue, it would be wise for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and pro-Israel Americans to assume, rightly or wrongly, that Biden doesn’t consider himself bound to take up the cudgels for Obama policies that he knows were abysmal failures.

Biden’s support for Israel has always been conditioned by his insistence that he knew better than the Jewish state’s leaders what was best for their country. As infuriating as that can be, it’s also true that he has a warmer feeling for the country than Obama ever did. It would be best to keep that in mind instead of assuming that Biden will rewind American Middle East policy to that awful moment when Obama stabbed Israel in the back at the United Nations on his way out of office.

And of course Israel is not a mere satellite state with no options as Tobin writes:

As Netanyahu proved during the eight rocky years of the Obama administration, Israel can always say “no” to the United States any time it believes that it must defend its interests against misguided American policymakers.

The alliances with the Arab states that have been forged with Trump’s help will become stronger, not weaker if Biden were to choose policies that would strengthen Iran. The Arab states that have embraced Israel have not done so as an act of charity or out of a sentimental attachment to Zionism; they did it in order to strengthen their security. And if Biden repeats Obama’s mistakes in the Mideast, they will need Israel as much if not more than ever.

Similarly, Israel is both economically and militarily stronger than it was in 2009, and while the friendship of its sole superpower ally is still necessary, it need not quail before Biden any more than it did before Obama. It still has many friends in U.S. politics, and it can and should point to the principles of Trump’s “Peace to Prosperity” plan as the only solid foundation for a path to a possible resolution to the conflict with the Palestinians.

These reassuring words notwithstanding, a very great worry is the “squad” of four very “woke” super-progressive, very hostile anti-Israel female congresswomen – Ayanna Pressley (D-Massachusetts), Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan) – who will try and exert pressure on Biden and his Administration from the start, as Ruthie Blum writes in the Jerusalem Post:

Then there’s Tlaib, who considers the Biden-Kamala Harris ticket to be a means to an end, not the ultimate aim.

In an interview with Middle East Eye on October 30, the daughter of Palestinian immigrants said, “I need an administration that I can get through the door and speak the truth about the oppression of the Palestinian people and the violence toward the Palestinian people.”

Tlaib – who, like Omar, Ocasio-Cortez and Sanders, is hostile to Israel – told the online publication that she had informed Biden of her intention to push for progressive policies “with a sense of urgency.”

Underscoring Biden’s supposedly stellar record on Israel, too, is ridiculous. In the first place, he wants America to return to the dangerous nuclear deal with Iran.

This would jeopardize the Trump-brokered Abraham Accords that the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain signed with Israel; it would shake Sudan’s resolve to normalize relations with the Jewish state; and it would block several other budding agreements in the region based on a unified stance against the mullah-led regime in Tehran.

Secondly, Biden still holds with the false credo that true peace cannot be achieved without Israel relinquishing land and evicting the Jews living there, to make way for an independent Palestinian state along the 1967 borders. It’s one “pro-Israel” approach that the likes of Omar and Tlaib might grudgingly accept.

Finally, Biden himself is irrelevant, as the squad attests.

Blum’s opinion, that rejoining the JCPOA will destroy the Abraham Accords is at odds with Tobin who says that the more America cosies up to Iran, the more fearful the Gulf States will be, causing them to draw even nearer to Israel for protection. My instinct tells me that Tobin is correct, but I really wouldn’t like for any of our theories to be tested.

To quote my brother, May Hashem grant President Biden and the new leaders of America the wisdom to lead the country and the world with truth, strength, humility and understanding.

Posted in International relations, Iran | Tagged , , , , , , , | 32 Comments

Good News Friday – Pollard comes home!

This week’s Good News Friday post simply HAS to focus on the amazing – and far too belated – return of Jonathan Pollard to Israel.

Jonathan and Esther Pollard kiss the ground as they land in Israel on 30th December 2020

If you want to know the background to the Jonathan Pollard case, you can read all that I have written about him at this link here.

Here is a very short potted history. He was a naval analyst in the US Navy who passed on security secrets to Israel – information that SHOULD have been passed on to Israel by the US security forces as agreed by the two countries, but the US, for whatever nefarious reasons, refused to do so. Of course Pollard broke American law, and he was caught, after being shamefully abandoned by a very embarrassed Israel, and put on trial. The sentence he received was far above and beyond any sentence ever received by any spy, even for a hostile nation, not to mention for an ally. He served every single minute of the 30 years sentence, was not allowed out for his father’s funeral, spent several years in solitary confinement, and was altogether disgracefully mistreated by the US.

After his release 5 years ago, he was still treated like a dangerous criminal, with a 7pm curfew, an electronic ankle bracelet, and was not allowed to leave his apartment or his neighbourhood at all, never mind come to Israel.

But now, since his parole has ended, and President Trump is leaving office, without any fanfare or advance information, Jonathan Pollard and his wife Esther landed in Israel on Wednesday morning.

PM Netanyahu joyfully greets Jonathan Pollard as he lands in Israel, Dec 30 2020

As the pilots prepared to land, Pollard was called to enter the cockpit, where he was able to hear the Ben-Gurion International Airport control tower welcome him to Israel in Hebrew.

Pollard, who was convicted for spying for Israel while working as a naval intelligence officer in the 1980s, received Israeli citizenship during his stay at the North Caroline prison, where he was held until the parole committee agreed to release him in 2015. He was prohibited from leaving the country for five years following his release.

Due to Esther’s medical condition, the Pollards chose to fly by private plane directly from New Jersey’s Newark Liberty International Airport to Tel Aviv. The date for the flight was selected to allow her to continue her medical treatments. The Pollards thanked everyone who continues to pray for her recovery.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed Pollard and his wife upon their arrival.

A statement by the Prime Minister’s Office said the two recited the Shehecheyanu prayer, as Netanyahu presented the Pollards with their Israeli IDs.

“Welcome home. It’s so good to finally see you here,” Netanyahu said. “Now you can start over and live your lives free and happy. You are now home.”

A visibly emotional Pollard said, “We’re excited to finally be home after 35 years. We thank the Israeli people and the Israeli prime minister for bringing us home. No one is as proud of this country and its leader as we are.

“We hope to become productive citizens as soon as possible and move on with our lives. This is a great country with a bright future. [Israel] is the future of the Jewish people and we’re not going anywhere.”

Watch this very moving video as the Pollards kneel down and kiss the ground of Eretz Yisrael as they get off the plane:

It was both a pity and good luck that he landed in the middle of Israel’s 3rd lockdown at 5 in the morning. For both reasons, the roads and the airport were empty. The only person welcoming Pollard was PM Binyamin Netanyahu.

It was a pity of course because he should have had crowds lining the streets, waving flags and welcoming him home.

But for political reasons, so as not to antagonize the Americans and the new Democratic administration even more, it was probably best that the whole arrival was very low key.

Popular commentator Sivan Rahav Meir had the following very relevant comment to make about Jonathan Pollard’s return: (translation is mine):

אם להתעורר לפנות בוקר, אז לחדשות כאלה: בחמש בבוקר החלו להתפרסם התמונות של יונתן פולארד נוחת בישראל. מה היה כל כך מרגש ברגע הזה?
1. פולארד ירד מכבש המטוס, ואז סימן לראש הממשלה שבא לקבל את פניו להמתין רגע, עם כל הכבוד, ולפני הכל נישק את אדמת ארץ ישראל. מעבר לסיפור הפוליטי, המדיני, מעבר לאינטרסים של נתניהו וטראמפ, זה סיפור של יהודי שחוזר הביתה.
2. רגע, חוזר הביתה? הוא הרי אמריקני מבטן ומלידה, וזה בדיוק הסיפור. אלי ויזל אמר פעם שיהודי לא צריך להיות בארץ ישראל כדי לקרוא לה בית. בפרשת השבוע, פרשת “ויחי”, כותב רש”י על רחל אמנו, שמחכה עד היום לכל אחד מבניה, לכל מיליוני הפולארדים שעדיין פזורים בעולם, עד לקיום ההבטחה: “ושבו בנים לגבולם”.
3. פולארד עשה עוד משהו בשניות הראשונות שלו בישראל, לפני הנשיקה לקרקע: הוריד את המסיכה. בסוף, אחרי 35 שנים של ציפייה, הוא מגיע הנה בעיצומה של מגיפה עולמית קטלנית. מי היה מאמין שכך תיראה ההגעה שלו לכאן, בלי חיבוק אחד אמיץ שאפשר לחבק אותו. במקום להמשיך יחד עם אלפי אנשים אל עצרת תפילה חגיגית בכותל, הוא יצא ישר לבידוד ביתי. אולי טוב שכך, מבחינת היחסים שלנו מול האמריקאים.
4. אז אפשר להתעסק עם השאלה למה בכלל ריגל (ההאשמה פה אינה נגדו, ברגע שישראל חתמה איתו על הסכם – יש לה אחריות כלפיו) ואפשר לדבר על הנזק ליחסים עם ידידתנו הקרובה (סביר להניח שלא יופעלו עוד פולארדים). בשורה התחתונה, אדם שהפך לסמל, שבמשך 35 שנים התפללו עליו (יש נערים ונערות, בעיקר בציונות הדתית, שהקדישו את מיטב שנותיהם למען “יהונתן בן מלכה”), אדם שהקריב ושילם מחיר כבד, שלא זכה להביא ילדים לעולם – יוצא כעת לחירות.
5. ואז הגיעו המילים של פולארד עצמו. “זו מדינה נהדרת”, אמר האיש בלי להתלונן שהופקר, שהושאר מחוץ לשגרירות, שנשכח. “אנחנו רוצים להיות אזרחים פרודוקטיביים”, אמר, והזכיר לנו שזה לא סוף פרשת פולארד, כפי שהכריזו חלק מהכותרות, זוהי ההתחלה. פולארד מתחיל כעת את החיים שרצה. “יש למדינה עתיד מזהיר, היא העתיד של העם היהודי”, הוא המשיך. חשבנו שהנאומים הפוליטיים החשובים מגיעים בשמונה בערב, לפעמים אפילו בקצב של שניים במקביל, אבל מתברר שהנאום הכי חשוב לתקופה הזו נישא בחמש בבוקר בנתב”ג. נאום פשוט שמזכיר, בימים של פילוגים וסכסוכים פוליטיים מכוערים, שיש לנו סיפור משותף.

If we have to wake up early in the morning, then at least it’s for news like this: at 5 in the morning pictures started to be published of Jonathan Pollard landing in Israel. What was so exciting about that?

  1. Pollard descended from the plane and then signaled to the prime minister, who had come to greet him, to wait for him, with all due respect, and before everything else he kissed the ground of Eretz Yisrael. Beyond the political story, the diplomatic one, beyond Netanyahu’s and Trump’s interests, this is a story of a Jew who returned home.

  2. Wait a minute, came home? He is after all a born and bred American, and this is precisely the story. Eli Wiesel once said that a Jew doesn’t need to to be in Israel in order to call it home. In this week’s Torah Portion, Vayechi, Rashi writes about our Foremother Rachel, who waits until today for all of her children, for all the millions of Pollards that are still dispersed throughout the world, until the promise is fulfilled “And the sons shall return to their borders”.

  3. Pollard did something else in his first seconds in Israel. Before kissing the ground, he removed his mask. After 35 years of waiting, he arrives here in the middle of a deadly global pandemic. Who would have believed that this is how his arrival would look! Without one brave embrace. Instead of parading with thousands of people to a celebratory prayer at the Kotel he went straight to home quarantine. Maybe its best like that, considering our relations with the Americans.

  4. So we can discuss the question of why did he spy at all (the accusation is not against him. The minute Israel signed on an agreement with him, it had a responsibility towards him) and we can talk about the damage to our relations with our close friends (we can assume there won’t be any more Pollards). Bottom line, the man who became a symbol, who for 35 years people prayed for him (there are young boys and girls, especially in the religious Zionist circle, who have dedicated the best of their years for “Yonatan Ben Malka”), a man who sacrificed and paid a very heavy price, who has not merited to bring children into the world – has now come out free.

  5. And then came Pollard’s own words: “This is a wonderful country” said the man without complaining that he had been abandoned, that he was left outside the embassy, forgotten. “We want to be productive citizens” he said and mentioned that this is not the ned of the Pollard story as the headlines declared, this is the beginning. Pollard now begins his life as he wishes. “This country has a glorious future, it is the future of the Jewish people” he continued. We thought that important political stories are broadcast at 8 pm, sometimes even two in parallel, but it turns out that the most important speech of this period was delivered at 5 am at Ben Gurion airport. A simple speech, that reminds us, in these days of divisiveness and ugly politics, that we have a common story.

What beautiful words, both from Sivan and from Jonathan Pollard.

Welcome home Jonathan and Esther! May you have an easy klita and may Esther have a refuah shlema.

ברוכים הבאים. ושבו בנים לגבולם.

Shabbat Shalom everyone!

Posted in International relations, Israel news, support Israel | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments

Good News Friday

It’s a strange Friday-Shabbat this week, from the sadness of Asara BeTevet to the happiness of Shabbat, and it’s a bit discombobulating (I love that word!) to add some good news to the mix.

It’s also a very short day as Shabbat begins so early in the middle of winter.

But there is excellent news – even as Israel heads into its third (and hopefully last) lockdown starting on Sunday, Israel rapidly rolls out its corona vaccination campaign.

An Israeli medical worker receives a COVID-19 vaccine, at Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center on December 20, 2020 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

We began this week with the over-60s (including myself and most of my family) and health-care workers, and will hopefully soon begin vaccinating education system workers. Residents of old age homes and nursing homes will also be receiving the vaccine in the coming week. Israel is second (at the moment) in the world in the number of vaccines administered per 100 population.

In fact fears of low vaccine demand were turned on their head as vaccination centers and health fund call centers were overwhelmed by demand:

Israel was expected to end the fourth day of the vaccine campaign that began Sunday with more than 150,000 residents having been immunized. The number of vaccination centers and vaccines administered are doubling every few days. Health Minister Yuli Edelstein announced Wednesday that hospitals will operate vaccine centers beginning next week, further increasing immunization capacity.

By next week, some 200 immunization sites should be operating around the country. The HMOs have plans to operate mobile vaccination clinics that will travel to isolated communities and people unable to leave their homes.

The government announced they hope that Israel will achieve herd immunity by Pesach!

Israel’s vaccination drive is off to a flying start, getting shots to the population much faster than the United Kingdom, which was the first Western country to ask citizens to roll up their sleeves.

“The eve of Passover is almost three and a half months from now and I have no doubt that we will be able to celebrate the Seder with our families because of the vaccine,” said Jonathan Halevy, president of of Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center, in a press briefing this week.

“Before mid-April a critical mass of the Israeli population will be vaccinated, which will lead to herd immunity,” he predicted.

Last Passover was spend under strict lockdown and people were banned from celebrating with families, in what many Israelis considered a psychological low point of the pandemic.

After Britain and Israel comes the United States, which started vaccinating on Monday and has injected 0.19% of the population.

I hope they are not being over-optimistic, but certainly by the spring or early summer we can hope that the worst of the pandemic will be behind us.

This is wonderful news to take us into Shabbat. On that note I wish you all Shabbat Shalom!  💐

Posted in Slice of Israeli life, Technology | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

The fast of Asara BeTevet

The fast of the 10th of Tevet, Asara beTevet, falls today. It is a unique fast in that it is the only fast day that is not brought forward or deferred if it falls on a Friday.

On Asarah B’Tevet, the 10th day of the Jewish month of Tevet, in the year 3336 from Creation (425 BCE), the armies of the Babylonian emperor Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Jerusalem. Asarah B’Tevet (this year, December 25, 2020) is observed as a day of fasting, mourning and repentance.

Even today, our enemies are still out to destroy us. This week, Esther Horgan Hy’d, a 52 year old woman from the community of Tal Menashe in Northern Samaria, went out for a jog in the nearby Shaked Forest near her home – and was murdered by an evil terrorist.

Esther Horgan Hy’d

Speaking to Army Radio on Monday, chairman of the Tal Menashe security committee Eliezer Roth, said that Horgan’s “entire life was devoted to peace and protecting the families. An attractive woman, who was physically active, who went to work out in a beautiful forest, completely sure she would return home.”

According to Roth, “For people who like to work out, running the forest is a completely routine thing to do. Her husband, Binyamin, told me, ‘We’ve been here for 20 years, we’ll stay here this is our place.'”

“The couple has six children, the youngest of whom is 13. The others are older, and some are married. They are good people, immigrants from France who arrived in Israel at a young age. Zionists, with a nice family,” Roth said.

Chair of the Tal Menashe council Rotem Hania, who lives near Horgan, said, “This is a difficult morning for us. Our community is quiet and we live in peace with the communities around us. Esther was an artist and a couples counselor. A happy, smiling woman who left a good feeling wherever she went. Two or three times a week she went to work out in the nearby forest. The entire community, including the children, go there to run. This is a very unusual incident and we’re all very surprised at what happened. They won’t break us. Our community is strong and united, and with all the difficulties, with God’s help, we will overcome.”

What a huge loss to her family, her community and to our nation! May Esther’s family be comforted amongst the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

The terrorist murderer was caught today, but that is scant comfort to anyone.

Asara BeTevet is also marked as Yom HaKaddish HaClali, the Jewish day of mourning for those whose graves are not known. It has become something of a religious parallel to the National Holocaust Memorial Day which is marked after Pesach.

A fascinating story of Holocaust survival, which ties right in to this very day, was told to us this week. I am translating from a Hebrew WhatsApp message that has been doing the rounds. First the Hebrew, and then the English translation:

שישים אלף יהודים היו בסלוניקי שביוון ערב פרוץ מלחמת העולם השניה. קהילה יהודית חיה ותוססת. רוב הסוורים בנמל סלוניקי היו יהודים. והנמל בסלוניקי היה סגור בשבת קודש. גדולי עולם היו הרבנים שם- ביניהם הראשון לציון הרב מאיר חי עוזיאל.

על הקהילה המפוארת הזו עלה הכורת הנאצי באכזריות.

היטלר כבש את יוון בסערה כדי להבטיח את האגף הדרומי שלו לפני פתיחת מבצע ברברוסה והמתקפה נגד ברית המועצות.

מתוך שישים אלף יהודי סלוניקי- הושמדו בבירקנאו כחמישים אלף. בזמן קצר ביותר – כשאיתם צועד רבם – הרב חיים חביב. הרב האחרון של סלוניקי

מעט ניצלו.

ביניהם משפחת בורלה. שהסתתרה.

אחרי המלחמה בשנת 1961 נולד למשפחת בורלה בן. ויקרא שמו בישראל- אברהם. או אלברט.

אלברט גדל ולמד וטרינריה. את הדוקטורט שלו בביוטכנולוגיה של הרבייה קיבל מבית הספר הווטרינרי של “אוניברסיטת אריסטוטלס של סלוניקי . בגיל 34 עבר לארצות הברית. הוא נישא לאשה יהודיה בשם מרים ונולדו לו שני ילדים.

בארצות הברית השתלב בורלה בתעשיית הרפואה. התקדם מהר מאוד והצטרף לחברת פייזר שם מילא את תפקיד ‘ ראש החיסונים העולמי’.

משם הדרך קצרה למינויו למנכל חברת פייזר בשנת 2019.

לאורך השנה הוביל בורלה את מאמצי החברה למציאת חיסון לקורונה במאמצי על.

את החיסון שיציל חיים של מליוני בני אדם בעולם הוביל ודחף יהודי. בן לניצולי שואה . מסלוניקי.

החיסון שלו יגיע גם לגרמניה. בה אלפי מתים. ויציל גם שם חיים.

י יהודים אוהבים חיים.

וזה אולי נר הנשמה הכי משמעותי שאפשר להדליק השנה לכבוד יום הקדיש הכללי שיחול בעשרה בטבת.

📌 הרב איל ורד


Sixty thousand Jews were in Salonika, Greece, on the eve of the Second World War. There was a lively Jewish community. Most of the stevedores at the Salonika docks were Jews, and the Salonika port was closed on the Jewish Sabbath. The Rabbis who lived there were giants of the Jewish world, amongst them the first Israeli Sephardi Chief Rabbi, Meir Chai Uziel.

The Nazi destroyer descended upon this glorious Jewish community with cruelty.

Hitler speedily conquered Greece in order to secure his southern flank before embarking on Operation Barbarossa and the attack against the USSR.

50,000 Salonika Jews out of the 60,000 were murdered in Birkenau, in an extremely short time. They were accompanied by their Rabbi, Rabbi Chaim Chaviv, the last Rabbi of Salonika.

Very few survived. Amongst those was family Bourla who went into hiding.

After the war, in 1961, a son was born to the Bourlas, and his Hebrew name was pronounced – Avraham. Or Albert.

Albert Bourla, CEO of Pfizer

Albert grew up and studied veterinary science. He received his doctorate in the biotechnology of reproduction from Salonika’s Aristotle University. At the age of 34 he moved to the USA. He married a Jewish woman called Miriam and they had two children.

In the USA Bourla integrated into the medical industry. He advanced very quickly and joined the Pfizer company, where he served as the head of global vaccinations.

From there the way was short to his becoming the CEO of Pfizer in 2019.

All through this year Bourla has been leading the company’s supreme efforts to find a vaccine against the coronavirus.

The vaccine which will save the lives of millions of people around the world was led and pushed by a Jewish man. The son of Holocaust survivors. From Salonika.

His vaccine will also reach Germany, where thousands have died. And it will save lives there too.

Because Jews love life.

And this is perhaps the most meaningful memorial candle that is possible to light this year in honour of the day of national Kaddish which falls on the 10th of Tevet.

– Rabbi Eyal Vered.

This story gives me shivers and yet is so incredibly inspiring. And its central message – because Jews love life – is what inspires us to keep on going even in the face of unspeakable tragedy. It explains how we have survived as a nation over thousands of years of persecution and displacement, and explains how we thrive today in the face of implacable enemies.

May the memory of all those killed because they are Jews be for a blessing.

יהי זכרם ברוך.

Posted in Israel news, Judaism, Technology, Terrorism | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments