Category Archives: Jewish issues

The ‘No Solution Gang’

There are some serious people in this government, people whom I consider to be relatively intelligent. People like Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, and Housing Minister Uri Ariel, who, no matter what one thinks of their politics, one cannot get away from the fact that they are, in fact, intelligent, rational people.

And this is what worries me: that these clever people have recently articulated what has for a very long time been only whispered in the circles of the religious, irrational right in Israel:

There is no solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and we should stop looking for one. Not everything in this world can be solved, and what is necessary from the Jews is patience. We’ve done pretty well so far;  think of where we were a hundred years ago and where we are now. We need patience. 

Patience for what exactly? I’m not sure, and neither are they. Perhaps for the world [and the Arabs] to come to terms with the return of the Jews to their ancient homeland. How long will that take? A few more generations? Who knows?

Patience, perhaps, for the Middle East to become undone [undo the Sykes-Picot borders formulation] and then, maybe, a new geographical dispensation will present itself. How long will that take? Probably not that long, it is already happening in Iraq, Syria, and between Gaza and Ramallah. Patience.

Patience, perhaps, for the natural growth of Jews in Judea and Samaria to become irreversible; a fact on all of the ground.

There are no good solutions, only painful ones; everyone knows that, right?

People like Ya’alon, and others in the government have recently started to rail against what they call Solutionism – trying to find a solution to problems that have no solution.

Moshe Ya’alon referred to this kind of thinking as “the disease of solutionism,” a sort of delusion that if we repeated the word “solution” without ceasing, we would come to believe it.

I’ll give you an example:

When you tell them that the creation of a Palestinian state is a “two state solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, they point out that this is not a solution because the Palestinians will never truly accept the presence and sovereignty of a Jewish state here. Also, we left Gaza and got terror, so we can’t leave the West Bank because a terror state will arise there.

So then you say to them: OK then, that just leaves the “one-state, binational solution.” And they say that’s no real solution either because the Jews might be a demographic minority there and anyway, the world won’t let that kind of state stand for very long. So that’s not a solution either.

So, what’s the solution then, you ask them?

And that’s when it comes: There is no solution. Why do you keep on saying that we need a solution? And what’s the problem with not having a solution? Why does everything have to have a solution?

No solution applies? Not one state, two states, three states, no states?

No, those are all solutions. Only non-solutions apply.

And I just stare at them and don’t know what to say. I go back to my Kafka books.

Israelis and Palestinians

The Four State State Solution

The Four State Solution

Many of the Jewish settlers and their supporters don’t want the status quo to change. They do not want to be removed from their homes, God forbid, and they do not want a Palestinian state to rise in the West Bank, God forbid. Many of them don’t believe that the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem has any authority to relinquish Jewish holy land. Many Jewish Israelis who live west of the Green Line don’t want to hold onto any of the settlements east of the Green Line. Many of Hamas’ supporters in Gaza don’t want a Palestinian state to arise along the 1967 borders — they want it along the 1948 borders, i.e. they don’t want any Jewish state here. And they don’t think that the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah has any authority to relinquish Muslim holy land.

Many smart people just don’t see why other smart people are still talking about the Two State Solution. That solution is long gone, they say. In fact, many of them believe that there is no real solution to the physics problem of Jews and Palestinians inhabiting the same space at the same time. Many Jewish settlers don’t understand why the Palestinians just won’t move to Jordan [it’s 80% Palestinian anyway]. The Jordanians, the Palestinians, and the rest of the world, what can you do, will have none of that. They’re stubborn that way.

So the Jews are divided and they won’t budge; the Palestinians are divided and they won’t budge, and don’t even talk to me about the Jordanians.

So we’re left with the status quo. No peace talks, or just an endless series of talks about talks, no territorial withdrawals, no border agreements, more conflict over land, more arrests, rocks, shootings and death.

We go on as before. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, according to many Jews living in Judea and Samaria. What’s wrong with the way things are now, they ask? There is real coexistence in the West Bank now between Jews and Arabs.  There are all the industrial zones and all the trade that goes on. So what if Europe boycotts us? We’ll sell our wine and goat cheese to China. Jews are living proudly in their ancient homeland, they say. Give us time, and the world will get used to the idea. You’ll see.

But the world doesn’t see.

And the settlers don’t see the Palestinians.

And the Palestinians don’t see the Jews’ point of view: that they truly believe they have returned to their ancient homeland. A miracle really, one of the biggest miracles in history — an ancient people banished from their land, keeping their faith for 2,000 years, and coming back to their ancient homeland. The Palestinians will likely never, ever, come to terms with that point of view – the return to Zion. As far as the Palestinians are concerned, there is no Zion and there never was. 

So there is no solution.

But there has to be a solution, because Israel cannot remain the only sort-of democracy in the Middle East [democracy on one side of the Green Line, military rule on the other]. And the Palestinians cannot remain a nation-in-the-making divided into the religious fanatics of the Gaza Strip and the secular crybabies of the West Bank.

So I have an idea: since over 60% of Israelis want Israel to be a real democracy and they want Israel to be a Jewish state and they want to end the conflict with the Palestinians, but neither the Palestinians nor Israelis want to give an inch of territory to the other, I propose that Israel draws its national border along the security fence [give or take a large settlement bloc or three] – and let the settlers and the Palestinians decide what to do with their mixed state, which we could call, until they decide what to name it, the State of Judea and Samaria and Palestine. The settlers and the Palestinians could each have their state – Judea and Samaria for the Jews, Palestine for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Palestine for the Palestinians in Gaza – and they can work out the details amongst themselves. They don’t need us for that. They certainly don’t need America for that.

So we have four states:

Israel – in Israel

Jude and Samaria – in Judea and Samaria

Palestine #1 – in the West Bank

Palestine #2 – in the Gaza Strip.

If all sides can’t agree on two states for two people in Judea and Samaria and Palestine #1 and Palestine #2, they could have four states for four peoples – the status quo if you will – and call it whatever they want to call it.

Sovereignty, representation, nationality, taxes, trade pacts, foreign alliances – this would all be up to them to decide. They could have their own elections, their own flags, their own Olympic teams, even their own mixed anthems representing the aspirations of each of them.

The Israelis on the western side of the security fence will live in the State of Israel, and the Jews and Palestinians living on the eastern side of the fence will live in the state of Judea and Samaria and Palestine #1, and the Hamas and its people in Gaza in Palestine #2.

Of course, there could be negotiations between the State of Israel and the State of Judea and Samaria and Palestine #1 over territorial swaps here and there; as well as border arrangements, visa waivers, family reunifications, economic agreements etc etc.


Jewish Palestinian coexistence

The truth is that this kind of thing already has a precedent in Jewish history, at least.

After the death of King Solomon in 930BC, the Jews of old were divided into two kingdoms: Israel, and Judea. These kingdoms remained separate states for over two hundred years, until they both disappeared.


An Orthodox Jew in an airplane with women - so he covers himself with a plastic bag... - Imgur


Like EL AL says in its marketing slogan: “It’s not just an airline, it’s Israel.”

Well, here’s Israel for you.

Jewish men of the Cohen priestly class are wrapping themselves up in plastic bags on planes to avoid “contaminating” themselves when flying over cemeteries.

An Orthodox Jew in an airplane with women - so he covers himself with a plastic bag... - Imgur

Another Jewish man in a bag on a plane

If you want to understand what’s going on here, read this

Some years ago, it was discovered that the flight paths of many international routes to and from Eretz Yisroel go over a large Jewish cemetery, and the question as to whether it was permitted for kohanim to travel on such flights was widely discussed by the leading poskim


If you’re interested in some of my writing on haredim, then look here and here


Israelis and Palestinians

One last round

My brothers we’ve grown tired.

Some of us are tired of trying to make peace.

Some of us are tired of trying to make war.

There is no solution here. Over and over again, no solution. It’s like a long day that never ends.

And we get used to everything and we accept no hope.

Sometimes I think we’re winning, and other times I know we’re losing.

If we keep on winning like this, in the end there will be nothing left to win.

Sometimes I know we’re getting stronger, but strength is meaningless without hope.

If we’re heading toward the end of whatever they told us the Zionist dream was supposed to be, then let’s go out with a bang.

This slow death is killing me.

Give me a spectacular failure over a long, drawn-out phyrric victory.

Give me a knock-out, not a victory on points that no one’s counting anymore.

There’s no more referee and nobody cares about us anymore.

It’s just us and them. For God’s sake. We’re all clowns.

I’ve got breath in me for one more round:

Either all-out peace or all-out war.

One last round and let’s finish this.

But it has to be all-out. Enough of this no-war, no-peace, no-thing.

Israelis and Palestinians

The battle over Israel’s brand narrative

The battle over Israel’s brand narrative

You might call it 3 narratives for 1 peoples, or 3 states of brand.
There are three distinct yet interlinked narratives of Israel:

The Start-Up Nation

The Comeback Nation

The Occupation Nation

The Start-Up Nation positions Israel as being about technology and innovation that makes the world a better place; a tiny place with huge brainpower, a nation that has more Nobel Prizes than all of its neighbours combined; about a liberal democracy, the only democracy in the Middle East, where gays are not beheaded, where Arabs are represented in parliament and the courts; a multicultural melting pot, with bright people who have a bright future.

The Comeback Nation is about our ties to this land – historical, Biblical, legal and moral – roots to our ancient homeland. We are an ancient nation that was exiled from its home into the cruel Diaspora, where we suffered untold evil and humiliation for 2,000 years, culminating in the Holocaust. We were defenceless, we had no army, we relied on others to protect us, a reliance that failed time and time again. But we kept our traditions, and eventually returned to our homeland, and the Jews’ return from exile is one of the most enthralling human dramas of all time. We keep on uncovering evidence of our past here and we celebrate each discovery. Now we are fighting for our biblical/ historical rights to parts of this land. Under this narrative, Israelis are not “settlers” nor “occupiers” as “one cannot be an occupier in one’s own land.” If anyone is illegally occupying the land, it is the Palestinians.

The Occupation Nation paints Israel as an usurper state taking what does not belong to it, an Apartheid state that is denying basic rights to the “original inhabitants” of the area – the Palestinians [I put original in quotes only to contrast it with the Comeback Nation narrative]. It negates the first two narratives: Israel is not the only democracy in the Middle East, it is, in fact, not a democracy at all because it doesn’t allow the Palestinians living under its rule the same rights as it allows Jews; and it negates the Comeback Nation narrative by denying the Jews’ have any rights to any part of the Holy Land. It is from this narrative that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign springs. There are some shades to this narrative: not everyone who ascribes to the Occupation Nation narrative believes Israel shouldn’t exist within the 1967 borders.

These three narratives are all vying for the coveted title of “the truth” – the one that actually frames “what Israel is.” And there are serious professionals working tirelessly to promote each narrative, mostly working against each other – like the three-headed Cerberus they try bite each others’ heads off while all connected to the same neck.

But the truth is more complex

The truth is that Israel is all three.

I also find it interesting that Naftali Bennett, the new leader of the Habayit Hayehudi settlement party, is an embodiment of all three narratives: a technology start-up guy who now represents a sector that lives in what they believe is their ancient homeland; he wants to perpetuate the occupation – i.e. deny the Palestinians the right to a state of their own. All three narratives in one. Quite remarkable, and perhaps a first in Israeli politics.

The truth is that anyone who sells you just one of the narratives is selling you an incomplete picture.

The complete picture is that:

We are creating a future with startups that are as alien to the region as the region’s inhabitants see us.

We are a start up nation with deep, legitimate rights and roots in this ancient land and we are not letting go of many of our ancestral places.

We are an occupation nation because the people who lived here while we were in exile can’t live in freedom from our rule.

The problem is that we can’t keep on being all three.

We even managed to convince the leader of the free world to adopt our Comeback Nation narrative, and move him away from his previous notion that Israel was created because of the Holocaust. But in his speech in Jerusalem last week, Barack Obama painted an accurate picture of Israel as a complex country with three competing narratives: Start-Up Nation, Comeback Nation, and Occupation Nation.

If we persist in being the Occupation Nation we could lose the narrative of Start -Up Nation as Israel focuses more and more of its finances, resources, morality and international standing on denying the Palestinians a state. Who will we sell our start-ups to if the Occupation Nation narrative gets stronger and we are boycotted more and more? We can win the third intifada and the fourth and the fifth until the only thing left to win is a permanent branding of Occupation Nation. If we persist in the Occupation Nation we will also lose our legitimate rights as the Comeback Nation, because we will never get the world to accept this narrative in its entirety. The key is to hold on to realistic aspects of the Comeback Nation, strengthen the Start-Up Nation, and ditch the Occupation Nation.

A light unto the nations?
A light unto the nations?

Israeli Politics: The Historic Significance of the Lapid-Bennett Alliance

Israeli Politics: The Historic Significance of the Lapid-Bennett Alliance

Until March 1, and then for 14 days after that, all we are going to see is Prime Minister Netanyahu’s attempt to break the Lapid-Bennett alliance. He is going to throw the kitchen sink at them [mostly at Bennett, where he has more of a chance of making an impact]. Make no mistake, the outcome of the battle between Netanyahu and the haredim on the one hand versus Lapid and Bennett on the other will set the course of Israel’s history. It is a battle of historic significance. Since the Likud government of Menachem Begin in 1977, and apart from the second Ariel Sharon government from 2003-2005, the Likud and the haredim have had an ironclad alliance which has cemented the status quo here. The haredi parties joined Rabin in 1992, which shows they have no real ideological principles, only monetary. So, apart from one brief stint of two years in the Knesset opposition, the haredim have been in government for some 36 years. Israeli politicians come and go, but the rabbis behind the haredi politicians do not change. The alliance of the liberal Zionist Likud, the religious Zionist settler parties, and the anti-Zionist haredi parties has stood firm for over thirty years.

But now there is prospect for real change, and the stakes couldn’t be higher.

If Netanyahu succeeds in forcing Bennett to abandon Lapid and join his government, we will not see a true change in the way this country is run. Haredim will not join the army in any substantive numbers, haredi children will not learn core subjects such as math and English, and their parents will not join the workforce in substantive numbers. What was will continue to be. There will not be a substantial change to the status quo of the inequality of national burden. Netanyahu will likely adopt a watered-down version of the Eugene Kandel plan, which is a watered-down version of the Moshe Ya’alon plan, which itself is a watered-down version of the Plessner plan, which is a watered-down version of the Lapid plan. Netanyahu vowed equal sharing of burden, so did Mofaz, so did Livni, so did Lapid, so did Lieberman, so did Bennett. The only people who want to keep things as they are, are the haredim. So what’s the problem? Why is it so hard for Netanyahu to form a coalition without the haredim? The majority of Israeli voters have spoken: they demand an equal sharing of the national burden. Even if that means Torah study in secular schools [which I think is a great idea but which the haredim apparently believe is a catastrophe]. Any government that arises here now and does not significantly change the status quo will be an illegitimate government.

Tzippi Livni

On the Israeli-Palestinian peace process front, Netanyahu will allow Livni to conduct peace negotiations with the Palestinians that won’t really be peace negotiations. Livni, as is her wont, failed to understand the significance of Netanyahu’s offer to enter the coalition. The only people disappointed in Livni are those that still had any hope in her in the first place. When will you learn?

What will Livni say to her Palestinian interlocutor when Netanyahu’s government, her government, builds houses in E1? Will she quit? How will she explain something she is dead set against? What serious Palestinian will take Livni seriously, knowing full well that she’s not serious? Hatnuah’s coalition agreement with the Likud specifically states that a Netanyahu representative will be in the room whenever Livni conducts peace talks. What the hell is that supposed to mean? That Livni will have a chaperone? That she’ll have to look to this person every time she says anything and wait for his nod? Livni’s Hatnuah party is led by three failed leaders [Peretz, Mitzna and Livni  herself] who just don’t want to walk away from it all. They all lost the leadership of their respective parties, they’ve all been shown the door, but they persist. Why? At least Yechimovich had the brains not to fall into the same trap that Livni did when Netanyahu offered the Labor leader the Treasury. Can you imagine Shelly Yechimovich as Finance Minister in a Netanyahu government? The Lion lies down with the Lamb, so maybe the Messiah will come..

The Lapid-Bennett alliance is aimed at changing the structural imbalance within Israeli society. That is what the Israeli voters want. If and when that is properly addressed, then Lapid and Bennett can go their separate ways over the peace process with the Palestinians [who don’t really seem to want a real peace]. Lapid and Bennett talk in terms of ideology, policy and principles, while the Likud talks about portfolios, ministries, and jobs.

The pressure now is on Bennett. Much more than it is on Lapid. The latter will have to do whatever he can to help the former withstand it. The pressure is coming from the losers of the election: the Likud-Beytenu list and the haredim. They realize that the secular middle class in Israel has voted for a break with the old politics, a break from the 40-year-long alliance between the Likud and the haredi parties. They voted for Netanyahu to be prime minister, and they want him to do the following things:

  1. Compel haredi schools to teach the core curriculum, including English and math, so that their children can one day join the workforce
  2. Compel haredi adults into the workforce so that they are not such a heavy and growing financial burden on the secular middle class
  3. End the haredi monopoly on the institutions of religion and state so that Judaism becomes more inclusive and less degrading for the non-haredi
  4. Lower the cost of living, with a special emphasis on the cost of housing, and to take the Housing and Construction Ministry out of haredi hands.
  5. Restart peace talks with the Palestinians so that we can reach a two-state solution with serious, iron-clad security guarantees.

The question now is what Netanyahu will do with the conditional mandate he has received from the Israeli public. He has threatened that if he cannot form a government with the haredim and the nationalist camp, he will call new elections. This is spin, and polls show that if Netanyahu does this, he’ll lose and Lapid will be prime minister. So what is Netanyahu’s plan? What guidelines does he want to set for his coalition? Will his guidelines be the five demands set by the majority of Israeli voters? In what directions does he want to take the country over the next four years? Why is he not adopting these guidelines now and finding the coalition partners that will go down this road with him?

Ask yourself, why is Netanyahu expending all of his energies on prying Lapid and Bennett apart?  He could, if he wanted to, find a face-saving way of bringing them both in and sign a broad coalition government within days. Instead, he’s sticking to the haredim, his “natural partners” that don’t take part in the workforce and don’t serve their country.  Why? Why doesn’t Netanyahu choose other “natural partners” – those that do work and serve the state?

The answer, I’m afraid, could be that, at the end of another four years in office, Netanyahu wants there to be nobody to compete against him for another term in office, just like there wasn’t anyone competing against him this time. Netanyahu must break the Lapid-Bennett alliance so that Netanyahu can keep his alliance with the ultra-Orthodox, thus securing their allegiance for the next elections. It’s always about the next elections, isn’t it? Israeli history hinges on the Lapid-Bennett alliance. They must not break. What they can do now is find a way of working with Netanyahu, a way of acquiescing to some of his demands, a way of saving his face, so that he can take them both in without feeling humiliated and threatened. Netanyahu fears that if he takes them both on, he will be hostage to their agendas, and will not be able to be a strong prime minister. He fears that Lapid will work to undermine him from within. He may be right. But Lapid and Bennett also have a job to do. They need to work with Netanyahu, and they need to make it work. This is now their challenge. They were the victors of the January elections, and now they must be magnanimous. And Netanyahu needs to lead according to the will of the people.