Bibi vs. Ben Gurion – Israeli commentator Yossi Alpher’s take

From Americans for Peace Now’s regular feature, “Hard Questions, Tough Answers,” a Q and A column featuring Yossi Alpher, a former senior Mossad and IDF intelligence official.

I think this says it all.

(The rest of this post is a direct quote from the interview – a link to the full interview follows.)

Q. This coming Saturday, July 20, Binyamin Netanyahu will have served as prime minister of Israel longer than David Ben Gurion: 13 years and 128 days, to be exact. Can you compare the two?

A. Frankly, no comparison really works here. Ben Gurion renewed Jewish sovereignty for the first time in nearly 2000 years. He made incredibly daring and difficult decisions in order to bring this about: the very declaration of Israeli independence against all the odds; Altalena and the determined creation of a single sovereign armed force; prioritizing mass Aliyah over the military’s budget; accepting German reparations; creating a nuclear project. Nothing that came after can compare.

Netanyahu’s longevity in office contrasts particularly with Ben Gurion precisely because Netanyahu has consciously avoided making hard decisions while seemingly letting time and circumstances take care of the challenges involved. Ben Gurion would have acted–confronted the settlers, for example, whatever the cost–to prevent Israel from becoming a binational entity. By the same token, Ben Gurion might have adopted a far more aggressive military pose vis-à-vis Iran in Syria–not necessarily the wisest move.

At the socio-economic level Ben Gurion, who successfully imposed upon beleaguered and bankrupt Israel the absorption of hundreds of thousands of Eastern Jews and Holocaust survivors by a state-run, centralized economy, would never have acquiesced in the huge income gaps and social fragmentation that have emerged in Israel’s otherwise successful market economy under Netanyahu.

Netanyahu is as distant from Ben Gurion as any Israeli prime minister. Only his impressive political skills place him in the Ben Gurion class. Yet Netanyahu uses those skills basically to stay in office–

Netanyahu is essentially a status quo politician, more like Yitzhak Shamir than any other predecessor. Menachem Begin pro-actively sought peace with Egypt, Yitzhak Rabin with the Palestinians and Jordan. Ariel Sharon withdrew from the Gaza Strip. In all cases, these leaders consciously challenged a skeptical public and a hostile political reality. They behaved in the Ben Gurion mode. Bibi meets secretly with Arab leaders and openly with Putin and Xi, but only with the goal of maintaining Israel’s physical security while doing nothing about the existential Palestinian demographic threat closer to home. Bibi also has Trump–a problematic asset but nonetheless a luxury Ben Gurion never dreamed of enjoying as he navigated the fortunes of a truly isolated country.

Ben-GurionIncidentally, Ben Gurion also confronted corruption allegations–spending government and Histadrut money for his book collection and even his Tel Aviv home. He ignored or rebuffed the charges easily. One thing that has changed for the better since then is the rule of law, though that too is now being challenged by Netanyahu.

Netanyahu is as distant from Ben Gurion as any Israeli prime minister. Only his impressive political skills place him in the Ben Gurion class. Yet Netanyahu uses those skills basically to stay in office–currently, as a means of avoiding prosecution on corruption charges. Ben Gurion applied his political skills toward realizing his daring vision for Israel. When necessary, he left office precisely to advance his goals. Can anyone imagine Netanyahu doing this?

To see the whole interview, visit: https://peacenow.org/entry.php?id=31680#.XS4qA-hKjIU.

The spectacular rise and fall of Maurice Harris, ex-employee-of-the-month

REUTERS – Wyncote, PA

July 8, 2019

He came into office with a bold vision and a cocky style, determined to win the hearts and minds of the entire organization and build a base of support that would allow him to hold the office of Employee Of The Month (EOTM) for years to come. Few wanted to get in his way – this talented Jewish juggernaut from Missouri with the knit kippot and delicate hands (do NOT say they’re small around him, btw.)

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A disgraced leader fends off photojournalists in his office.

But now Harris’ “Camelot” has come crashing down, following weeks of allegations of mismanagement, and then a cascade of scandals that left people in the Comms department chanting “Lock him up!” and the Development team refusing to accept his donation to the staff’s annual gift to the institution.

Hagana fighter Auschwitz tattoo
Harris’ first major lie to be exposed was his claim that this was a photo of him as a Haganah fighter in 1946. Forensic analysis proved that in fact it is a photo of Rabbi Elliott Tepperman. How Tepperman managed to time-travel remains unknown.

There are many contributing factors to Harris’ abrupt downfall and failure to garner even a second monthly term as EOTM, but most analysts agree that it was his barrage of self-aggrandizing lies and the investigative journalists who exposed them that finally sunk him. 

Did he actually summit Denali at age 45? It turns out no, as the Philly Inquirer discovered.

Is he actually married to the glamorous and brilliant prison-education expert, Melissa Crabbe? Have you ever actually seen her in the same room with him?

Are the Hot Pockets he stockpiles in the fridge actually vegan? They’re actually not even ingredient kosher.

Perhaps worst of all were the lies about his dating life.

 

 

It was Bryan Schwartzman of the Comms department, pursuing his own investigative leads, who uncovered Harris’ series of false boasts about celebrities he had dated. In venues such as the annual meeting of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, Harris told notable Jewish leaders that he had been lovers with a remarkable list of people, including Bella Abzug, Elizabeth Taylor, Amos Oz, Gabe Kaplan (while he was playing Mr. Kotter), Stav Shaffir, and Talia Shire (while she was playing Adrian in Rocky). Had Harris limited his claims to people who are currently deceased, he may have been impossible to prove wrong. As it stands, he now faces libel lawsuits in 3 countries from Shaffir, Shire, and the estate of Oz. Alan Dershowitz has agreed to represent him.

In a desperate last act intended to win back his collapsing support, Harris spent forty times the EOTM budget to hire a professional meme creator to produce this “Recon rabbis are the sexiest…” eye-chart-style poster. These mammoth 4 foot x 6 foot posters were delivered to each employee and to all their known relatives. Needless to say, the tactic did not work, and the new EOTM, Hila Ratzabi, comes into office having to deal with the residual effects of the debt this expenditure has created.

eye chart RRA

Harris did not return our calls.

 

It’s Time To Decide Which America We Are

Can’t say it any better than Gretchen Kelly

Drifting Through

photo: DHS Office of Inspector General, June 10 2019

Will they hear the fireworks?

The children, shivering under a mylar blanket in a cold cell. Will they hear them?

This is America. We are in a place, right now, where we can’t say that our darkest days are in our past.

And it feels sick. It feels shocking. Unbelievable.

But it’s real. Our country is no stranger to hurting innocent people.

We are a nation of contradictions. We are fighters. A nation of liberators and emancipators. But we are also a nation that is soft-bellied and apathetic, practiced at not seeing the things we don’t want to see. Life can look perfect if we ignore what’s happening just outside of our peripheral vision.

Keep your head down. Sip your cold beer. Check the mail. Nod at your neighbor. Smile. Everything is fiiiiiiine. Indifference is one helluva drug.

We are one part Gilead, one part Stepford. The contrast is startling…

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Upon Being Named Employee of the Month

June 3, 2019

Philadelphia, PA

Dear Fellow Employees (who are not employee of the month),

I am humbled and overwhelmed by this honor. As your new leader, I pledge to use this power wisely and only for the good of the organization. And now that the voices of the employees have been heard and a winner has been chosen, it’s time to put the harsh rhetoric of the campaign season behind us. I regret some of the things I had to say about my fellow employees in the blood sport that is the struggle for the peoples’ votes. Now we can come together under my guidance.

They say that some are born to greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them. In my case, I think greatness has born itself a child and thrust that child upon the doorstep of our office building. That child being me.

employee of the month yeah baby

Continue reading “Upon Being Named Employee of the Month”

Democracy’s Revenge?

In the last days of May, several right wing ethno-nationalist leaders suffered blows to their holds on power and the aura of muscular triumphalism they love to project.

In Israel, a feud between two far right icons prevented Netanyahu, whose right wing bloc won the April 9 election, from being able to form a government within the legal time limit of 42 days. Now Israel is going to have an election do-over in September.

British PM Theresa May announced her resignation effective June 7, after multiple failed attempts to get Parliament to pass a law approving the agreement that May negotiated with EU leaders to create an “orderly” Brexit process. With no such agreement, the alternative is a “no deal” implementation of Brexit, which could result in major economic setbacks and other undesirable impacts on Britain and the EU member countries. Her departure doesn’t mean that the British public have turned against Brexit, but it does mean that Nigel Farage’s xenophobic nationalist campaign has now led to the resignation of two consecutive Conservative PMs.

Finally, Special Counsel Robert Mueller made public remarks in which he openly contradicted Attorney General Barr’s characterization of the Mueller report as exonerating of Trump, and in which he pointed to Congress as the governmental body tasked with holding presidents accountable for improper behavior (some have interpreted this as a strong hint on his part). Mueller’s remarks may create a catalyst to move House Democrats to go forward with an impeachment inquiry.

Continue reading “Democracy’s Revenge?”

A Better Deal

Since it seems the current US Administration and the now-forming right-wing government in Israel have both agreed that the “two-state solution has failed,” to quote Jared Kushner, I’ve taken it upon myself to come up with my own “deal of the century.”

Screenshot 2019-04-27 at 10.42.03I propose the establishment of a new federated single state that hearkens back to the original territory that comprised the British Mandate following World War I. The Federation of the Levant will consist of 3 states, which will be independent and interdependent.

The 3 federated states will be:

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan

The State of Palestine

The State of Israel

A special status will apply to the Municipality of Jerusalem / Al Quds.

This proposal will address the following issues:

  1. Federal and State Governments and their Powers
  2. State Borders
  3. Citizenship
  4. Rights of Residency
  5. Freedom of Movement
  6. Freedom of Religion and Conscience
  7. Military Defense

Continue reading “A Better Deal”

Measuring Good: Sabermetrics and Spiritual Insight (originally published online in eJewish Philanthropy)

This article originally appeared in E-Jewish Philanthropy here.

Screenshot 2019-04-22 at 21.21.11

I’ll start with a story: in the 1970s, while working as a night shift security guard, Bill James developed an alternative set of stats for baseball called Sabermetrics – an unorthodox analytical model worthy of Nate Silver. For many years, James’ ideas were only known to a tiny group of extreme baseball junkies. The story of how Sabermetrics was finally embraced by a major league team’s general manager, Billy Beane, is wonderfully told in Michael Lewis’ 2003 bestseller, Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game and the 2011 movie it inspired.

Beane’s dilemma was that the team he was responsible for building, the Oakland A’s, didn’t have the money to compete for the free agents who were the best players. Beane was a Bill James fan with a small budget and nothing to lose. He concluded that if James’ stats were actually better at predicting success than the traditionally used stats, then maybe he could build a winning team by acquiring overlooked players that traditional scouts would miss – players whose Sabermetric stats were cream of the crop. He did, and the A’s went on to become the winningest team in baseball for a good stretch of years.

Finally, there’s Theo Epstein, who’s in the sports headlines these days. He’s the Sabermetrics whiz kid who applied James’ model to the Boston Red Sox, finally ending their long championship drought. He’s spent the last five years doing the same with the World Series Champion Chicago Cubs.

So what’s spiritual about all this? I promise, we’ll get there, but stay with me a bit longer.

Continue reading “Measuring Good: Sabermetrics and Spiritual Insight (originally published online in eJewish Philanthropy)”

D’var Torah – Nitzavim-Vayelekh (5770/2010)

D’var Torah – Nitzavim/Vayelech 5770

Rabbi Maurice Harris – Temple Beth Israel – Eugene, OR

Shabbat shalom to everyone on this, the last Shabbat before the Jewish New Year of 5771 begins. I hope to see all of you this Wednesday night, Thursday morning, Thursday night and Friday morning for Rosh Hashanah services, and then again Friday night and Saturday morning for Shabbat Shuvah services. It’s a lot of davenning, a lot of togetherness, and I pledge to bring my breath mints if you will too.

In our annual journey through the Torah, we’ve gotten very close to the end of the scroll. This week we’ve arrived at the double Torah portion known as Nitzavim/Vayelech. It begins with well-known words, spoken by Moses to the Israelites: atem nitzavim kool-chem ha-yom leefnay adonay. One translation reads: “You stand this day, all of you, before the Eternal One your God.”

It’s a moment in which Moses tells the Hebrews that they are about to enter into a covenant with God and in the fullest sense, become a nation bonded with God. There are several moments of covenant between God and Israel in Torah, and this one stands prominently alongside the pact made between God and the people earlier in the Torah at Mt. Sinai. Now, the Israelites are poised to enter the Promised Land in just a matter of days or weeks, though, sadly, Moses won’t be making that journey with them. But for now, Moses informs them that they are about to ratify, once again, their sacred agreement, their eternal pact with God, as they get ready to transform from a wandering tribe of Hebrews to a nation within a land.

Moses goes on to remind the Israelites that if they keep the covenant they will create a just and prosperous society, and enjoy peace with their neighbors. If they violate the covenant, however, there will be sad and painful consequences. Ultimately, the land will spit them out, and they will find themselves in exile. Their beloved promised land will fall into ruin and destruction on such a scale that neighboring nations will pity them.

We read these words with dramatic irony. As readers we know that not one but two bitter and catastrophic exiles await the Israelites in the centuries after Moses’s life. After warning the Israelites that exile will be the cost of breaking the covenant, Moses tries to offer them hope should they ever find themselves in exile in the future. Here’s some of what he says:

When all these things happen to you [meaning when you do inevitably violate this covenant and find yourselves exiled from your land] … should you take [all that I’ve said] to heart amidst the various nations to which the Eternal your God has banished you, and should you then return to the Eternal your God, and you and your children heed God’s command with all your heart and spiritthen the Eternal your God will restore your fortunes and take you back in motherly-love. God will bring you together again from all the peoples where the Eternal your God has scattered you. Even if your outcasts are at the ends of the sky, from there the Eternal your God will gather you, from there God will fetch you. And the Eternal your God will bring you to the land that your ancestors possessed, and you will possess it; and God will make you more numerous than your ancestors were.

If we stop and look at this passage closely, we start to see how extraordinary it is. Here is Moses, giving his final speeches to a people he knows is deeply flawed, yet full of promise.

Continue reading “D’var Torah – Nitzavim-Vayelekh (5770/2010)”

D’var Torah – Re’eh (5770 / 2010)

D’var Torah – Parashat Re’eh  5770

Rabbi Maurice Harris – Temple Beth Israel – Eugene, OR

Shabbat shalom.  This week’s Torah portion is Re’eh, and in it we continue to listen to Moses’s final review of the laws and statutes that the Israelites are to observe as part of their covenant with the One who redeemed them from slavery in Egypt, the Eternal One.  Moses goes over many different topics in Re’eh, and tomorrow morning Ethan, our bar mitzvah, will focus on an area having to do with kashrut, the laws governing how we make eating food a holy act. In another part of this parashah, however, Moses gives an overview of the rituals involved in the celebration of the great festivals of the people of Israel.  The three pilgrimage festivals – Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot, get special attention. Tomorrow morning, when Ethan chants the maftir, or last few verses of the portion, he’ll be chanting words that describe some of the things we’re supposed to do on Sukkot. Listen to what the text says:

After the ingathering from your threshing floor and your vat, you shall hold the Feast of Booths, chag ha-sukkot, for seven days.  You shall rejoice in your festival, with your son and daughter, your male and female slave, the Levite, the stranger, the orphan, and the widow in your communities.  You shall hold a festival for the Eternal you God seven days, in the place that the Eternal will choose; for the Eternal your God will bless all your crops and all your undertakings, and you shall have nothing but joy.

You might have noticed the emphasis on happiness and joy in this passage.  There’s a key word that recurs in the Torah’s discussion of sukkot, and that word is sameach, or grammatical variations on it.  Sameach is the word for happiness or joy, and in fact one of the various names for the holiday of Sukkot is Zman Simchateynu, or “Season of our Joy.”  In the passage I just quoted above, the Hebrew root sameach comes up twice.  We hear it first with the words “you shall rejoice in your festival” – v’samachta is the Hebrew for “you shall rejoice.”  Then, towards the end of the passage, it says “ you shall have nothing but joy.”  The Hebrew reads, v’hayitta ach sameach.

Eric Mendelsohn, a past President of Congregation Darchei Noam, a Reconstructionist synagogue in Toronto, writes the following:

The grandchildren of the great medieval Jewish commentator Rashi, building on his commentary, note that the word “Simcha” … – “Be happy !” occurs three times in the description of Sukkot (and with the extra command “Ach Sameach” – “[really] be happy”, it is almost like a parents’ reminder — “Have a good time and by the way, have a good time.”) On the other hand, [even though this Torah portion also describes the other 2 great pilgrimage festivals, the word]  “Simcha” is mentioned only once for Shavuot, and not at all with regard to Pesach.

In a d’var Torah he gave at his synagogue, he asks why this might be.  Here’s some of what he writes:

The agricultural basis of these holidays provides a simple explanation. Passover is the time of lambing and the sign of spring, but there is great apprehension about the crops to come. The winter wheat is in but the barley and vegetables will take seven more weeks. At Shavuot – the barley is in and one can breathe somewhat easier. But Sukkot is the grand Thanksgiving feast, at which rich and poor alike are assured enough sustenance. Judaism teaches that one has the right to enjoy the material benefits of this world and we are enjoined to rejoice in having them.

The Rabbinic linking of the three festivals to history also provides a reason for the differing amounts of required happiness. At Pesach – Egyptian soldiers have been drowned; we cannot rejoice when others are suffering. At Shavuot we can be happy that we have received Torah, but there was the incident of the Golden Calf which mutes our joy. But Sukkot celebrates the Mishkan (the portable Tabernacle of the desert). It provides the wholeness of having a spiritual center that moves with one — and that is cause for unbounded joy. Continue reading “D’var Torah – Re’eh (5770 / 2010)”

Focus on building a strong, enduring progressive majority (there are no shortcuts – part 2)

With the redacted Mueller report about to drop, it’s tempting to get sucked into the news and spin cycles that are sure to follow. I plan not to do that today. But I also plan not to go politically inactive and abandon the field of action to others. I am going to keep doing the activist thing I’ve been doing lately – sending personalized postcards to Democratic voters urging them to vote in various local, state, and special Congressional elections. (https://postcardstovoters.org/)

I am also going to continue using the wonderful online tool, ResistbotScreenshot 2019-04-18 at 08.03.54, to easily write and send letters and faxes to members of Congress demanding that the full, unredacted report be made public, and keeping the pressure on about other important issues.

And I’m going to look for opportunities to keep hammering away at the long term enduring work needed to win local, state, and federal elections for Democrats, by checking on Indivisible’s work in my area and keeping up with a great activist organization in my state, Turn PA Blue.

We can’t count on good luck with news cycles and the unfolding of events. If the eventual contents of the full Mueller report see the light of day, and if those contents actually bring Trump down or decrease his chances of re-election, huzzah – bonus – yay! But we all know that things might play out very differently, justly or not.

Continue reading “Focus on building a strong, enduring progressive majority (there are no shortcuts – part 2)”