US-led conference in Bahrain. (photo credit: HERB KEINON)
MANAMA, Bahrain – The most illuminating moment for me during the two-day “Peace to Prosperity” workshop here came, oddly enough, during a seven-minute phone interview back to Israel with a haredi media platform called Hadashot Hascoopim.
Earlier in the day I had posted a short video that went viral of about 10 men at the synagogue in Manama – including White House chief mediator Jason Greenblatt – wearing their tallitot and tefillin and, hand in hand, dancing around the bimah after morning services singing “Am Yisrael Hai” (The People of Israel Lives).
The interviewer began the segment by asking for a description of the “services that took place this morning in Bahrain, in an ancient synagogue, with unbridled joy and the singing of ‘Am Yisrael Hai,’ joined by the Chabad emissary and Jason Greenblatt, the haredi Jew who is Trump’s Mideast envoy.”
And while the moment was indeed moving and unusual – it was the first morning minyan in memory held in the small synagogue – some perspective is needed.
First of all, the Bahraini synagogue is not “ancient.” It was built just over 100 years ago to serve the small Jewish community in the kingdom, mostly immigrants from Iraq. Secondly, the singing of “Am Yisrael Hai” there, though poignant, was not exactly done with unbridled joy. Happy, yes; unbridled joy? That’s an exaggeration. And, finally, it is questionable whether Greenblatt would agree with his being characterized as a haredi Jew.
What is telling here is how the interviewer opted to portray the event, to play it up. Earlier in the day, in an interview with Army Radio, the minyan and the dance were also highlighted, though the presenter was more accurate in his description.
Why is this significant? Because it shows how we want things to be.
Israelis, so long isolated and shunned in the region, desperately and understandably want to be accepted here. As a result, sometimes the smallest crumbs thrown in our direction are magnified to appear as if they are a multilayered wedding cake.
THIS WEEK’S “Peace to Prosperity” workshop in Bahrain was significant, no doubt, though the true significance will be measured only down the road. It was important because it was the first rollout of Washington’s attempt to create a new paradigm for peacemaking.
No more would the United States give the rejectionist Palestinian Authority veto power over its efforts. The PA boycotted the conference, so the administration just shrugged and said, “So what? We will hold it anyway and invite some of the biggest financial guns in the Middle East to take part.”
No more would the paradigm of economic assistance to the Palestinians be along the model of charity: donors pouring billions of dollars onto a client with his hands out. The plan’s $50 billion project is based on investments, not handouts.
This reflects the mind-set of the businessmen turned diplomats – headed by Jared Kushner – driving the program. It also explains why the conference would go ahead without official PA participation. If you want to invest in the West Bank through the private sector, you don’t necessarily need the government.
“Paradigm” was one word that was heard over and over at the conference here. It was heard from speakers on the center stage during plenary sessions, and it was heard in the hallways where delegates from around the world mingled amid tables laden with colorful pastries and silver urns full of rich coffee.
It was a word used repeatedly by Kushner and by others in his entourage. Paradigm. Or, more accurately, changing paradigms, paradigm shifts.
One paradigm shift was to move the world community from supporting the Palestinians through charity, to investing in the West Bank and Gaza instead. And the second paradigm shift mentioned was in the Arab world’s changing attitudes toward Israel. In that context, the Bahrain government’s granting of visas to eight journalists from six Israeli media outlets was also seen as a significant part of what was taking place in Manama.
But here, too, some perspective is needed. Israeli journalists walking around Manama’s soil has happened before; this is not Neil Armstrong landing on the moon. It happened – in 1994 at a conference following the Oslo I Accord.
Secondly, Israelis are not an unknown quantity in Manama.
At the Ali Baba Cave Antiques & Carpets store in the souk, the merchant behind the counter said it is not infrequent for Israelis to shop for painted Persian brass vases and Turkish teacups in his shop.
“They are here because Israel has good ties with Saudi Arabia,” he offered. It is an open secret that Israeli businessmen have been discreetly coming here and doing business for years.
So not only is the arrival of Israeli journalists in the country not unprecedented, the presence here of Israeli businessmen is not unheard of. The gestures this week must therefore be seen as yet another of the baby steps being taken toward reaching a more normal state of relations between Israel and the Arab world.
These public steps go back to a visit by an interdenominational Bahrain delegation to Jerusalem in December 2017, continued with Saudi Arabia allowing Air India to fly over its airspace to and from Israel, and extended through Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s publicized visit to Oman last December and the playing of “Hatikvah” when an Israeli judoka won an event in an international competition in the United Arab Emirates.
Bahrain inviting Israeli journalists to cover this event is another point along this line, as was the Bahraini government’s approval to open the synagogue for prayer, and the interview that Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Khaled Bin Ahmed al-Khalifa gave to three of the news outlets on hand where he acknowledged that Israel is an established fact in the region.
As nice as it is to hear the Bahrain foreign minister acknowledge us, this – too – must be put in perspective, and even his saying these words to Israeli journalists does not put us suddenly on the eve of normalizing ties with the Persian Gulf.
The finance ministers from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates at the conference spoke of economic development in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and neighboring countries at the conference, not about normalizing ties with Israel. And they all paid the necessary lip service to the Palestinian cause.
The Bahraini foreign minister in his interviews talked about Israel as an established fact, something that exists, and that its people want peace. While it is significant that he uttered those words, they have been said by other Gulf leaders in the past – though not to Israeli journalists – and should not be conflated to the equivalent of Anwar Sadat landing in Jerusalem.
Context is needed, and the context is that a lot has changed since 2002 when the Saudis put forward their Arab Peace Initiative, which would normalize ties with Israel if Israel did everything the Arab world asked: withdraw completely to the 1967 lines, including on the Golan Heights, and find a fair accommodation for the refugees, generally interpreted as allowing a symbolic number into Israel and paying reparations for the resettlement of the other refugees and their descendants in the countries where they now reside.
In other words, the Arab world would accept Israel, if Israel gave in to all its demands. Israel, understandably, did not grasp the offer with both hands.
Khalifa, in his interview with Channel 13, bewailed this.
“I am concerned about the Arab Peace Initiative, which calls for a two-state solution,” he said. “This has been accepted worldwide. If you look at the history of the dispute, there were a lot of mistakes. The Palestinians missed Camp David in 2000, but the Israelis missed the Arab Peace Initiative. We didn’t even hear a hint of a positive welcome of the Arab Peace Initiative from the Israeli government.”
Much has occurred in the intervening 17 years. The Middle East is still in the throes of the cataclysmic Arab Spring, and Iran has cast a long, dark shadow over the region.
There are new tensions in the Gulf, and as a result the Gulf countries are looking toward the US, and – to a much, much lesser degree – to Israel for assistance.
In 2002 the Gulf countries felt far less threatened by Iran, their economies could still rely on oil as its nonstop engine, and there was not a burning need to strengthen relations and ties with the US, both the administration and Congress.
That is not the case now. Today there is a palpable fear of Iran and the possibility of a war erupting at any time. Making America happy is important, and making America happy was the driving force behind this conference in Manama.
It is why the Bahrainis hosted the conference in the first place, it is why Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Qatar all sent high-level representatives to take part – despite the anger this caused the Palestinians.
And it is also why the Bahrainis made gestures to Israel, such as allowing in journalists and enabling prayer services in the city’s synagogue. These are all points along the long line toward a normalization of ties, but that line is very long, and despite some of the breathless narration this week, we are still very much at the beginning.
Menachem Begin in December 1942 wearing the Polish Army uniform of Gen. Anders’ forces with his wife Aliza and David Yutan; (back row) Moshe Stein and Israel Epstein
(photo credit: JABOTINSKY ARCHIVES)
During the inauguration of a memorial to the victims of the Siege of Leningrad in Jerusalem’s Sacher Park on January 24, 2020, before the climax of Holocaust remembrance events at which Russian President Vladimir Putin was given a central platform, we were stunned to hear a rendition of The Blue Kerchief (Siniy
Giant figures are seen during the 87th carnival parade of Aalst February 15, 2015
The annual carnival in Aalst, Belgium, is expected to take place on Sunday with even more antisemitic elements than in previous years.
Aalst’s organizers have sold hundreds of “rabbi kits” for revelers to dress as hassidic Jews in the carnival’s parade. The kit includes oversized noses, sidelocks (peyot) and black hats. The organizers plan to bring back floats similar to the one displayed in 2019 featuring oversized dolls of Jews, with rats on their shoulders, holding banknotes.
Pope Francis waves as he arrives at the Basilica of Saint Nicholas in the southern Italian coastal city of Bari, Italy February 23, 2020. Photo: REUTERS/Remo Casilli.
Pope Francis on Sunday warned against “inequitable solutions” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying they would only be a prelude to new crises, in an apparent reference to US President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace proposal.
Francis made his comments in the southern Italian port city of Bari, where he traveled to conclude a meeting of bishops from all countries in the Mediterranean basin.
Palestinians walk past a shop selling fruits in Ramallah, Feb. 20, 2020. Photo: Reuters / Mohamad Torokman.
Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) have reached an agreement to end a five-month long trade dispute, officials said on Thursday.
The dispute, which opened a new front in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, began in September when the PA announced a boycott of Israel calves. The PA exercises limited self-rule in the West Bank under interim peace deals.
Antisemitic caricatures on display at the annual carnival in Aalst, Belgium. Photo: Raphael Ahren via Twitter.
Disturbing images emerged on Sunday of the annual carnival at Aalst, Belgium, showing an astounding number of antisemitic themes, costumes, displays and statements.
Israeli journalist Raphael Ahren documented people dressed as caricatures of Orthodox Jews, a fake “wailing wall” attacking critics of the parade, blatantly antisemitic characters and puppets wearing traditional Jewish clothes and sporting huge noses.
The stench of anti-Semitism always hovers over Switzerland’s Lake Geneva when the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) is meeting there. The foul emanations reached a new nadir last week with UNHRC’s publication of a “database” of companies doing business in the disputed territories in Israel.
Following the publication of the list, Bruno Stagno Ugarte, deputy director for advocacy of NGO Human Rights Watch, stated, “The long-awaited release of the U.N. settlement business database should put all companies on notice: To do business with illegal settlements [sic] is to aid in the commission of war crimes.”
One of the many things that annoys me about politicians is how sure they are of themselves. Everything is black and white. Every idea is good or bad. Take globalism, for example. You either love it or hate it. It works or it doesn’t.
Another thing that annoys me is how so much of a politician’s life revolves around power: Do everything you can to get it, and everything you can to keep it.
Why am I ranting? Because, while our politicians have been consumed with power and the media with the fights over power, a threat to our nation has been virtually ignored.
Blue and White Party leaders Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid are establishing their diplomatic credentials in the immediate run-up to Israel’s March 2 election with an insult to a U.S. administration that has arguably provided Israel with more diplomatic gains than any previous administration.
The Times of Israel reported that at a campaign stop in front of English-speaking Israelis, Gantz accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “of neglecting bipartisan ties in favor of exclusive support from U.S. President Donald Trump’s Republican Party,” under the headline “Gantz pledges to mend ties with U.S. Democrats if elected.”
Bipartisanship was in short supply at the State of the Union address earlier this month—with one notable exception.
Nancy Pelosi had been looking dyspeptic, shuffling the papers she would later rip to shreds, when President Donald Trump reminded his audience that “the United States is leading a 59-nation diplomatic coalition against the socialist dictator of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro.”
Suddenly, the House Speaker applauded. Trump then introduced “the true and legitimate president of Venezuela: Juan Guaidó.”
The law professor Alan Dershowitz has thrown a legal hand-grenade into America’s political civil war by claiming to have evidence that former President Barack Obama “personally asked” the FBI to investigate someone “on behalf” of Obama’s “close ally,” billionaire financier George Soros.
He made his cryptic remark in an interview defending U.S. President Donald Trump against claims he interfered in the prosecution of his former adviser, Roger Stone.