What Rex Tillerson, Trump’s pick as secretary of state, could mean for the Jewish agenda

Rex Tillerson, chief executive officer of Exxon Mobil Corp., speaks during the World Gas Conference, in Paris, France, on Tuesday, June 2, 2015. Oil companies that have pumped trillions of barrels of crude from the ground are now saying the future is in their other main product: natural gas, a fuel theyre promoting as the logical successor to coal. Photographer: Christophe Morin/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Rex Tillerson, chief executive officer of Exxon Mobil Corp., speaks during the World Gas Conference in Paris on June 2, 2015. (Christophe Morin/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

WASHINGTON (JTA) — President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, is the chairman and CEO of Exxon Mobil, an energy company large enough to have its own foreign policy.

It is a policy, however, that doesn’t always align with the priorities of Jewish and pro-Israel groups. Oil companies have clashed in the past with the pro-Israel lobby.

“Exxon Mobil has not been a friend to Israel through the years,” said Abraham Foxman, the national director emeritus of the Anti-Defamation League, referring to clashes in the 1970s over the Arab boycott of Israel and in the 1990s over the imposition of sanctions on Iran.

Others suggest, however, that fears that Big Oil will tilt U.S. policy against Israel are a thing of the past.

“There was a time that being associated with oil made you automatically deemed hostile when it comes to Israel,” said David Makovsky, the Ziegler distinguished fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “However, at a time that Israel and Gulf states are quietly pursuing common interests when it comes to enmity toward Iran, the Mideast is no longer zero-sum.  Hopefully, oil executives see this shift as much as the Arabs themselves.”

Makovsky recalled how one of President Ronald Reagan’s secretaries of state also had ties to one of the energy industry’s biggest builders of oil, chemical and natural-gas facilities.

“One should recall that when George Shultz came in, people thought his business connection to Bechtel projects in the Gulf made him hostile to Israel, and this did not prove to be the case,” he said. “I think a question Tillerson will be asked at the hearings beyond the focus on Russia is how does someone whose business background made him a skeptic on economic sanctions [against Iran] now be the one who will have to enforce them and even advocate for more in certain instances?”

That focus on Russia will involve scrutiny of Tillerson’s close ties to President Vladimir Putin. Tillerson led the expansion of Exxon’s joint drilling with Russia in recent years and has objected to sanctions imposed on the country over its invasion of Ukraine.

“We are unfamiliar with his larger geopolitical view of the world and America’s place in it,” the American Jewish Committee said in a statement on Tillerson’s nomination late Tuesday. The statement recommended to senators confirming Tillerson six areas of inquiry, including maintaining U.S.-Israel relations, containing Iran, supporting alliances in Europe and Asia confronting radical extremism and supprting human rights.

Morton Klein, the president of the Zionist Organization of America, said his anxiety was allayed to a degree by what he saw as the friendliness to Israel of Trump and his team.

“I had concerns about [Tillerson’s] closeness to Arab countries and to Russia, all of whom have been hostile to Israel,” Klein said. “But then again I wonder because of his close relations and because of President-elect Trump and the pro-Israel people around him, I’m hoping he will use some of these relations and turn their minds around.”

Steve Rosen, the former policy director for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, recalled the 1990s battles with oil companies over sanctioning Iran — but said they were not ideological, and that Tillerson could well change his outlook once he changes jobs.

“It would be a little unnatural if a CEO with a company with material interest in the freedom of his company to engage in profit-making behavior” were to favor sanctions, he said. “Where you stand depends on where you sit.”

As for Trump, his statement Tuesday morning announcing the nomination emphasized Tillerson’s executive skills.

“Guiding operations around the world that include more than 200 offices, Mr. Tillerson knows how to manage a global organization and successfully navigate the complex architecture of world affairs and diverse foreign leaders,” Trump’s statement said. “As Secretary of State, he will be a forceful and clear-eyed advocate for America’s vital national interests, and help reverse years of misguided foreign policies and actions that have weakened America’s security and standing in the world.”

Nevertheless, Tillerson faces a tough nomination fight. And while Jewish groups have largely hesitated to critique Trump’s appointments, they will quietly be asking more than a few questions about Tillerson and what he signals about the president-elect’s foreign policy.

Russian reset

Trump wants to reset relations with Russia, saying it would be better to have them alongside the U.S. rather than rivals. The president-elect has boasted of his mutual admiration for Putin. What does that mean for Syria?

Like most of the world, Israel wants the carnage to end. Unlike Russia, it does not want the outcome to include the empowerment of Russia’s ally, the Assad regime. Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, for one, says Assad must go. Israel also does not want Iran and Hezbollah — Assad’s allies  and, effectively, Russia’s — to come out of the deal strengthened.

Iran sanctions

Tillerson is on the record saying sanctions on Russia were counterproductive. What about Iran?

It’s not clear yet whether Trump is committed to scrapping the Iran nuclear deal or enforcing it more strictly than Obama did. And whatever one’s objections to the pact, which swapped sanctions relief for a nuclear rollback by Iran, the Obama team has enhanced sanctions in other sectors, with a special focus on targeting Iran’s Lebanon proxy, Hezbollah.

Jewish groups will want to know if Tillerson’s opposition to sanctions is a matter of principle, or is he against them because it affects his business now. Had he led Exxon Mobil in the 1990s, would he have joined in the oil industry’s fierce opposition to Iran sanctions introduced at that time?

Two states?

Trump says he wants to broker a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians. The Republican Party over the summer, in its convention platform, officially became agnostic about a two-state solution and said it would defer to Israel on whether this is the preferred outcome. Trump’s aides have said the same thing. The mainstream and left-wing pro-Israel communities, meantime, remain committed to a two-state outcome.

“We expect senators to question him vigorously to determine whether his views are consistent with decades of bipartisan U.S. support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and with upholding our country’s international commitments, such as the successful nuclear agreement with Iran,” J Street, the liberal Jewish Middle East policy group, said in a statement.

(The centrist American Jewish Committee became the latest mainstream group to reassert support for the two-state solution, issuing a statement Monday calling it the “only realistic resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as established through direct bilateral negotiations between the parties themselves.”)

Through his role at Exxon, Tillerson forged deep and friendly ties in the Arab world. How necessary does he believe a two-state outcome is to a lasting peace? Is he ready to relaunch negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians? The last round, in 2014, ended in a war between Israel and the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, and the rumblings of a third intifada in the West Bank.

Netanyahu has said that the common enmity Israel shares with Arab states against Iran has created an opportunity for a simultaneous deal – a broad peace deal with the Arab states that could encompass the Palestinians. Tillerson has had his ear to the ground in that region. Does he agree?

Human rights and climate change

The Trump transition team in its statements Tuesday about the nomination depicted Tillerson as a petroleum executive who worries about climate change and the effect of big business on impoverished nations. It relayed excerpts from an Associated Press profile that dug up a quote in which Tillerson advocates for “sensible strategies that address these risks [of manmade climate change] while not reducing our ability to progress other global priorities such as economic development, poverty eradication and public health.”

The American Jewish World Service was not buying, and referred in a statement to Exxon’s alleged role in suppressing scientific evidence of manmade climate change.

“Tillerson’s nomination is deeply disturbing, as he is the leader of one of the world’s largest energy corporations — which has polluted the global environment, developed close relationships with dictators, and used its resources over 40 years to suppress climate science,” said AJWS President Robert Bank.

Anti-Semitism Abroad Not Yet at 1930s Level But ‘Bleak’ Nonetheless

Ira Forman says “civil society has not stepped up.”

Ira Forman says “civil society has not stepped up.”

Jewish journalists met with members of the Obama administration on Wednesday, Nov. 16 at the State Department for a briefing on worldwide anti-Semitism as well as U.S. efforts to secure reparations to Holocaust survivors. The meeting was arranged by the American Jewish Press Association, which held its annual conference in Washington, D.C., last month.

During his three-and-a-half year tenure, Ira Forman, U.S. special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism, has been to 36 countries and has spoken to leaders all over the world, including “a whole slew of rabbis” and a conference of bishops about the rise of anti-Semitism, he told the journalists.

“The most important thing I think we could do, I call ‘getting it right,’” he said. “It is equally bad to overstate [the situation] as it is to understate it.”

The pervasiveness of anti-Semitism outside the United States does not yet rise to the level of that in the 1930s, although “we can find analogies,” said Forman, a Cleveland native who was a founder and executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council from 1996 to 2010.

In both Greece and in Hungary there exist “deeply ideological Nazi parties that are deeply committed, with representation, and also there is street volition,” he said. “But we don’t see trains to concentration camps. We can’t predict what’s coming up, but we don’t see it.”

And yet, he observed, Jews nonetheless have been dying at the hands of anti-Semites in street attacks.

“But Jews are not being shot en masse,” Forman said. “So, what is it? It’s bad enough.”

If current trends in Europe continue, he predicted, the smaller and newer Jewish communities could disappear due to attrition.

Forman said that during his tenure, he has been “struck by the complexity of the problem.”

So many factors are at play when it comes to dealing with anti-Semitism abroad, including the size of the individual community, the size of the community’s Muslim population, the leadership of the community, and threats to abolish the practice of circumcision or bans on kosher slaughter. European Jews can face anti-Semitism stemming from a range of ideological perpetrators, including “classic xenophobic extremists,” Muslims and left-wing populists. In addition, there is also anti-Semitism associated with the Israeli- Palestinian conflict, Forman said.

While the majority of Muslims in France “have no interest in harming Jews,” he noted, there is a “small percentage of young people” who are committing violence and murder.

While meeting with leaders of the Jewish community in Paris in 2014, Forman learned that most French Jews had talked about leaving France. And yet, he said, only about 15 percent would actually do so.

The French government has been “great” in stepping up to protect its Jewish citizens, he said, “but that’s not enough.”

“Civil society has not stepped up, and we don’t know if it will,” Forman said. “It’s looking bleak.”

The U.S. is working on fighting anti-Semitism abroad, with its first priority being the encouragement of European governments to accept a working definition of anti-Semitism that includes efforts to delegitimize the State of Israel. The U.S. is further “urging countries to appoint people who can gather data and suggest resources” to address the issue, Forman said.

One of the most challenging aspects of fighting anti-Semitism Forman has faced is hate speech and incitement on social media.

“We don’t believe in censorship in the United States,” he said. “You can say whatever you want and not be charged criminally. We know how to deal with bad speech: You overwhelm it with good speech. But we don’t know how to do that on social media.”

Forman emphasized the imperative of European civil society stepping up to the plate to shut anti-Semitism down. While overt anti-Semitism is typically condemned in the United States by clergy members and other citizens, “that doesn’t happen in other countries. You need civil society to make this unacceptable.”

Forman, who expects to be replaced by the incoming Trump administration, is a realist when it comes to hatred against Jews.

“We can’t turn the faucet off,” Forman said. “But we can turn it down.”

Toby Tabachnick is a senior staff writer for The Jewish Chronicle in Pittsburgh, an associated publication of the Baltimore Jewish Times.

Election Never Far from Federation Assembly

 Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said she looks forward to Donald Trump filling the court’s vacant seat. (Photo by Justin Katz

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said she looks forward to Donald Trump filling the court’s vacant seat. (Photo by Justin Katz)

The General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America got underway in Washington, D.C., Sunday with Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, former chief rabbi of the United Kingdom, telling the 3,000 community activists and staff how the world has changed since he last addressed the G.A. in 2014.

“Since we last met, the world has gone mad,” he said. “The world is moving into a new and dangerous phase that I call the politics of anger.”

The politics of anger comes from fear, he said. Those gathered in the Washington Hilton ballroom must counter that fear with hope, which Sacks called the greatest gift to humanity as a whole.”

Sacks mentioned the election of Donald Trump as president four days before, but in the gentlest way. He called the contest between Trump and Hillary Clinton “almost as acrimonious as a synagogue board meeting.”

The presidential election appeared to be the chief topic of the three-day G.A., the Jewish federation world’s annual convention where participants gather to re-energize their commitment to the Jewish community, network and hear from experts on Jewish issues. The election was the subject of numerous workshops and conversations throughout the convention hall.

To be sure, there were also the standard breakout sessions on Israel; on the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement; and on fundraising. There were showcases for local innovations, called FEDovations. Disability inclusion and reaching out to millennials were also session topics.

But the election was never far away. At an election postmortem on Sunday, Kenneth Weinstein, president and CEO of the Hudson Institute, explained why Trump’s win came as a surprise to so many Jews.

“Frankly, given the demographic makeup of the Jewish community, which skews toward the highly educated white-collar worker at the upper end, we were completely out of touch with the base of voters out there in rural America,” he said.

On Monday, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was interviewed on stage by Washington attorney Kenneth Feinberg. Feinberg asked what effect Trump’s election will have on the Supreme Court, which is operating with eight justices with one seat vacant.

“President Trump will fill it, then perhaps Congress will do some work,” she said.

Ginsburg added that the eight-justice court is doing just fine. “I think it’s to the court’s credit that last term there were only three decisions that came down 4 to 4,” she said.

“The world has gone mad,” Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, former chief rabbi of the United Kingdom, told G.A. participants.

“The world has gone mad,” Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, former chief rabbi of the United Kingdom, told G.A. participants. (Photo by Ron Sachs)

Monday began with news that Trump had appointed former Breitbart News chairman Steve Bannon to the position of chief strategist in his incoming administration. Bannon, with his connections to the white nationalist alt-right movement, has been dogged by accusations that he is an anti-Semite. Bannon’s appointment was criticized by some Jewish groups. Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt called Bannon “hostile to core American values.”

Later that morning, White House Jewish liaison Chanan Weissman talked about how Jews can respond to anti-Semitic tweets and other hate speech.

“One thing we need to do is speak out publicly whenever we can,” he told Times of Israel reporter Rebecca Shimoni-Stoil. “Whenever we see incidents like this, it’s important that we speak out against it on the record.”

Weissman, who will leave his position in January, said it is imperative for his successor to continue be a voice for the concerns of the Jewish community.

“We know what it means to be persecuted; therefore, we need to fight against persecution,” he said.

Between sessions, Sara Rabin Spira of Washington considered how the election affected her two small children.

“It’s been a difficult week,” she said. “I had to explain to my kids about Donald Trump. That was a heartbreaking conversation. I told them that what we can do is practice tikkun olam. If Trump tells us that we can litter, we’ll pick litter up.”

“I thought it was important that we have a little political debriefing, because a lot of people have concerns about how things went down,” said Beth Goldsmith, chair of community planning and allocations at The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. “It’s the perfect time to have this G.A. for all the people who need to be healed and have some positive inspiration.”

One debriefing, a discussion among Jewish Republican operatives, demonstrated that Republicans too are still sorting out the election results.

Republican Jewish Coalition executive director Matt Brooks said he looks forward to sitting down with Bannon.

While having never met Bannon, Brooks brushed aside the accusations that have swirled around the Trump adviser. Everyone who Brooks knows who has worked for Bannon has said the man “does not have an anti-Semitic bone in his body,” Brooks said.

Panelist Noam Neusner, a speechwriter for President George W. Bush, said he is not optimistic about a Trump presidency.

“President-elect Trump has a lot to prove, and he knows it,” Neusner said. “I have severe doubts, but he could prove me wrong.”

But Neusner, like others on the panel, believes that Trump will work with the Jewish community on issues that are important to them.

When moderator Jacob Kornbluh, a political reporter with Jewish Insider, asked panel members whether they would be willing to serve in the incoming administration if asked, there was a noticeable pause.

“A lot of these questions I find impossible to answer because this is a candidate we know nothing about,” said Lisa Spies, who worked on Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign.

Tevi Troy, who served as White House Jewish liaison in the George W. Bush administration, said in an interview with Joshua Runyan, editorial director of Mid-Atlantic Media, that Jews would be wise to take a “wait-and-see” approach in their response to Trump’s election.

“I would tell Jewish community to be wary of what they say in these early days,” he said.

Sarah Arenstein, senior philanthropic officer in the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington’s United Jewish Endowment Fund, said that after the election, “it’s important more now than ever that the Jewish community comes together and stands united, because we have a lot of work to do as a country.”


Does Trump Want to Scrap the Iran Deal? If so, This is How He Does it

Donald Trump (Gage Skidmore via flickr)

Donald Trump (Gage Skidmore via flickr)

WASHINGTON (JTA) – Enforce the Iran deal. Violate the Iran deal. Leave it to Congress. Do nothing.

President-elect Donald Trump has an array of options before him when he assumes the presidency on Jan. 21, according to supporters and opponents of the deal. Reached last year between Iran and six major powers led by the United States, the agreement rolled back Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.

The open question – as are so many questions about Trump’s intentions – is what does the next leader of the free world want to do?

His peregrinations were evident when Trump spoke in March to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s policy conference and claimed – literally minutes apart – that he both planned to enforce the deal and to scrap it.

“My No. 1 priority is to dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran,” Trump said at the time. Then a few moments later: “We will enforce it like you’ve never seen a contract enforced before, folks, believe me.”

More recently, Trump appears to be leaning more in the direction of enforcement over scrapping.

His two top advisers on Israel, David Friedman and Jason Greenblatt, released in the last days of the campaign an Israel position paper with provisions meant to lighten the collective heart of the right-wing pro-Israel community – on Jerusalem, Palestinian statehood and settlements. But it was notably circumspect on the Iran deal.

“The U.S. must counteract Iran’s ongoing violations of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action regarding Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons and their noncompliance with past and present sanctions, as well as the agreements they signed, and implement tough, new sanctions when needed to protect the world and Iran’s neighbors from its continuing nuclear and non-nuclear threats,” said the position paper from the advisers, two longtime lawyers for Trump.

That reluctance to directly confront Iran — “counteract,” not cancel; “when needed,” as opposed to “right now” — could stem from Trump’s professed warmth toward Russia, which is allied with Iran in its bid to crush rebels in Syria, or a realistic desire to keep his options open.

Here are some of the president-elect’s options on Iran:


The deal essentially is done. Sanctions are lifted, Iran has rolled back its nuclear program. Trump never took much advice during his campaign; he may be less inclined to do so as commander-in-chief. If he doesn’t want a headache, this is one way to go.

Drawbacks: A number of his formal rivals for the Republican presidential nomination are back in their Senate seats, including Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida. They hate the deal, they want to be president in 2021 and they’re itching to distinguish themselves from Trump. If they can do it from the right, that’s just the cherry on top. Trump’s silence on Iran would hand them a huge opening for political disruption.

Declare it dead, move on

Does Trump want to shut up Rubio and Cruz? Just declare the deal dead and do nothing. He ran a campaign successfully navigating the tensions between contradictory declarations and actions – why shouldn’t he get away with the same as president?

Drawbacks: The Iranians can point to a declaration of intent to withdraw in order to drop out of the program themselves and then start enriching uranium to weapons-grade levels.

“The Iranians might present themselves as a victim and begin to start restoring their centrifuges,” said Dennis Ross, a former top Iran adviser to President Barack Obama, speaking Thursday at a session on Trump’s possible foreign policy charges at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, where Ross is now a fellow.

Scrap the deal

Trump has a number of mechanisms at his disposal that would immediately pull the United States out of the deal. All of them involve restoring an array of sanctions that targeted third parties that deal with Iran. (Direct dealings with Iran, with several exceptions, are still banned for U.S. entities.)

He could simply stop waiving the sanctions already in place according to existing law. Trump could, as President Bill Clinton did in 1995 not long after pro-Israel lobbying shifted to focusing on Iran’s nuclear program, issue an executive order advancing new sanctions. Or he could invoke the International Emergency Economic Powers Act of 1977, which gives the president broad sanctioning power.

Drawbacks: Any pullback from the Iran deal will raise the question of who is at fault for its collapse. The more proactive the United States is in killing the deal, the likelier that the international partners whose sanctions brought Iran to the table will blame the U.S. and continue trading with Iran, threats be damned.

Moreover, Trump may not have the ability to waive existing sanctions — the most passive option described above. That’s because the Iran Sanctions Act, which authorizes the sanctions, is set to lapse on Dec. 31. Congress broadly agreed that it needs to be reenacted, but there is precious little time to do so. Moreover, Democrats want a clean reenactment of the original law, no additions, while Republicans want to insert language making it harder for any president to waive the bill’s provisions. They have yet to settle on a compromise. Without renewal, the president would have to use executive action to impose penalties on Iran.


Worried that the world will turn away from the United States should it pull out? Then make it clear that the Iranians are at fault, say conservatives who oppose the deal.

“He has to start first enforcing it, second doing a bunch of stuff that’s allowed that the [Obama administration] hasn’t been doing,” said Omri Ceren of The Israel Project. “In other words, taking the deal seriously.”

Ceren accuses Obama of ignoring violations by Iran and Secretary of State John Kerry of too eagerly seeking to make clear to third parties still inhibited by existing American sanctions that it was OK to deal with Iran. (The Obama administration feared that if Iran’s economy did not benefit from the deal, hardliners there would persuade the regime to scrap it.)

“All that needs to happen for the deal to fall apart is for the Trump White House to do what the Obama administration has refused to do — enforce its provisions,” wrote Lee Smith, advancing a similar argument to Ceren’s in The Weekly Standard.

Drawbacks: Selling the notion to America’s partners that Iran is in violation might be hard. Case in point: Smith noted that the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, had reported recently that Iran was exceeding its allowed limits for the heavy water used to make weapons-grade plutonium.

However, what the IAEA reported, according to The Associated Press, which obtained the agency’s internal document, was that Iran had exceeded its allotment “only slightly” and would resolve the issue by exporting the overage and then some. To an American partner, Iran’s actions could, described in those terms, look like it was going out of its way to make up for a mistake.

Let Congress do it

If Congress fails to reauthorize Iran sanctions before it concludes its business, there are any number of Republican senators ready to write new ones. That way, Trump doesn’t get blamed for walking away from the deal.

Drawbacks: Democrats will likely filibuster any new legislation. An array of groups that backed the deal, including J Street, the liberal Middle East policy group, has pledged to hold the party’s feet to the fire.

“There will be fights, and these will be fights J Street and other supporters of the deal will engage in with everything we’ve got,” said Dylan Williams, J Street’s vice president of government affairs.

And perhaps, from Trump’s perspective, that’s not a drawback: He satisfies hard-liners by encouraging them to come up with the toughest anti-deal legislation possible – and then watches it wither on the vine.

Fleeing Anti-Semitism in France, an African Jewish Family Makes Aliyah

George and Amy Camara, with two of their four children, arrive in  Israel, Nov. 2, 2016 (Courtesy of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews)

George and Amy Camara, with two of their four children, arrive in Israel, Nov. 2, 2016 (Courtesy of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews)

As a Jewish family originally from the Ivory Coast, Amy and George Camara and their four children felt somewhat immune to the rising anti-Semitic thuggery in France.

The Camaras, relieved to leave their war-torn African country, settled in the northern French city of Lille in 2012. Because they fit no one’s Jewish stereotype, they said they were able to live as Jews without fear — despite, in recent years, the rise in attacks on French Jews from a small segment of Muslim extremists.

But the Camaras soon discovered that belonging to both the African and Jewish minorities also came with its own set of challenges, said Amy, the 53-year-old daughter of an Ivorian father and a French Jewish Holocaust survivor. The difficulties prompted the family to again pack their suitcases and leave France — for Israel, the only country where this unique Jewish family says it can live comfortably according to their identity.

For the Camaras, whom Amy describes as “proudly Jewish but not too observant,” life in France wasn’t “truly comfortable,” she said.

Precisely because no one from their immediate environment thought they might be Jewish, “people, even friends, would say the most awful lies about Israel and Jews in our presence,” Amy said.

“There was no single incident that made us decide to leave, it’s more of a cumulative effect,” she said.

Last week, the Camaras and their kids — aged 25, 22 and twins who are 15 — landed at Ben Gurion Airport aboard  a flight organized by the  International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.

“The bottom line is that Israel is the only place for us to live as Jews comfortably, safely and freely,” Amy said ahead of her immigration, or aliyah, to Israel.

That comfort and freedom was paramount, given the  remarkable survival story of Amy’s mother, 78-year-old Solange Shuster. Given up for adoption as a toddler by her French Jewish parents who sought to save her from the Nazis, she was the only member of her immediate family who survived the Holocaust. She met her Ivorian husband in France and moved with him to Abidjan, the Ivory Coast’s largest city and economic engine, after their marriage in 1967. (Shuster now lives in France.)

Amy Camara recalls a happy and safe childhood in Africa, where she and George, a commercial airline pilot, raised their children as Jews. But life took a turn for the worse in 2002, when the Ivory Coast was plunged into its first civil war. When another armed conflict broke out in 2011, the Camaras decided to leave  “because of a combination of factors that meant we could no longer live safely there,” Amy said.

Unfortunately, the Camara family chose the wrong year to move to France.

In 2012, the murder of four French Jews in Toulouse by an Islamist gunman ushered in what the president of the Conference of European Rabbis, Pinchas Goldschmidt, has called a “wave of jihadist murders and other attacks” that has had a deep impact on the feeling of safety of many of the 500,000 Jews living in France.

Amid repeated attacks on Jewish targets — French Islamists have killed 12 Jews in France and Belgium in three major attacks since 2012 — some 20,000 Jews have left France for Israel, including nearly 8,000 people who came in 2015 alone. That figure, a record, was more than four times the number of French Jews who came in 2011.

Aliyah from France has slowed down this year, with only some 4,000 Jews making the move to Israel in the first 10 months of 2016. Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky attributes the decrease to “some improvement in the security  situation” due to the robust  response by French authorities to anti-Semitic attacks.

The Camaras arrived in Israel on a flight with some 50 Jews who were also making aliyah. According to Yechiel Eckstein, founder and president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, the Camara family’s story “is a special one that weaves within it the story of the Jewish nation as we go from the Holocaust to rebirth, ending in Israel,” he said.

The day prior to the Camaras’ arrival, the group brought  approximately 300 Jews from Ukraine to Israel, including refugees from the rebel-held east. Eckstein’s organization has brought more than 4,000 people to Israel since it began directly organizing aliyah two years ago.

In Israel, Amy and George plan to settle in Ashkelon, a coastal city with some 6,000 Ethiopian Jews — the country’s seventh-largest population of members of that community.

While Amy has heard claims by some Ethiopian Jews that they face discrimination in  Israel because of their skin color, she is optimistic that she won’t encounter any racism in the Jewish state.

“I think a lot of it depends on whether you perceive yourself as a victim,” she said. “I’ve never felt excluded by any  Jewish community, Sephardi or Ashkenazi, so I expect we’ll integrate easily in Israel, God willing.”

Why Uzbekistan’s Jews Already Miss the Iron Fist of Their Late Ruler

Yossif Tilayev is caretaker of the 19th-century Bukharian synagogue in Samarkand, where there is a Jewish population of 200. (Cnaan Liphshiz/JTA)

Yossif Tilayev is caretaker of the 19th-century Bukharian synagogue in Samarkand, where there is a Jewish population of 200. (Cnaan Liphshiz/JTA)

BUKHARA, Uzbekistan — Driving through this dusty desert city of many ornate and ancient mosques, Shirin Yakubov recalls the ruthlessness of her country’s recently deceased president of 25 years.

“He killed all of them, every last one,” she says of Islam  Karimov’s role in the 2005 police massacre of hundreds of suspected Islamists in the eastern city of Andijan following unrest.

“Our president acted exactly right,” she adds, smiling.

A no-nonsense businesswoman and a doting Jewish mother of three, Yakubov  belongs to the urban elite of this Central Asian country of 32 million citizens that shares a border with Afghanistan.

Like many from her social class, she credits the absence of radical Islam from public life to Karimov’s oppressive rule. Under Karimov, who died Sept. 2 from a stroke at 78, the all-powerful SNB security service was responsible for the torture and “disappearance” of countless dissidents in a country with no free press and a no-entry policy for foreign journalists.

With the passing of Karimov, an isolationist who strived to stay on good terms with but independent of Russia and the United States, Yakubov and other relatively affluent Uzbekistanis — including the country’s 13,000 remaining Jews — look to an uncertain future.

Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyoyev was appointed Sept. 8 to succeed Karimov as an  interim president, auguring changes that hold risks but also the promise of greater political, individual and commercial freedom and trade opportunities.

Foreign diplomats here blame Karimov not only for systemic violations of human rights, but also for holding back mineral-rich Uzbekistan from realizing its full economic potential. Under Karimov, the country’s restrictive policies included an obstructive visa regime for outsiders and an  official exchange rate that is half the actual black-market value of its local currency, the sum, against the dollar.

Shirin Yakubov visits the main synagogue of Bukhara with her son, in the orange shirt, his friend and the site's two Muslim caretakers. (Cnaan Liphshiz/JTA)

Shirin Yakubov visits the main synagogue of Bukhara with her son, in the orange shirt, his friend and the site’s two Muslim caretakers. (Cnaan Liphshiz/JTA)

But many Uzbekistanis and all Jewish community leaders, it appears, say they are grateful to the late leader for the stability achieved under his rule and the growth that did occur. The provincial city of Tashkent grew into a clean and safe  metropolis of 3 million residents with an efficient subway system, shining conference halls and stadiums, hygienic marketplaces and peaceful parks where magpies and  Indian starlings bathe in fountains amid hedges of purple basil plants.

As for Yakubov, she credits Karimov’s policies for her ability as a woman to drive a car  despite the resistance it raises in a deeply traditional society where many women are not  expected to go out of the house much, let alone sit behind the wheel of an automobile.

In 2005, amid the unrest that exploded in Andijan, someone threw a large brick into her car twice, smashing the windshield, she says. The intimidation stopped immediately after police questioned some neighbors — a standard procedure in some countries, but which in Uzbekistan is perceived as a last warning before the dispensation of swift and  perhaps extrajudicial steps.

“No one is going to call me a ‘dirty Jew’ here,” says Arsen Yakubov, Shirin’s husband, as he walks to one of Bukhara’s two synagogues for services on Friday evening. Even before going inside, he donned the traditional, square and ornamented Bukharian hat that serves many Jews here as a kippah.

At a time when synagogues in Western Europe and even Russia are patrolled by armed police or military, Jewish institutions in this predominantly Sunni nation are unguarded.  It goes a long way toward  explaining why special prayers for Karimov’s soul were recited in Uzbekistan’s five synagogues following his passing.

Beyond the threat of retribution by an authoritarian government against anyone who punishes them, the Jews here are also safe because they are widely accepted as a native ethnicity, just like ethnic Tajiks and Russians. They have, after all, maintained a documented presence here for 1,000 years, which some historians believe actually goes as far back as 1000 B.C.

In Bukhara, where anywhere between 40 to 150 Jews live — depending on the definition one applies — some are greeted with “shalom” by their Muslim neighbors as they gather for evening and morning prayers (achieving a minyan, the quorum of 10 Jewish men necessary for some prayers in Orthodox Jewish communities, is often an issue).

Kosher meat, produced by a local rabbi and ritual slaughterer, is sold here in some shops run by Muslims.

At the local Jewish school, a predominantly Muslim student body is taught to sing “Hatikvah,” Israel’s national anthem — reflecting the desirability of the school and a Jewish population that shrunk after the fall of the Soviet Union. Some 75,000 Jews left their former Soviet republic after its fall.

“We are brothers, the Muslims and the Jews, and we live like it, too,” says Yossif Tilayev, the makeshift rabbi of a Jewish population of 200 in Samarkand, Uzbekistan’s second city, and caretaker of its turquoise-domed, 19th-century synagogue, which is among Central Asia’s prettiest.

But to many, this record of coexistence is no guarantee against an Uzbekistani version of the interethnic and interreligious wars that have ravaged neighboring countries, including Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan — and Afghanistan.

Even under Karimov, the Yakubovs from Bukhara have been feeling growing religious radicalization. While thousands of villagers moved into their city, the educated elite has largely left in favor of Tashkent, the capital. In 2014, this process of internal migration was slowed considerably after the government toughened its enforcement of regulations — internal visas known as propiska — that limit where citizens may live and work.

But the atmosphere in Bukhara is no longer the same as a decade ago, Shirin Yakubov says.

“I can’t go to the swimming pool like I used to 10 years ago because they stare at my bathing suit,” she says. “I don’t want my daughter wearing shorts because it’s beginning to attract too much attention. I no longer feel comfortable here.”

Her parents and three siblings already live in Israel, as do  most of her husband’s siblings. Yakubov and her husband stay in Bukhara because her in-laws won’t leave, she says.

“But we will leave soon — and quickly, if anything bad happens after Karimov,” she says.

Yakubov is among the many locals Jews who believe that extremism is never too far below a surface that is kept calm only thanks to strict  enforcement.

“We have everything — Wahhabism, jihadism, Taliban. They just don’t show their faces, thanks to Karimov,” she asserts.

Arkady Isasscharov, the president of the Bukharian Jewish community of Tashkent, partially concurs.

“You always have to be careful,” he says. “One rabbi was already killed here.”

The reference is to the suspicious death in 2006 of Avraam Yagudaev, a Jewish leader whose autopsy said he died in an automobile accident but who some believe was murdered.

Still, Uzbekistani society “won’t let what happened in Afghanistan happen here,” says Issascharov, who served in Afghanistan as a soldier in the Red Army when Islamists led a rebellion against Soviet domination of that country in the 1980s. Soviet troops and the Taliban both carried out atrocities in that bitter conflict.

But tour guide Vadim Levin, an ethnic Russian of Jewish descent from Tashkent, isn’t  so sure of his native country’s  immunity to radicalism.

In the chaotic months  following Uzbekistan’s independence in 1991 from the  Soviet Union, Levin says he was beaten on the street for speaking Russian by “a gang of nationalists, religious extremist” ethnic Uzbeks looking for payback for Moscow’s long  repression of religious and ethnic identities.

Karimov, the first ruler of an independent Uzbekistan, had gradually stepped up pressure on religious and other forms of extremism since then, restoring stability. But it came at the price of a free press and such basic individual freedoms as growing a beard — a frowned-upon practice that carries social penalties.

Israelis and other Jews, Levin adds, “tend to understand the trade-off better” than other Westerners because “they have seen the face of radical Islam, they have felt its shadow on them.”

“Of course, I pay with certain liberties for my country’s stability, I am aware of that,” says Levin, a homeowner and father of one who speaks three languages fluently and has visited Europe, Israel and the United States. “But it’s a trade-off I hope to be able to continue making under Karimov’s successor.”

After Bombings, New Yorkers Cop an Israeli Attitude: ‘Stuff’ Happens

A New York City police officer stands guard outside Grand Central Station in New York City. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Image)

A New York City police officer stands guard outside Grand Central Station in New York City. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Image)

TEL AVIV — “I heard the explosion, then I went to the deli.”

In the hours after the bombings two weekends ago in New York and on the Jersey Shore, the phrase became an instant slogan for New Yorkers’ purported coolness under fire.  Attributed to a witness of the bombing that injured 31 people in Manhattan, one of three  apparently attempted by a New Jersey man apprehended Sept. 19, it quickly spread online.

Media commentators soon picked up on the meme of New Yorkers’ resilience.

On “The Daily Show” the Monday night after the bombings, host Trevor Noah made light of news footage of New Yorkers complaining about being mildly inconvenienced by the bombing. BuzzFeed highlighted tweets by New Yorkers debating which of Manhattan’s ill-defined neighborhoods should be properly identified as the site of the bombing.

Over here in Israel, a country that prides itself on how quickly it recovers after a terrorist attack, experts on social resilience agreed that Americans are rightly impressed by New Yorkers — though they said Saturday’s bombings, which had no fatalities, was not a particularly severe test. While Israelis have been prepared for terrorism by decades of experience, they said, New Yorkers may develop resilience just by living in the hectic city.

“If you have past experience with continuous disruption it helps, it helps to be prepared for disruption caused by terror,” Meir Elran, the lead researcher on homeland security at the Institute of National Security Studies, a leading think tank in Israel, said.

“As we say in Hebrew: S—- does happen. I think New Yorkers may be uniquely aware of that.”

In social science, resilience can be defined as a society’s ability to bounce back from a disruption, or an event that  interferes with daily life. The faster a society returns to normal following a disruptive event, like severe violence or a natural disaster, the more resilient it is said to be. The more disruptive the event, the longer it will take to return to normalcy.

An Israeli Border Police officer checks a Palestinian man in front of the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem's  Old City.  (Sebi Berens/Flash90)

An Israeli Border Police officer checks a Palestinian man in front of the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City. (Sebi Berens/Flash90)

Past experience of disruptions and social capital are major predictors of resilience.

“It is true that people are  resilient in general. Otherwise the human race would not have sustained itself for so many generations through so many various disruptions,” Elran said. “It is also true that there are societies that are more resilient than others, and the rate of resilience of a society depends to a great extent on past exposure to disruptions and how socially and economically well off it is.”

Unfortunately, Israel has dealt with regular disruptions by Palestinian terrorism since before its founding. Rather than collapsing, the society has strengthened, including  by gradually and haltingly  improving its preparation.

After the second intifada and the Second Lebanon War, both in the 2000s, Israel shifted its security doctrine to include protecting the homeland rather than only taking the fight to the enemy. The state built a security barrier with the West Bank, developed missile defense systems and  restructured its Home Front Command, among other things. (On Tuesday, sirens sounded across Israel as part of a  national preparedness drill, a practice introduced after the Second Lebanon War.)

At around the same time, observers have said, there was a shift in the way Israelis thought about themselves. Matti Friedman, a former  correspondent for the Associated Press, said in his new book that Israelis by 2000 had given up on reshaping the Middle East, be it through Oslo-like compromise or Lebanon War-like force.

“When these things began to be clear, something interesting occurred,” Friedman wrote in “Pumpkinflowers.” “People in Israel didn’t despair, as our enemies hoped. Instead they stopped paying attention. Our happiness would no longer  depend on the moods of people who wish us ill, and their happiness wouldn’t concern us more than ours concerns them.”

Speaking from Jerusalem, he said: “There have been stabbing attacks here over the last few days. The city is completely unaffected. It hasn’t come up in people’s conversations. It hasn’t affected people’s plans that I know of. If the  intention is to disrupt people’s lives and make them afraid, it’s not working.”

Deeming Zionist slogans outdated, Friedman in his book suggested a new one to rival New York’s: “On the bus.” This was the terse answer an Israeli soldier named Harel gave to an interviewer who in 2000 asked how he managed to return to Southern Lebanon after his entire platoon was killed in the helicopter crash that ultimately led to Israel’s withdrawal from the area.

Of course, New Yorkers have faced terrorism, too, most notably the world-shaking  attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Like Israel, New York and the United States, traumatized by the attacks, responded by  becoming more prepared. The creation of the New York  Police Department’s Counter-Terrorism Bureau and the U.S. Department of Homeland  Security and Transportation Security Administration are just a few examples. But terrorism is not part of daily life in the Big Apple the way it is in Israel.

“The situation in New York is still fundamentally different,” an Israeli researcher on social resilience said on condition of anonymity because of the public nature of his policy work.

“Attacks like those [in New York and New Jersey] this week are sporadic, quite rare events that contradict the usual story of life in New York City. So for now at least, it is possible to ignore terror as part of a shared reality there.”

Elran said the level of  disruption caused by the bombings was “very low.”

Still, the American celebration of New Yorkers’ resilience to terrorism has empirical backing, the researchers said. Studies have found the first  responders and the public in general returned to normal life remarkably quick after 9/11, in many ways within a few weeks.

New Yorkers may be resilient to terrorism despite relatively little experience in part because the intensity of living in the city involves near constant disruption on a small scale,  according to the researchers.

“Events happen here very quickly, and in New York, it is also the case,” said the social resilience researcher in Israel. “People there experience work-related stress and life is very intensive.”

Elran said it takes a certain degree of sophistication to  understand that things are not always going to be stable.

“New Yorkers, with their  diversity of experience, can been seen as people who are more  accustomed to disruption,” he said. “And it helps that they tend to be socially and economically well to do.”

Israel, too, has flourished socially and economically despite the constant threat of terrorism. The nation’s adaptability, arguably informed by its challenges, has made Israel a world leader in technology and security. But there are downsides, the social resilience researcher said.

“There is no magic way to avoid paying a price,” he said. “In Israel, there are high levels of frustration and aggression, and you know what the driving culture here is like.”

Anyone who has taken the New York subway during rush hour may be able to relate.

Israelis Bring Art, Diplomacy to Balkan State

Siegel specializes in painting portraits on rocks. (Courtesy of Shirley Siegel)

Siegel specializes in painting portraits on rocks. (Courtesy of Shirley Siegel)

Kotor, Montenegro, a town in on the Adriatic coast, was the scene this month of an effort to strengthen relations between the Balkan state and Israel. In an act of cultural diplomacy, Israel’s foreign ministry teamed up with a Montenegro-based American Jewish businessman to exhibit the work of two Israeli artists — one a Jew, the other a Muslim — while welcoming them for a two-week residency.

“Art is the universal language, and it plays a unique role in bringing peoples and cultures together,” Neil Emilfarb, founder of the Dukley European Arts Community that hosted the artists, told more than 100  attendees, including of diplomats, clergy and civic leaders, at a reception on Sept. 15.

At the center of the cultural diplomatic effort are Shirley Siegel and Shuruq Egbariah. Both women were tapped by the Israeli government to be citizen ambassadors delegated to bring communities together through their art.

The Israeli artists were to “share their experiences with the local artists” and be “influenced by the energy and  the spirit of the citizens and visitors of Kotor,” according to the Israeli embassy in Belgrade, Serbia. (Israel has no ambassador to Montenegro.)

Shuruq Egbariah and Shirley Siegel often  enjoy a picnic lunch on the floor of their shared studio. (Courtesy of Shirley Siegel)

Shuruq Egbariah and Shirley Siegel often enjoy a picnic lunch on the floor of their shared studio. (Courtesy of Shirley Siegel)

Siegel, who is Jewish, specializes in painting portraits on unpolished rocks; Egbariah, a Muslim, is known for scenic paintings.

This was not Siegel’s first visit to the Balkans as a citizen ambassador. She worked with the Israeli foreign ministry to restore an ancient cemetery in Bitola, Macedonia, a town that had a thriving Jewish community until the Nazis deported the population to Treblinka.

She said she met Egbariah for the first time at Ben-Gurion Airport for the flight to Montenegro, and they quickly became friends.

“We are both mothers, so we share stories of our families. We both have a young son that we miss very much,” Siegel said via email. “We talk about how easy it is to see each other as a woman and an artist, with no regard to our nationality.”

They decided to share an art studio, which they named “The Small Peace.” Siegel said as an Israeli, she feels at home in Montenegro.

“With today’s global political situation and the growing anti-Semitism, it is very important for Israel and Israelis to have friends in Europe. This project brings the people of our countries to learn to know each other,” said Siegel.

Egbariah was unavailable for comment.

Shirley Siegel (center) speaks to a crowd of more than 100 at a  welcoming reception by the Dukley European Arts Community. (Courtesy of the Dukley European Arts Community)

Shirley Siegel (center) speaks to a crowd of more than 100 at a welcoming reception by the Dukley European Arts Community. (Courtesy of the Dukley European Arts Community)

The artist’s residency came on the 10th anniversary of Montenegro’s independence from Serbia and its opening of diplomatic relations with Israel.

A reception celebrating Montenegro’s independence was held in Jerusalem in June.

Irene and Gary Tabach of Philadelphia were two of a handful of Americans at the reception in Kotor. Both were born in the Soviet Union, she in Ukraine and he in Moscow. They lauded Emilfarb, who leads an international investment company and was born in the Soviet Union, for his support of the cultural diplomacy program.

“Any time a Russian Jewish immigrant gives back to community and supports Israel, [we feel] it is important for us to see that [positive] public relations for Israel and Russian-speaking Jews,” said Irene Tabach.

Organizers say the celebration was the first time Israeli food was served in Montenegro, but Siegel, who returned to Israel on Sept. 25, was more impressed by what didn’t happen.

Siegel said: “There are few other places that a welcome reception could fly the flag of  Israel and display the logo and not have security or protests.”


5 Feel-Good Stories from Israel That Will Echo into the Jewish New Year

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Ethiopian President Mulatu Teshome watch lions at the presidential compound in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in July. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Ethiopian President Mulatu Teshome watch lions at the presidential compound in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in July. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

The Jewish state has nearly made it through another Jewish year and, as always, there was plenty to kvetch about in 5776.

But Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is a time to take stock and celebrate.

Before the shofar blowing begins, here are five Israeli stories from the past year worth trumpeting. Expect them to echo into 5777 and beyond.

1. The Olympics Gave Israelis Reason to Hope

For Israel, the margin between Olympic disappointment and glory can be a single medal. The country came up empty in 2012, but two Israeli judokas grappled and leg-swept their way to bronze at the Rio games in August.

Their fellow citizens rejoiced: Waving flags and singing patriotic songs, hundreds thronged Ben Gurion Airport to give Yarden Gerbi and Or Sasson a hero’s welcome. The athletes were showered with flowers and hugs, and were immortalized by countless selfies. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later met with the judo team.

The Olympics have special meaning in Israel, where everyone remembers the 1972 Munich massacre of 11 athletes and coaches by Palestinian  terrorists. The Rio games kicked off with Lebanese athletes  refusing to share a bus to the opening ceremony with the  Israeli delegation. And days before Sasson won his medal, a defeated Egyptian adversary pointedly refused to shake his hand. Israelis booed along with the crowd at the stadium.

Israel’s new medals brought the country’s total to nine since 1952.

Hoped-for windsurfing and rhythmic gymnastics successes proved elusive — and, as usual, some Israelis bemoaned inadequate national investment in the Olympics.

Yet, there were reasons to be buoyant. Seven Israelis made it to the finals in Rio, and the country competed in 17 sports, up from 10 in London, including three newer ones: golf, triathlon and mountain biking. Israel Olympic Committee CEO Gili Lustig has promised to do “some thinking” about improving Israel’s showing at Tokyo in 2020.

2. Israel Made New Friends in a Hostile World

As the Olympics reminded  Israelis, their country is unlikely to win any international popularity contests. But in the past year, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government managed to find some new friends and potential allies.

Israel and Turkey officially reconciled recently following a six-year falling-out over the Mavi Marmara affair. While the deal, signed in June, may not make the countries BFFs again, it should help them  cooperate amid the chaos of the Middle East. Exporting  Israel’s natural gas bounty and rebuilding the Gaza Strip are potential joint projects.

Meanwhile, the shared threats of Islamic extremism and Iran have brought Israel closer to the region’s Sunni Muslim states, even if those states are loath to admit it. Weeks after a telling handshake with Israel’s Foreign Ministry  director-general, Dore Gold, Saudi government adviser Anwar Eshki publicly led a Saudi delegation to Jerusalem. And Gold flew to Cairo to  reopen the Israeli Embassy there — four years after protesters stormed the building and forced its closure.

In an update of former Prime Minister Golda Meir’s Africa policy, Netanyahu toured the continent for four days in July. Offering Israeli high-tech and security know-how and seeking diplomatic support, he was received in country after country like the leader of a world power.

Looking east, Gold has said Israel is building new relations with Asia, and Chinese investment in Israeli companies and venture capital funds has reached record highs. Spurred by the civil war in Syria,  Netanyahu and Vladimir Putin are in regular contact, and the Russian president may be plotting an Israeli-Palestinian peace push of his own. Who isn’t?

3. Haredi Orthodox Men in Israel Rolled Up their Sleeves

A majority of Haredi Orthodox men in Israel have jobs. That may not seem worth blowing the shofar about, but it’s a first. Since officials started keeping track, most of the  demographic has been out of work.

In 2015, the workforce participation rate for Haredi men was 52 percent, part of a 12-year rise since the figure was 36 percent in 2003, Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics  reported in February. Haredi men in Israel have long preferred Torah study to work or army service, living off yeshiva stipends, state benefits and perhaps their wives’ salaries.

Haredi women are even better represented in the workforce at a rate of 73 percent, according to the government — more or less the same as among secular Israeli women. Israel’s overall workforce  participation rate is 80 percent.

Four of the 21 government ministers are women.

Many observers see a larger trend of Haredi society opening up to the outside world due in part to public and private investment — despite successful Haredi reversal of political reforms aimed at integrating the community. Today, an estimated 11,000 Haredi Jews are studying at  institutes of higher education, 5,000 are in the army and most are said to have internet access.

On a seemingly related note, Haredi birth rates have fallen. A surge in the relative size of Haredi preschool enrollment during the first decade of the millennium provoked much handwringing about the growing economic and social burden. But the trend has quietly  reversed, with Haredi schools accounting for less than 23 percent of preschoolers in 2015, down from more than 25 percent in 2008, according to the Taub Center for Policy Studies in Israel.

The share of preschoolers in Arab-Israeli schools has fallen even further. But the government has some work to do to reach its goal of putting more Arab women to work.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked joins a swearing-in ceremony for newly appointed judges at the president's residence in Jerusalem in July. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked joins a swearing-in ceremony for newly appointed judges at the president’s residence in Jerusalem in July. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

4. More Women than Ever were Making  Israel’s Laws

The 28 women elected to  Israel’s parliament in 2015 set a record. Since then, political reshuffling has seen the number move a little higher.

When Avigdor Liberman became defense minister in June, his Knesset seat went to Yulia Malinovsky, a member of his hawkish Yisrael Beiteinu party — sending the number of female lawmakers to 33. That’s right, more than a quarter of the 120 legislative seats are now occupied by women.

These lawmakers span the political spectrum. From left to right, there is the anti-Zionist firebrand Haneen Zoabi of the Arab Joint List; peacenik  Zehava Galon, the chairwoman of Meretz, and self-described “religious right-winger” Tzipi Hotovely of the ruling Likud. Notably absent are any haredi Orthodox women, whose parties prohibit them from running.

Four of the 21 government ministers are also women: Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked of Jewish Home; Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev and Minister for Social Equality Gila Gamliel, both of Likud, and Immigrant Absorption Minister Sofa Landver of  Yisrael Beiteinu.

Despite the ideological  diversity, the women lawmakers sometimes come together to tackle issues related to women, including in the Knesset’s Committee on the Status of Women and Gender Equality. Given lawmakers’ personal experience, sexual harassment may well be on the agenda when the Knesset starts its winter session in October.

5. The Government Backed Adding Sunday to The  Israeli Weekend

It’s not often that something happens with the potential to redefine how an entire country understands the relationship between time and space.

But that something happened in Israel in June, when ministers approved a bill that would give Israelis six three-day weekends a year starting in 2017 as a step toward making Sunday a day off. The legislation is to be reworked in committee before going to the full Knesset for voting.

Israeli weekends now run from Friday afternoon through Saturday to accommodate the Jewish Sabbath and Muslim Friday prayers. Many Israelis don’t work on Friday. But for religiously observant Jews, Shabbat rules prevent them from driving or visiting most entertainment venues from Friday night until Saturday night, allowing precious little time for fun.

Economists are divided on the merits of adding Sunday to the weekend. Supporters argue the plan would boost the economy by syncing Israel with the rest of the world and promoting consumption by a wider swath of Israeli society. Opponents worry it would reduce productivity, with observant Jews and Muslims getting less done on Fridays, and everyone potentially struggling through longer days to compensate for the long weekend.

But c’mon: Sunday Funday!

Netanyahu’s Friendship with Putin

Russia’s proximity to the Middle East and the presence in Israel of a million-plus Jews from the former Soviet Union,

including Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, make the growing warm relations between Jerusalem and Moscow a welcome occurrence for many citizens of the Jewish state.

One of those citizens is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — that is, as long as he ignores the fact that Russia is the chief backer of Israel’s arch-enemy Iran, whose nuclear ambitions are an existential threat, and supports the neighboring regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. While Israel is officially neutral in the Syrian civil war, Russia’s air presence there threatens a potential,

if accidental, clash with Israeli forces.

Close ties with Israel are also good for Putin, who is trying to expand Russia’s

influence in the Middle East, particularly in light of what is widely seen as America’s withdrawal as the indispensable nation in the region. So when Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi announced last week that Russia was willing to host Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for peace talks, it was rightly seen as Russia’s attempt to become a player in peace as well as in war.

Beyond that, it hasn’t gone unnoticed that Netanyahu has met with Putin four times in the last year, while he has met with President Barack Obama only once. And we are also informed that while

Netanyahu speaks on the phone regularly with the Russian president, he mostly gets to talk with Secretary of State John Kerry when he phones the U.S. administration.

But let’s be real. As uncomfortable as it may sometimes be, it is the United States, through its military umbrella, superpower status and deep pockets that has

repeatedly given Israel what it needs to defend its existence. The two countries are reportedly wrapping up a 10-year military memorandum of understanding that will guarantee Israel some $3.7 billion a year in aid. Netanyahu is waffling and may have made the calculation that the next president, whomever he or she is, will be more amenable to a better deal for Israel than Obama. Such a move would be dangerous. Netanyahu should sign the MOU now and move on.

There are, of course, advantages in dealing with Putin. For example, Netanyahu can

expect no lectures from the Russian leader about the Palestinians or a two-state solution. Similarly he won’t be

reprimanded about human rights from the Chinese, with whom Israel is developing a burgeoning economic relationship. Rather, it is Israel’s democratic allies, the United States and the European Union, where such critiques come from. But

Israel should not forsake the mess of dealing with the West in favor of warming up to a strongman with questionable alliances.

The enemy of my enemy can be my friend, but the friend of my enemy should always be treated with suspicion.