Israel’s Opposition Leader Holds Out Safety Net


Isaac Herzog

Since he became head of Israel’s Labor Party in November, Isaac Herzog has positioned himself as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s safety net. If Netanyahu comes home with a peace deal with the Palestinians and his right wing bolts, Herzog will likely come to the prime minister’s aid.

And as the leader of Israel’s opposition, Herzog is in the wings to replace Netanyahu if the prime minister’s government falls.

Speaking from Israel on a conference call Thursday sponsored by Israel Policy Forum, Herzog, 53, said he met with Secretary of State John Kerry during his recent Mideast swing.

“He is finding ways of getting the parties closer,” he said of Kerry, adding in the vague terms that have surrounded exactly what the secretary is trying to achieve, “there will be an agreement or understanding in the next few weeks.”

Herzog said he wants to restore political balance that was lost by the decline of the Labor Party and the growth of the Israeli right.

“My goal is to lead a major center-left bloc, a bloc that will be an alternative to the right.” He said his bloc would include Tzipi Livni, whose party has six Knesset seats and is in Netanyahu’s coalition; the small Kadima faction; and the disaffected voters who flocked to Yair Lapid’s insurgent Yesh Atid Party in the last election.

Herzog’s predecessor, Shelly Yachimovich, had run on a platform stressing social justice, but she de-emphasized the peace process as an issue. Herzog said that not only are both part of his agenda, but they are intertwined.

“We are a social democratic party,” he said. “Social and economic issues cannot be separated from reaching an agreement with the Palestinians. Social justice should not end at the roadblocks” on the West Bank.

Several times during the conference call he rejected any speculation about a Plan B should Kerry’s diplomatic effort fail to produce an agreement that Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will sign.

“You have to be locked into a process with no alternatives,” he said. “Not only does Netanyahu need to understand. Abbas has to understand that he can’t play around on an alternative route if he doesn’t accept the deal that’s on the table. If there’s a vacuum, there’s violence.”

On opposition to Iran’s nuclear program, he said “there’s no light between me and the prime minister. We all identify the danger of Iran.”

He noted that “almost two months have gone by” since the West and Iran signed an interim agreement on the nuclear program. The agreement, set to last six months, has yet to be implemented. “I am bothered by the procrastination of the agreement,” he said.

Pipe bomb wounds Israeli man at Rachel’s Tomb

An Israeli man was wounded in the face on Monday after a pipe bomb thrown toward the upper parking lot at Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem exploded, Israel Hayom reported. The bomb was thrown from the Palestinian side of the complex.

The man, 25, had gone to the site to pray. After he was wounded, he refused to be taken to the hospital and received medical treatment at the scene from Magen David Adom medics who had arrived from Jerusalem.

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef’s Talmud set for auction

When Rabbi Ovadia Yosef died last October, the former Sephardi chief rabbi of Israel and spiritual leader of the Shas Party left behind a unique Talmud set originally published in Munich in 1949. Later this month, the Kedem Auction House in Jerusalem will publicly auction the set, a series of 19 books that is the first Talmud edition printed in its entirety in Germany after the Holocaust.

The set is expected to fetch between $40,000 and $50,000 and was designed to commemorate the fact that it was printed on German soil, featuring illustrations of a Jewish township and a concentration camp with the caption, “A labor camp in Ashkenaz in the days of the Nazis,” and a passage from Psalms (119:176) reading, “I have gone astray like a lost sheep. Seek thy servant; for I do not forget thy commandments.”
— Israel Hayom/

Israel naming visitor center after Canadian prime minister

The soon-to-be-built visitor center at Israel’s Hula Nature Reserve will be named after Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper when he visits the Jewish state in two weeks, Israel Hayom reported.

The center, established by the Jewish National Fund, will be built from funds collected in Canada at a fundraising event that Harper attended. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to accompany Harper during his visit.

German Op-ed: Israel cannot be a Jewish state

A German newspaper, Neue Osnabrück Zeitung, published an op-ed last week, “Israel as Jewish state: Unacceptable demand,” sparking outrage in the German Jewish community. Author Franziska Kückmann compared the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state by the Palestinians with the creation of either a theocracy like the Islamic Republic of Iran or an “apartheid state,” where non-Jews would become second-class citizens.

“Both versions are incompatible with [Israel’s] claim to be a modern state and may not be accepted by the world community. As long as Israel provides such unreasonable conditions, [its] assertion to be interested in a two-state solution is is not worth anything,” Kückmann wrote.

Michael Grünberg, head of the Jewish community in the city of Osnabrück, said the article is a “new form of anti-Semitism” and that the author “denies Jews the right to their own state.”

Judea, Samaria communities won’t be evacuated in peace deal, Netanyahu says

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at a Likud Party faction meeting on Monday that there would be no evacuation of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria in a peace deal resulting from the U.S.-brokered Israeli-Palestinian conflict negotiations.

“A settlement freeze during negotiations is not on the agenda,” Netanyahu said. “The talks are not about dismantling settlements, and I have no intention of evacuating any settlements in Judea and Samaria.”

Palestinians sign $1.2 billion gas deal with Israel

The co-owners of the Leviathan gas field off the coast of Israel has signed an agreement with the Palestine Power Generation Company for the sale of $1.2 billion in natural gas over 20 years.

As part of the agreement, the PPGC, which is slated to construct a power plant in Jenin, will purchase 4.75 billion cubic meters of natural gas.

Palestinian Energy Minister Dr. Omar Kittaneh and Delek Group owner Yitzhak Tshuva were present for the official signing of the agreement in Jerusalem.


Psagot Criminals Captured

Two Arab men responsible for the Oct. 5 attacking and stabbing of an Israeli girl in Psagot were arrested by Israeli Police and Shabak, the army announced Sunday.

Abdallah Shahadeh Abu Kabitah, 22, and Shabel Atef Karan, 20, both residents of El-Bireh, a Ramallah suburb adjacent to Psagot, were arrested for attacking Noam Glick, 9, stabbing her twice in the neck. She subsequently recovered from her wounds.

During his questioning Abu Kabitah stated he tried to break into a home in Psagot to steal a weapon. He claimed he needed the weapon to resolve a personal dispute. He and Karan both scouted the Psagot security fence a few days before the attack; they cut the fence and Abu Kabitah advanced towards a house. A car passed by and he retreated.

On Oct. 5 Abu Kabitah returned, this time alone. He entered the security fence at the same point he did the first time, and on his way to one of the houses he encountered Noam. He was surprised by her, stabbed her twice and escaped.

Some sources have stated that it is unclear if the incident was a terror attack or if it was criminally motivated. The IDF has stated that it believes that the attack was a terrorist act, but the Israel Security Agency is treating it as a criminal act.

Somewhere In The Middle

Beth Shalom Congregation is spearheading area efforts to bring Jews and Muslims together to talk about pressing issues, such as Middle East peace. From left: Mandee Heinl and Art Abramson, both of the Baltimore Jewish Council; Ghaith al-Omari, American Task Force in Palestine; Rabbi Susan Grossman, Beth Shalom; and David Pollock, Washington Institute for Near East Policy. (Provided)

Beth Shalom Congregation is spearheading area efforts to bring Jews and Muslims together to talk about pressing issues, such as Middle East peace. From left: Mandee Heinl and Art Abramson, both of the Baltimore Jewish Council; Ghaith al-Omari, American Task Force in Palestine; Rabbi Susan Grossman, Beth Shalom; and David Pollock, Washington Institute for Near East Policy. (Provided)

“What we have now are politicians and not statesmen,” said Hillel Schenker, co-editor of the Palestine-Israel Journal. “Statesmen [are people] who are ready to take risks for the long term — on both sides.”

Think Pericles of Athens, Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill; for all three men, their bedrock of principles rested on the ideal of freedom with a vision of expanding liberty out to the common man.

Today, weeks after the death of Nelson Mandela, a South African anti-apartheid revolutionary, politician and philanthropist, Israeli, Palestinian and U.S. leaders are still struggling to determine a path to peace. Three weeks ago, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told Secretary of State John Kerry that if there was any delay in the release in the next round of Palestinian prisoners, he would “feel free” to take unilateral steps through international organizations, something the Palestinian Authority agreed not to do before entering renewed negotiations with Israel.

At the same time, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has insisted that talks cannot move forward without agreement of an Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley for 10 years following the signing of a peace deal.

So reports the media. So goes another round of negotiations — theater of the absurd for many watching from the sidelines.

Aside from the very real prospect of continued violence — in the last two weeks there have been nearly one dozen terror attacks or attempted terror attacks — and the loss of Israeli territory, also apparently at stake are the Jewish identities of America’s millennials, people such as day-school educated Tali Ruskin, 29, who told the JT that she disconnected from Judaism when she discovered there were two sides to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, that the Palestinians were real people and not the terrorists she had learned about growing up.

The recent Pew Research Center survey of U.S. Jews likewise showed a stark disconnect between the youngest generation and the Jewish state. Of those from ages 18 to 29, only 32 percent said that concern for Israel is “an essential part of being Jewish” as compared with an average of 50 percent of those in older age ranges. Sixteen percent of the younger cohort said Israel “is not important” to them at all.

During a recent presentation in Baltimore, Laurence Kotler Berkowitz, senior director of research and analysis and director of the Berman Jewish DataBank at the Jewish Federations of North America, said there are many explanations for these numbers, among them the potential lack of a nuanced understanding of what is happening in the Middle East and a deeper focus by the younger generation on social justice and human rights, something for which — right or wrong — Israel has come under scrutiny.

In a separate interview, Israeli author and journalist Yossi Klein Halevi explained that older generations were raised on an Israel that could do no wrong. Many young Jews, he said, are now focused on an Israel that can do no right.

Part of that is because the Jewish state sits halfway around the world, bearing little daily impact on American Jews’ lives. Media sound bites are the only connection. And a perceived Jewish lack of understanding for the other side can — and is — leading to a deeper disconnect.

But for Israelis and Palestinians, that tiny land, just about the size of New Jersey, is home. Israelis are not soldiers or settlers, but mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers. Many Palestinians, similarly, are not terrorists or extremists, but people looking to put food on their tables, to live in equality.

“We are more similar than some protagonists like to admit,” asserted Palestinian Mazin Qumisyeh.

But peace does not sell papers.

“Extremists get preferential press coverage and in a lot of ways have disproportionately influenced the public idea space,” said Yale University Professor Bruce Wexler, formerly of Baltimore. “If the current peace talks fail, extremists on both sides will be emboldened, and the moderates on both sides will be disempowered.”

Holocaust Survivors Teach Israeli Chefs

Hungarian chicken paprikash is just one of the dishes survivors are teaching top Israeli chefs to make. (©

Hungarian chicken paprikash is just one of the dishes survivors are teaching top Israeli chefs to make. (©

When Itzik Yaacobi was a hungry teenager in the Auschwitz concentration camp, he used to dream about food he didn’t have — a pear, an apple, a watermelon — but he never dreamed that one day he would cook with a dean of Israeli chefs, in this case Shalom Kadosh.

Yaacobi is sitting in Kadosh’s small office in the Leonardo Plaza Hotel in Jerusalem, surrounded by photos of the chef with U.S. presidents, most recently Barack Obama. He has come here to cook with Kadosh as part of a project with the Shorashim Group, an Israeli organization that helps Holocaust survivors and the elderly.

“I was born in Hungary in 1929, and all my childhood was characterized by Hungarian dishes — goulash, csirke paprikash, capostash kotzke,” Yaacobi said nostalgically. “There was also an Austrian-Hungarian dish called gumboats, a ball made of potato, and inside was a plum or an apricot. Then it was wrapped in bread crumbs and fried in butter or oil.”

At 15, Yaacobi was taken to Auschwitz, where he survived eight “selections” by the notorious Joseph Mengele. He also had a cousin who worked in the commandant’s home who managed to get him extra bread rations.

After he was freed by the 761st Armored Brigade, he immigrated to Israel and was seriously wounded while fighting in the 1948 war. He then began working in the office of longtime Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek. He sharply remembers the day that Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, called him into his office to tell Yaacobi that Israel had captured one of the main figures in the Holocaust, Adolph Eichmann.

“He was sitting behind a desk; he was very small, you could only see his forehead and white hair,” Yaacobi said. “He said, ‘We caught Eichmann, the man who sent you and your family to Auschwitz.’ Then I got it, and I was trembling.”

But today is about the present, and about food. Yaacobi gives Kadosh careful, precise instructions about how to make chicken paprikash, watching closely to make sure that his instructions are carried out. Kadosh, used to giving the orders rather than following them, takes his job as a sous chef seriously. The two men quickly form a mutual admiration society.

“This is so exciting,” Kadosh said. “I’ve been doing so many state dinners for very important people — presidents, kings, queens — but today I feel so emotional. For me it’s a great day, and I’m happy that Itzik liked his visit in our hotel and our kitchen.”

After making Yaacobi’s chicken paprikash, a dish of chicken legs and thighs simmered in a paprika-heavy sauce, Kadosh offers an updated take on the dish, cooking the chicken sous-vide (vacuum sealed) and garnishing with beautifully cut vegetables.

The two dishes, and their creators, are photographed for an upcoming cookbook. Itzik’s dish is packed up, where it will be sold at the Tel Aviv farmers’ market. He says he wants to donate the proceeds from the sale to Shorashim.

“The idea is to take Holocaust survivors and have them meet the biggest chefs in Israel,” Tami Shachnaey, CEO of the Shorashim Group, said. “Many Holocaust survivors in Israel feel they have to choose between food and medicine.”

Shachnaey said that among the 200,000 Holocaust survivors still alive, about 50,000 live below the poverty line. The Shorashim Group organizes donations of large food packages to 1,150 elderly twice a year before Jewish holidays. The packages, which cost more than $100 to buy and weigh more than 50 pounds, include everything from chicken to fresh fruits and vegetables. Some 1,000 volunteers deliver the packages along with bouquets of flowers.

The organization also invites Holocaust survivors to partake in donated meals in restaurants, often as much for the companionship as for the food.

At another Jerusalem restaurant, the trendy Machneyuda in the outdoor fruit-and-vegetable market, Tzippi Kadosh (no relation to Chef Kadosh), who is 81, has come to show chef Uri Navon how to make stuffed wild artichokes, called harshuf in Hebrew. Kadosh came to Israel from Romania after the Holocaust.

She worked as a telephone operator and raised three children. Today she has six grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

“This is really Israeli food, not Romanian,” she said. “I hardly cook any more. My daughter asked me if I would even be able to remember the recipe.”

The wild artichoke stalks are soaked in saltwater to soften them, the thorns peeled off, and the stalks stuffed with a mixture of meat and rice. They are then simmered in a tomato-based sauce.

“It is a great honor for me to cook with her,” Navon, wearing a grey fedora, said with a smile. “Besides being a Holocaust survivor, she made me miss my grandmothers, both passed away. I used to love to cook with them, and she brought it back.”

His restaurant, Machneyuda, has become a hit in Jerusalem’s burgeoning culinary scene. It is booked for the next month for both lunch and dinner.

Navon said the artichoke dish is labor-intensive, but the flavor is worth it, and the dish is going on his menu.

“The minute Tzippi said harshuf, wild artichoke, I knew we’re going to do it, because it’s really old school,” Navon said. “You can’t find it in restaurants — only in homes. It’s something with a fingerprint.”

Navon said he is happy to donate his time and ingredients to Shorashim.

“It’s an amazing project and helps raise awareness that we still have Holocaust survivors in Israel,” he said. “They’re still part of the community, and we need to remember them.”

Linda Gradstein writes for The Media Line.