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.”


At Top Israeli University, Students Favor the Least Flawed Candidate in US Election

From left: Maor Seri, Ahmed Fahoum and friends hanging out on the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Mount Scopus campus, Nov. 6, 2016. (Andrew Tobin)

From left: Maor Seri, Ahmed Fahoum and friends hanging out on the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Mount Scopus campus, Nov. 6, 2016. (Andrew Tobin)

JERUSALEM – As Americans prepare to elect their next president, Israelis are watching.

Students at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, one of the country’s most prestigious institutions of higher education, are probably paying closer attention than most.

On Sunday, the day before the start of fall classes for most of the students, the Mount Scopus campus was quiet. Students hung out in the university’s cafes and snaking gardens. Some sat in diverse groups that included Arabs and Jews — an uncommon sight off campus.

More than a dozen students from a wide range of religious and political backgrounds spoke with JTA about the American election. Few expressed much enthusiasm for Hillary Clinton, the Democratic candidate. But it was hard to find anyone who would admit to preferring Donald Trump, her Republican rival.

Polls of Israelis have shown they prefer Clinton to Trump by a double-digit margin. Only on the political right does Trump get more support, and even then to the tune of less than 50 percent.

Tamar Hermann, who leads surveys for the Israel Democracy Institute think tank, including on the American election, said the controversy surrounding the vocal anti-Semites among Trump’s supporters and his perceived failure to decisively disavow them is likely dampening Israelis’ affection for him.

“The main thing that influences people here is a candidate’s attitude toward Israel and the Jewish community. They always look from this perspective,” she said. “It’s very difficult for them to look at world affairs in any other way.

“There are right-wing communities where you can find clear support for Trump. But the liberal atmosphere at university blurs that support. When they grow up, students may again be more influenced by the views of their community.”

Outside the Hebrew University administrative building, Maor Seri, a Jew, sat in the grass with his friend Ahmed Fahoum and a group of other Arab-Israeli students. All of them were sure Trump would be the next president of the United States.

Seri, 27, is working on a master’s degree in Jewish philosophy. Born and raised in Jerusalem, he described himself as religiously traditional and politically center-left, with a special interest in advancing the rights of Mizrahi Jews like himself. He was a medic in the Israeli army and now teaches Bible at a local high school.

He said he was dismayed by the political rise of Trump, whose “anti-democratic” rhetoric he once believed to be beneath the United States. But Seri said his experience suggests Trump will win the election.

“The language and the tone of the election are very low, like in Israel. I used to think in the United States, no one would dare say things like this,” he said. “It’s how right-wing leaders are coming to power all over the world, not just in Israel. I think it’s very dangerous.”


From left: Reham Shalbe, Rachel Har Shalom and Shauna Dubitsky taking a break from studying at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Nov. 6, 2016. (Andrew Tobin)

Fahoum, a 26-year-old graduate student and research assistant in Middle Eastern studies, agreed. A self-described left-wing secular Muslim, he grew up in eastern Jerusalem. Whereas his friends described themselves as “Palestinians,” despite being citizens of Israel, he said he considered himself a “Palestinian Israeli.”

He said he supports Clinton because “it’s the sane choice” and Trump is a dangerous “chauvinist, sexist liar.”

“I wanted to see Bernie Sanders there [as the Democratic nominee],” he said.

“Because he’s a Jew?” Seri joked.

“Yeah, yeah. Semites go for Semites,” Fahoum said.

“My father is supporting Trump because he hates the United States,” he continued. “He knows if Trump gets elected, the U.S. will lose its leading role in the world.”

At a nearby cafe, four women were studying for an occupational therapy program. Two were Arab Israelis and the other two were religious Zionists. The Arab students — one secular, the other clad in a hijab — supported Clinton. The Jewish women said their families supported Trump, but they were unsure where they stood.

Shauna Dubitsky, 20, is from Beit Shemesh and works in customer service for the City of David, a controversial group that aims to increase the Jewish presence in eastern Jerusalem. Although religious women are exempt from army service, she did national service with at-risk children. An American citizen who moved to Israel with her family at age 6, she registered but ultimately did not vote.

“I think Trump is insane, but Hillary is not good for Israel. So I can’t make the call,” Dubitsky said.  “I don’t know the details, but all the stuff he’s said about women and Jews and minorities is upsetting.”

While Israel is the most important issue for her, she cares about the United States, too.

“My family is still there. But if it were up to me, they’d all move here,” she said. “Anyway, it would be nice to have America be what it should be.”

img_6151Roi Shtainkvit, 19, was having a cigarette with a friend. They are both taking a preparatory course for medical school ahead of their army service. Shtainkvit is an Orthodox Jew and lives in Beit Shemesh with his family, where he works for a catering company. He described himself as a political centrist.

“I support Hillary. There is nothing special about her. Trump is just a little crazy. I’m afraid of what he’ll do to the United States and that it will affect the world,” he said. “The Democrats are always good for Israel.”

Trump becoming the presidential nominee, he said, was like a tiny far-right political party winning half the Israeli vote. Shtainkvit said he was not alone in his opposition to Trump in his Orthodox community, and that many of his family members and friends felt the same way.

“All our teachers hate Trump,” he added.

Neta was sitting outside on the grass with a friend. Uniquely, she was more than willing to tout a Trump presidency — albeit without providing her last name. A 22-year-old secular Jew from Jerusalem, she is studying history. She served in an intelligence unit of the army.

“I want Trump to win, and he’s going to win,” Neta said. “He’s smart. He’s honest. He’s patriotic. He’s going to fight Islamic terror. He’s just right about everything he says.”

Like President Barack Obama, she said, Clinton lacks a plan for dealing with Islamic terrorism and refuses to even use those words to describe it.

“They just say: Peace, togetherness. Togetherness, peace. Peace, togetherness. Trump is saying it, that he’s going to side with Israel, stand with Israel. He understands what Islamic terrorism means,” Neta said.

“If Obama won’t call them terror organizations it gives them legitimacy, and people expect us to make peace with them. People don’t expect the U.S. to make peace with [the Islamic State group].”

(Obama has suggested the term “Islamic terrorism” unnecessarily vilifies Muslims. Clinton has said she is “happy” to say “radical Islamism,” but that “it matters what we do more than what we say.”)

Asked about Trump’s controversial remarks about women, including the audio recording of him bragging about sexually aggressive behavior toward them, Neta said the controversy was overblown.

“I knew he was a bit sexist and chauvinist even before the election because I watched ‘The Apprentice.’ But he would be a good president,” she said. “I think every Israeli prime minister in the past did things that today we would call sexual assault.”

When her friend protested that Trump was an “extremist,” Neta said Meretz, the left-wing party he supports, was too.

“You support the extremists you like,” she said.

Haim Isaacson, a 25-year old computer science major at the Open University, was studying in the Hebrew University library. He is haredi Orthodox and lives in Beit Shemesh. Like most haredi men, he did not serve in the Israeli army. But he plans to join the half of that demographic that works rather than studying full time at a yeshiva.

Isaacson said he does not follow politics and will not vote in the presidential election despite being an American citizen.

Asked if he was worried by the prospect of Trump winning, he said, Talmudically, “Yes and no. America is always up for new things. It could go either way.”

Biden Reflects on Nature of Politics and Greatness of Peres ‘That’s what Shimon did, he touched your heart’



Vice President Joe Biden is known for saying what’s on his mind.

Sometimes, this works against him, but other times this penchant results in resounding philosophical nuggets.

Biden offered one of these Thursday at a Jewish community-sponsored memorial for Shimon Peres, and in the process paid tribute to the former Israeli prime minister and president who died on Sept. 28.

“Tip O’Neill said that all politics is local,” said Biden, referring to a longtime speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. “Well, I’ve been saying for the past 25 years that all politics is personal, particularly international relations. It’s all personal.

“And that’s where Shimon Peres was at his best,” he continued. “That’s why he accomplished so much.”

In a wide-ranging tribute to Peres at Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, Biden praised Peres, whom he said he knew for 45 years, for the personal attributes that can drive politics at the highest levels.

“He always touched your heart,” Biden said. “That’s what Shimon did; he touched your heart.”

Biden also said that Peres was special because of his sincere desire for peace with the Arabs.

“[Peres said], I don’t want to see [the Arabs] losing again,” Biden said. “He said, I don’t want them and us. What I want us to do is win the peace. Who else would say that?”

Biden also praised Peres for being forward thinking in front of the crowd of 600 attendees.

“At a time when many could have wrapped themselves in the comforts of their accomplishments, Shimon Peres insisted that, ‘my greatest achievement in life will be tomorrow,’” the vice president said.

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who spoke before Biden, echoed this sentiment by saying that Peres’ legacy will be completed by the future.

“When that day [of peace] comes, I have no doubt that those present will express their appreciation to Shimon Peres,” she said.

One member of the audience, Gladys Temkin of Washington, said that she came to the memorial because she “wanted to hear a bit of history.”

“I took from Biden’s speech his solidarity with [Peres] as a human being, his personal connection, and his use of the term ‘possibility’ in the sense of connecting both America’s essence and Israel’s essence,” she said.

Adas Israel Senior Rabbi Gil Steinlauf said Peres’ life was reminiscent of that of Moses.

“Like Moses, Shimon was a leader in times of war and in times of peace,” he said. “He bore witness to miracles and he led us on a journey that forged us into a great nation.”

Biden called himself as a Zionist and described Peres’ connection to the United States.

“I think his ability to insist on the human capacity for good, his belief that we can shape our own destinies is why Shimon Peres always connected so deeply with the American people — Jews and non-Jews,” Biden said. “Because ultimately the relationship between Israel and the United States is not about defense systems and security assistance. It’s about our shared soul.”

Biden also praised Peres’ role as a visionary within Israel.

“Throughout his life, at every moment in the state of Israel’s history, Shimon Peres was the voice of hope,” said Biden. “He was the conscious and the soul of Israel.”


Hogan in Israel: Commonality with Maryland in Cyber Security and Defense

Gov. Larry Hogan recently spent a week in Israel forging economic and academic partnerships. (Photos provided)

Gov. Larry Hogan recently spent a week in Israel forging economic and academic partnerships. (Photos provided)

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan made stops last week at iconic Jerusalem sites such as Yad Vashem and the Western Wall during his weeklong trade mission to Israel.

“It was just a very emotional experience to see the faces and to hear the voices of victims of the Holocaust, one of the darker chapters in history,” the Republican governor said by phone from Israel about his visit to the Holocaust memorial.

He also visited Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem to meet with medical professionals  involved in cancer research.

“I was extremely impressed with the work being done at Hadassah Hospital, including innovative treatments to provide care for patients with cancer, and I am proud of the collaboration between Hadassah and Maryland facilities,” Hogan said, according to a news release after his visit. “It’s evident that Hadassah is intent on providing world-class service to their  patients.”

While at the hospital, Hogan spoke about the recent battle with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma that he successfully fought.  In the audience was Aaron Rapoport, an oncologist with the University of Maryland Medical Center who Hogan credits with saving his life. Hogan said he intended to go to Israel last year, but his cancer diagnosis led him to delay the trip.

Hogan spent most of his week in Israel meeting with leaders of Israeli companies, as he sought to expand Israeli business presence in Maryland. There are 24 Israeli companies that do business in the state. The trip was sponsored by the Maryland Department of Commerce and the Maryland/Israel Development Center. It included several local Jewish community leaders.

Hogan’s trip also led to new academic partnerships between the University of Maryland, Baltimore and Hebrew University of Jerusalem; and  another between University of Maryland, Baltimore County and Tel Aviv University. He noted during the phone interview that Maryland and Israel both have robust cybersecurity industries.

“The primary focus is really in two areas where we have a real commonality,” he said. “The cybersecurity businesses and defense kind of things are a real focus.”

Bruce Spector, founder and CEO of Electronic Technology Associates, joined Hogan on his trip to help announce the newly formed partnership  between his company and  Cyberbit, the second-largest cybersecurity company in Israel.

The partnership will lead to the creation of ETA Cyber Range, a training center that will be located in Baltimore to instruct cybersecurity professionals in protecting national assets and infrastructure against cyberattacks. Spector, who hopes to employ 10 people for the project by the end of 2017, said it will house the first live, standalone, hands-on cybersecurity training in the United States.

Hogan prays at the kotel in Jerusalem

Hogan prays at the kotel in Jerusalem

“We appreciate the assistance of the MIDC in bringing this project to fruition,” Spector said. “As a lifelong resident of Baltimore, I’m excited to bring high-paying cybersecurity jobs to my hometown. The training center, powered by Cyberbit, will accelerate our local security professionals’ certification and improve their ability to confront today’s advanced  attacks.”

Hogan and University of Maryland, Baltimore President Jay A. Perman signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Hebrew University of Jerusalem to extend a student-exchange program while adding more opportunities to work together.

Over the next five years, the MOU and universities located throughout Maryland will seek to increase opportunities for training, exchange scholars for seminars and increase the number of exchanges of students and faculty.

“[The] agreement will further strengthen the successful  partnership between these world-class universities and help to advance research in Maryland, particularly in the study of military medicine,” Hogan said. “Exchanging  students and faculty will bring new perspectives and new  opportunities for collaboration to both University of Maryland, Baltimore and  Hebrew University of Jerusalem and we are excited they are continuing their important work together.”

From a business standpoint, Hogan also enjoyed a very  effective trip that will see several Israeli business bring their operations to Maryland.

He said he looks forward to welcoming Nayax, a global leader in the cashless payment solutions industry, to the state after announcing the the opening of the company’s U.S. headquarters in Hunt Valley.

“Maryland’s strategic location and unique access to quality  employees, international airports, rail lines, and the Port of  Baltimore will provide Nayax with a competitive advantage to expand into new markets and attract new customers,” Hogan said in a release.

He met with leaders of  Enzymotec, parent company of Baltimore-based VAYA Pharm, whose U.S. headquarters recently moved to the University of Maryland BioPark.

Hogan also touted the partnership between Baltimore’s Electronic Technology Associates and Ra’anana-based Cyberbit that will bring a cybersecurity training center to Baltimore and create what he estimated as 100 new jobs.

“On the business side, it’s been extremely productive and I’ve found people here to be very welcoming and anxious to do business with us,” he said.

During a tour of the Old City of Jerusalem, meanwhile, Hogan visited the Garden of Gethsemane and toured the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Christian Quarter.

He met with Israeli Ambassador Liora Herzel, deputy  director for North America for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to discuss the state’s trade mission. The focus of the meeting was on the longstanding history Maryland and Israel share economically, particularly in entrepreneurship, innovation and high-growth industries.

On the final day of his trade mission, Hogan signed a sister-state agreement between Maryland and the Negev  region that he feels will mutually benefit both sides in security,  information technology, aerospace, water management,  education and defense.

“I can’t think of a better way to wrap up our trade mission than by signing this Memorandum of Understanding,” Hogan said. “This week has given me the opportunity to see firsthand the outsized contribution Israel makes, both here and around the world.

“Maryland values the partnerships we have already, and I have no doubt that there will be even greater cooperation and collaboration generated as the direct result of this trade mission, and the execution of this MOU with the Negev,” Hogan said in a press release.

Updated from 9/23/16 version


Shimon Peres, Israeli Founding Father and ‘Soul of Israel,’ Dies at 93 1923 - 2016

Former Israeli president Shimon Peres at the Peres Peace House, in Tel Aviv, on November 30, 2015. Photo by Tomer Neuberg/FLASH90

Former Israeli president Shimon Peres at the Peres Peace House, in Tel Aviv, on November 30, 2015. Photo by Tomer Neuberg/FLASH90

Shimon Peres, the last of the founding generation of Israel’s leaders and a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, died Wednesday morning (Israel time)  after a career in public service that spanned seven decades. Peres was 93.

Peres served as prime minister twice and was president from 2007 to 2014. He played an instrumental role in the development of Israel’s nuclear program and he shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 with Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat for their role in the Oslo Accords.

“I think Israel has lost not just a major statesman, but it’s also lost a little bit of its soul,” said Dov Zakheim, who served in the George W. Bush administration and worked closely with Peres in the 1970s.

Stuart Eizenstat, who served in three U.S. administrations and knew Peres personally, called Peres an Israeli version of Thomas Jefferson because of his importance, because of his intellect and because he was a “renaissance man.”

Eizenstat praised Peres for treading a very fine line as president — traditionally a ceremonial position —— between remaining an advocate for the peace process, while not undermining the hawkish Netanyahu government.

“Later in his career, he transformed himself into the most beloved man in Israel,” Eizenstat said. “It was really a beautiful thing to see.”

Peres is sometimes seen as having evolved politically over the course of his life because of his close ties to the Israeli military and hawkish positions at the beginning of his career and his later determination to nurture the peace process.

But Guy Ziv, a professor at the American University School of Foreign Service, said that Peres was actually an “extreme pragmatist” throughout his life and it was the circumstances around him that changed.

“Peres’ key concern was always Israel’s security, and that’s something that’s often lost,” said Ziv, whose book “Why Hawks Become Doves” documents Peres’ career.

Despite the multitude of positions he held in various governments and his two stints as prime minister, Peres suffered numerous political defeats, most notably in 1996, when his Labor Party narrowly lost to Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud a year after the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

“I say this with love, but he wasn’t a great politician,” said Eizenstat. “I think that was in many ways because he was an intellectual. As the country became more and more conservative, he was seen as more of a dreamer, which I think is wrong.”

Ben- Gurion’s protégé

Peres was born Szymon Perski in Poland in 1923, and he emigrated with his family to British Mandate Palestine in 1934. He lived in Tel Aviv and spent his later teen years on a kibbutz.

David Ben-Gurion, who would become Israel’s first prime minister, took an interest in Peres after the younger man won an elected position in the Labor-Zionist youth movement. Peres soon became Ben- Gurion’s protégé, and in 1947, the year before he declared Israel’s independence, Ben-Gurion gave Peres responsibility for personnel and arms purchases of Haganah, the predecessor to the Israel Defense Forces.

In Israel’s early years, Peres, who spoke French fluently, played a pivotal role in acquiring arms for Israel from France and other European countries while there was an American arms embargo against Israel.

“He was in many ways Ben-Gurion’s extension to the outside world,” said Eizenstat. “Ben-Gurion asked Peres to acquire arms, and he did.”

Peres’ career continued its quick rise and by the age just 29 he was appointed deputy director-general of Israel’s Ministry of Defense.

In the 1950s, Peres worked with Britain and France to plan the Suez War against Egypt. It was also in this decade that Peres began work on Israel’s nuclear program with the French government. Ziv credited Peres’ openness and diplomatic skill in leading Israel’s scrappy nuclear program at a time when the country “could hardly afford to grow tomatoes.”



“In France, Peres would meet with anybody and everybody,” said Ziv. “He built his own fiefdom in France of key figures like politicians, key industrialists and other elites.”

Peres was first elected to the Knesset in 1959 with Ben-Gurion’s Mapai party, and he served as the head of various ministries until 1977 when, as the Labor party’s candidate for prime minister, he suffered a major electoral defeat to Menachem Begin and the Likud party.

Zakheim, who worked with Peres in the 1970s, praised him for his charisma.

“He would make his points in the most charming way possible,” he said. “He was prepared to say what he believed even if it wasn’t the most popular thing to say at the time.”

During the 1980s, Peres served as leader of the opposition, and following the 1984 elections, he was prime minister for two years as part of a rotation government established by an alliance with the Likud party. He served in various ministries in the late 1980s as part of a continued alliance with Likud.

“His preference was the PLO over Hamas.”

In 1990, Peres’ Labor Party lost power after it attempted to form an alliance with small leftist and  ultra-Orthodox parties.

It was in the early 1990s, now serving as foreign minister in Yitzhak Rabin’s government, that Peres participated in secret negotiations with Yasser Arafat of the PLO that led to the Oslo Accords.

Ziv said that Peres’ initial desire was to negotiate peace with Jordan’s King Hussein, but he eventually came to the conclusion that he had to work with Arafat. Ziv said that Peres worked with Arafat because he anticipated Hamas’ rise to power.

“His preference was the PLO over Hamas,” said Ziv. “That’s his pragmatism.”

Following Rabin’s assassination in 1995, Peres again became prime minister, but opted to wait before scheduling elections, a decision that has been criticized by his political supporters because of Likud’s victory in 1996.

“Peres’ decision not to call for a snap election after Rabin’s assassination profoundly changed and complicated the peace process,” said Eizenstat.

Peres declined to seek reelection as the leader of the labor party in 1997, but remained active in politics, serving as foreign minister, deputy prime minister and vice prime minister.

Then, in 2007, Peres became president of Israel, a position he held until 2014. Peres is widely credited for using the traditionally ceremonial position in a proactive way, while not interfering with Netanyahu’s agenda.

Because of this, Peres became popular in Israel as an elder statesman. Zakheim also said that Peres’ popularity grew at the time in the United States.

“He was very popular in Washington, because anyone who had a vision of peace in the Middle East immediately looked to him,” Zakheim said. “His serious support for the two-state solution was really very important because as some of the leadership in the American Jewish community moved to the right, he stood his ground.”

Eizenstat recalled that during Peres’ time as president, he would host Shabbat dinners every year at the Davos World Economic Forum with dignitaries and businesspeople. The gathering started with “barely a minyan” but ended up with 250 people by 2014. Eizenstat saw these dinners as an example of Peres’ warmth and leadership.

After receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama in 2012, Peres retired from politics in 2014.

In his last years he continued his work on the Peres Center for Peace, an organization he established in 1996 to enhance intercultural understanding in Israel and the Palestinian territories. In fact, just hours before being hospitalized for his stroke on Sept. 13, Peres recorded a video for Facebook urging people to buy local products.

Peres is survived by his three children, Yoni Peres, Nehemia Peres and Dr. Tsvia Walden.

Updated: 9/28/16 4:40 P.M.



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!

Hogan to Visit Israel This Month

Gov. Larry Hogan (Evan Sayles via ZUMA Wire/Newscom)

Gov. Larry Hogan (Evan Sayles via ZUMA Wire/Newscom)

The Maryland Chamber of Commerce and the Maryland/Israel Development Center Maryland announced Wednesday that Gov. Larry Hogan will be making a trip to Israel from Sept. 19 through 26 for a mission to promote bilateral trade investment.

Accompanying Hogan will be about 35 people including Baltimore Jewish Council president Abba Poliakoff; Michael Friedman of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington; University of Maryland, Baltimore president Jay Perman and several other state officials and members of the private sector.

“For Maryland to have an economically vibrant economy has to include outreach to the global market,” said MIDC executive director Barry Bogage during a conference call with reporters. Bogage noted that Israel is a “global powerhouse” when it comes to the life science and cyber security sectors of the economy, which parallel Maryland’s industries.

There are currently more than 20 Israeli companies with offices in Maryland, and members of several U.S. companies will be on the trip, including eHealth Ventures, which is setting up a digital health incubator in Israel.

“For us, because it’s a Maryland company, that’s going to create a pipeline of jobs,” Bogage said.

On Hogan’s itinerary will be a visit to Tel Aviv University in which he will speak with about 50 Israeli entrepreneurs along with a visit to Haddassah Medical Center in Jerusalem, where he will participate in a seminar on cancer research and speak about his own battle with cancer last year. Hogan will also visit a cyber security innovation hub in Beersheva on the campus of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev called CyberSpark.

Additionally, Hogan’s visit will include meetings with key Israeli government officials including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, former president and Prime Minister Shimon Peres and Chief Inspector Micky Rosenfeld, who serves as the foreign press spokesman for the Israel Police.

The trip will cost the state $120,000, which will be split among the different Maryland officials participating.

Bogage said this is the sixth such trade mission he has staffed with the MIDC. Former governors William Donald Schaefer, Parris Glendening, Robert Ehrlich and Martin O’Malley also made visits to Israel.

At Least 15 Reportedly Injured in Jerusalem Bus Explosion

JERUSALEM — At least 15 people are reported injured in an explosion Monday afternoon on a public bus in Jerusalem that is being investigated as a bombing or an engine malfunction.

Two of the injured in the explosion on Derech Hebron Road, in the Talpiot neighborhood southern Jerusalem, are in serious condition.

Police believe a bomb may have been placed in the engine of the bus, considered a more sophisticated way to attack, Israel’s Channel 1 reported. However, they also are looking into the possibility that there was a fault in the engine.

A second bus and a private vehicle reportedly caught fire in the explosion.

The bus reportedly was empty at the time of the explosion. The injured were on the second bus that caught fire.

The injured were taken to three Jerusalem-area hospitals.


Clinton Pledges Support for ‘Strong’ Israel in AIPAC Speech

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton on Monday told close to 18,000 Israel supporters at the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, D.C., that if elected, she would “never allow Israel’s adversaries to think a wedge can be driven between us.”

Speaking at the Verizon Center, the former senator and secretary of state eliminated any daylight between a Clinton administration and Israel.

The turmoil in the Middle East presents “enormous challenge and complexity,” but “walking away is not an option,” she said. “America needs an Israel strong enough to deter and defend against its enemies, strong enough to work with us to tackle shared challenges and strong enough to take bold steps in the pursuit of peace.”

She outlined three evolving threats the United States and Israel must combat: “Iran’s continued aggression, a rising tide of extremism and the growing effort to delegitimize Israel on the world stage.”

As Clinton spoke about Iran, she echoed AIPAC executive director Howard Kohr, who on Sunday night called the Islamic state the lobby’s top priority.

“This remains an extremist regime that threatens to annihilate Israel,” she said. Regarding the Iran nuclear agreement, Clinton said, “It’s not good enough to trust and verify. Our approach has to be distrust and verify. … We cannot forget that Tehran’s fingerprints are on every conflict across the Middle East.”

She noted that Iran continues to fund terrorists, including Hezbollah. The next president, she said, must impose consequences for “even the smallest violation” of the agreement.

The United States will act to stop Iranian violations of the agreement “with force if necessary,” she said.

She called for more sanctions on Iran in response to its recent missile tests. And she said the United States should continue to demand the safe return of Robert Levinson and other imprisoned Americans, an appeal that drew light applause.

Turning to U.S.-Israel relations, Clinton said she hopes the two allies will conclude negotiations over a 10-year defense memorandum of understanding as soon as possible. An agreement will “send a clear message to Israel’s enemies” that the two countries are united.

She added, the United States should provide Israel with the most “sophisticated defense technologies.”

Clinton condemned the wave of Palestinian violence in Israel and the territories. “Parents worry about letting their children walk down the street. Families live in fear.”

She received loud applause when she spoke about Taylor Force, an American who was fatally stabbed in Jaffa on March 8. “These attacks must end immediately, and Palestinian leaders need to stop inciting violence,” Clinton said.

She took aim at the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel, calling it anti-Semitic. “At the time when anti-Semitism is on the rise in the world … we must repudiate efforts to malign and undermine the Jewish people.”

Clinton said BDS has even extended to demonizing Israeli scientists and college students. At the mention of students, the audience stood.

All these efforts depend on electing a president committed to preserving Israel as a Jewish state and America as a world leader. “The alternative is unthinkable,” she said.

Also unthinkable — and unmentionable by name — was Donald Trump, the leading Republican contender for president.

He is “neutral on Monday, pro-Israel on Tuesday and who knows what on Wednesday,” she said, and dismissed Trump’s statement that he would be neutral on Israel-Palestinian negotiations.

“My friends. Israel’s security is non-negotiable!” she said to loud applause.

“We can’t be neutral when rockets rain down on residential neighborhoods … when bombers target the innocent. Some things are not negotiable. And anybody who doesn’t understand that has no business being our president.”

Later, she again knocked Trump without mentioning his name, for his call for a ban on Muslim immigration to the United States. Clinton likened it to America’s sending Jews back to Europe during the Holocaust.

She urged the Israel activists, “If you see a bully, stand up to him!”

David Holzel contributed to this article.

AIPAC Plans to Battle Iran as Conference Begins



Vice president Joe Biden on Sunday night addressed an AIPAC policy conference that was divided on the extent of the strength of the Obama administration’s support for Israel.

Speaking at the Verizon Center to the pro-Israel lobby’s annual gathering, Biden quoted Irish writer James Joyce and poet William Butler Yeats, as well as Zionist father Theodor Herzl, as he outlined an optimistic view of the Middle East.

Because of the nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers, “Iran is much, much further away from obtaining a nuclear weapon than they were a year ago,” he said. As of today, more than two-thirds of Iran’s centrifuges have been removed. More than 98 percent of the stockpiles … have been shipped out of the country. And the core of the reactor and … has been filled with cement. And unprecedented inspections are happening.”

He gave three reasons for being optimistic about trends in the Middle East. First, all parties are in agreement that Iran’s activities are destabilizing for the entire region. Second, Arab nations understand how radicalization presents a threat to their own security. And third, Israel is emerging as a regional powerhouse.

“Israel is stronger and more secure today because of the Obama/Biden administration. Period,” the vice president declared, drawing boos from the audience.

He said the new defense memorandum of understanding being negotiated by Israel and the United States “will without a doubt be the most generous assistance package in the history of the United States. And I’m hopeful that we can work out all the details. … As I told Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu and President [Reuven] Rivlin, Israel may not get everything it asks for, but it will get everything it needs. First, Israel’s security is about more than military needs … it means making sure that Israel will always exist.”

When he warned that Israel’s settlement activities are moving the situation in Israel and the Palestinians “to a one state reality, a reality which is dangerous,” he drew applause from one side of the Verizon Center and booing and screaming from the other.

Biden expressed hope that his audience was as happy as he that Iran was farther from a nuclear threshold than it had been a year ago. But speaking just before Biden’s appearance, AIPAC Executive Director Howard Kohr described just unhappy the organization was.

AIPAC lost a fight with the Obama administration last year when the Senate approved the agreement with Iran to halt its nuclear weapons program. On Sunday night, Kohr announced that Iran was again the group’s top issue.

“The struggle to prevent a nuclear armed Iran and to deter Iranian aggression in the Middle East is far from over,” he told thousands of Israel supporters at the Verizon Center. “So let us be clear. Iran remains the greatest threat to America in the middle East and to Israel’s ultimate survival,” he said to a round of applause.  “Its nuclear program is not dismantled, it’s in delay. And that’s even if Iran abides by the deal.”

Kohr said negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians leading to a two-state solution was AIPAC’s number-two priority. Third was increased American support for Israel’s military strength.

But even Sunday morning, it was clear that Iran was high on AIPAC’s agenda, as speakers warned about what they said were the consequences of a flawed nuclear agreement.

“The Iranians will mostly abide by the deal,” said Emanuele Ottoleghi, a senior fellow with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, in two sessions called “Nearing Implementation Day” and “After Implementation Day.”

Iran is motivated to adhere to the 15-year agreement because in the eighth year, the United States will lift its restrictions on Iranians studying nuclear physics here. “By the time the deal expires, Iran will have a legion of U.S. trained nuclear scientists,” who will greatly enrich Iran’s drive for a nuclear weapon.

Ottoleghi said it is futile to hope that the United States and its allies can re-impose sanctions on Iran. “It took a years for Iran to feel the bite of sanctions. In 15 years Iran will be able to break out in weeks.”

In another session on the Iran nuclear deal, Omri Ceren, managing director for press and strategy for The Israel Project, reached the same conclusion as Ottoleghi.

If attempts to deprive Iran of a nuclear weapon fails, “the United States will have to have a military response,”Ceren said.

Over lunch, the talk was less about Iran and more about the appearances on Monday of the presidential candidates.

“That’s what really got me excited,” said Michael Goller from Cincinnati, a Donald Trump supporter.

Ross Mellman, of Boca Raton, Fla., said he was looking forward to what the candidates have to say. He disapproves of plans to boycott or protest Trump’s appearance.

“All candidates are here to speak and should be heard,” he said. “Some of the people here are missing that message. It’s just common courtesy.”

“Probably a high amount of people want to hear about what Trump says about Israel,” said Ava Fagin of New York.

“He’s the guy people want to hear from,” said Mark Zucker, of Chicago. “The protests are the side story. The important thing is: what are his views, because he’s one of the two major candidates.”

Eliana Elikan, 15, from Silver Spring, said she was disappointed that Democratic candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) was the only presidential hopeful not speaking at the conference. She likes Sanders, but she said he lost her support because he reportedly sought advice from the liberal J Street, which she criticized as “more non-interventionist.”

“I am a big supporter of Israel,” she said. “It is my number one issue.”

Daniel Schere and Joshua Runyan contributed to this article.