By Avi Davis
As the time for Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress rapidly approaches, the skies around him are beginning to darken in an ominous way.
Yesterday a report from a Kuwaiti paper alleged that some time in 2014 Netanyahu, in consultation with his general staff, had authorized a pre-emptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities for fear that the United States and Iran had concluded a secret agreement which would have compromised Israeli national security. Yet when informed of the prospective assault, Barack Obama warned that the U.S. military would shoot the Israeli planes out of the sky if they so much as dared to cross into Jordanian airspace.
While the story is almost certainly false (the U.S. army or navy has had a very limited capacity to interdict any squadron over Jordanian airspace – or even more likely Saudi Arabian airspace – since the complete withdrawal of troops from Iraq in 2011) , the fact that so many people registered their alarm that U.S. and Israeli pilots might be involved in a real military engagement against one another, only illustrates its believability. Relations have apparently sunk so low that the United States government now appears to view the State of Israel itself as the most significant obstacle to peace in the Middle East.
Such a view of course makes a convenient detour around both Islamic State and al Qaeda, both of whom possess a far more serious claim to that title. Netanyahu might then be forgiven for a little exasperation with the U.S. President and his administration – who do not seem to be responding to Israeli intelligence nor its analysis of the situation on the ground.
But the Israeli prime minister knows that he is dealing with an amateur in foreign relations, a leader who has demonstrated time and again a failed grasp of statecraft and whose stubbornness, even in the face of the most exigent facts, blinds him to the consequences of his actions and the catastrophic impact that they might have on the region.
Throwing caution to the wind is not a luxury afforded a tiny state like Israel, surrounded by hostile forces seeking its destruction. But Netanyahu is not coming to Washington to represent just his own nation. When he stands before the two house of Congress on Tuesday, he will, sotto voce, also be representing the governments of Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia , Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, all of whom have witnessed the United States’ abandonment of leadership in the region and its apparent willingness to appease a determined Iran, glowing with the satisfaction of having gulled and outsmarted the Americans.
For Netanyahu the gambit to address Congress, at the risk of raising the ire of the Obama administration, is a supremely dangerous one; Obama still has now a little less than two years left in office and during that time there are many measures he can take to either punish Israel or else continue to endanger Israeli security – a perilous position in which to be in, considering that Iran’s military advisers now sit virtually on Israel’s very doorstep on the slopes of the Golan Heights.
Democratic supporters of Israel in Congress, alarmed by the widening rift, have urged the Israeli prime minister to cancel the appearance. After all, does he not know that Obama has repeatedly stated over the years that he would not allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons ( recycling those very words at a press conference with David Cameron not three weeks ago)? And hasn’t Obama just as often stated the United States’ commitment to the defense of Israel – implying that it would back that commitment with military assistance – if not force – if necessary?
Why is he doing it then?
The first reason is that the negotiations, conducted in camera in Geneva, have not involved the Israelis at all. The country most threatened by Iranian aggression – in fact the one singled out repeatedly by the theocratic regime for annihilation, has also been the one not even consulted about the outcome of the talks. The Israelis are well aware that this is no oversight. And it must surely invoke the memory of the Czechs who were not invited to join the British, French and Italian leaders at their negotiations with Hitler at his Berchtesgarden retreat in September, 1938. The Czechs were handed a fait accompli and thereafter completely abandoned by the Allies – forced to surrender a sizeable chunk of their territory while dismantling their formidable defenses.
And while drifting down memory lane, the Israeli leaders are no doubt recalling the events of November, 1956 and May, 1967.
On November 5, 1956, President Dwight Eisenhower, enraged by the surprise joint, coordinated attack by British, French and Israeli troops on the Suez Canal – just recently nationalized by the Egyptian dictator Gamal Nasser, issued an ultimatum to the victorious armies – immediate withdrawal or face a Security Council denunciation at the United Nations. The swift and sweeping conquest of the vast Sinai peninsula by the Israel Defense Forces relieved the country of a direct threat in the south from cross border fedayeen raids and Egyptian military insurgents and the Israelis were not about to give it up without something in return. Eisenhower decided to give them a guarantee – that in the event of a future attack by Egypt in the south, an international force would be stationed from now on in to help defend the southern border.
Fast forward eleven years and Nasser was seen again threatening Israeli national security, this time mobilizing troops in the Sinai Peninsula and sabre rattling, in blood curdling national speeches, for the annihilation of the Jewish state. Israel, pressed on three borders by hostile armies made urgent entreaties to President Lyndon Johnson, pointing to the guarantees offered by the Eisenhower administration. Johnson hesitated, claiming his staff could not find the document but promising to organize an international flotilla to break the blockade of the Gulf of Aqaba imposed by Nasser’s navy. Weeks went by and no such flotilla appeared. Frustrated and alarmed, the government of Levi Eshkol realized it was truly alone – the U.S. guarantees were not worth the paper they were written on. With nothing else to lose he authorized a pre-emptive strike on the Egyptian air force, a mission which was ultimately so staggeringly successful that it essentially determined the outcome of the war – concluded in Israel’s favor within six days.
This history lesson can surely not be lost on the current Israeli leadership. They see the writing on the wall – a President who takes their security concerns with a passive non-chalance; who believes that Iran, for all its 30 years of fostering terrorism and instability in the Middle East, can be transformed overnight into a partner for peace; a leader who cannot grasp that the ideological engine which fuels the nuclear ambitions of the Mullahs in Tehran is the same motor spinning in the minds of al Qaeda and ISIS.
Benjamin Netanyahu, a far more savvy and focused strategist than the American president, knows all of this and knows the limited time the Israelis now have to make to make their arguments- if not to the U.S. president who has ceased to listen, then at least to the American people through their representatives in Congress.
In doing so, Netanyahu will be making the case that the quashing of Iran’s nuclear ambitions is not just an Israeli interest, nor just an American interest – but an interest of the world community which must combine to recognize the most significant threat to world peace since the end of the Cold War and deal with in an unequivocal and final manner.
By Avi Davis
In July, 1923, a 20-year-old Polish Jew named David Czmielewski and his older brother Yitzhak stepped ashore at the Port of Jaffa determined to help build the Land of Israel. Economic opportunities however were sparse and he found it hard to make a living. Despondent, he was forced to leave five years later. Yet he never gave up the hope of one day returning.
David Czmielewski thereafter traveled to Australia and became David Davis. He was my grandfather.
His dream, never quite realized in his own lifetime, nevertheless transferred through the generations to his son and several of his grandchildren who all established homes in the State of Israel. Today he has twelve great-grandchildren living in the land. Three great-grandsons have served or are serving in the IDF. One is about to enter training in the Golani Brigade and a fifth has been selected as a candidate for a pilot training course in the Israeli Air Force.
Last week, his first great-great grandchild, Shira Perlmuter, was born in Petach Tikva to my niece Avital Perlmuter(nee Davis) and her husband Sagi. She represents the fifth generation of the Davis/ Czmielewski family in the land of Israel.
She is a beautiful, living testament to Jewish determination and commitment. May she live a long, happy, prosperous life and may she be joyously blessed with many children of her own.
Featuring; Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Loralei Linklater
Director: Richard Linklater
Running Time: 2 hrs 45 mins.
by Avi Davis
Coming of age movies are not exactly uncommon in Hollywood. That is perhaps natural for an industry which focuses its steely gaze on an age range somewhere between the years 12 and 18. So I might then be excused for my expectation that Boyhood would turn out to be just another boy meets girl flick, a rumination on the tawdry and confused sex lives of our over stimulated youth.
As a result nothing quite prepared me for this quiet miracle of a movie – two hours and 45 minutes which offered a sensitive journey undertaken in the company of a young boy who could almost be our own younger brother or son.
Director Richard Linklater took twelve years to film his subjects, using the same actors as they aged through the various time periods and bringing the two children Mason Jr.( Ellar Coltrane) and his sister Samantha (Loralei Linklater) and their divorced mother Olivia (Patricia Arquette) through the trials of growing up. Through its tender revelations, the children emerge from their mother’s tempestuous 12 year argosy (which includes two disastrous marriages, several hurried moves across Texas, new schools and new loneliness) and into adulthood without being broken or tarnished by the experience.
This is a movie about growing up – that might be true enough; but it is not only the children who we see develop. Both of the parents also endure the growing pains of maturity- Olivia as she moves from young and desperate single motherhood to capable provider, doubling as home maker; and the often absent father Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke) who moves from his free spirited iconoclasm and Disney Dad personality to a recognition of his adult responsibilities and expectations.
Yet the quiet, utter brilliance of the movie is in its subtle examination of children. Rarely do you feel the intrusion of the adult film maker. The plot moves along in a natural progression and the time lapses, sometimes several years in length, don’t seem to matter; we are so engrossed in the spectacle of seeing a sweet, sensitive young boy mature before our eyes that we can forgive the rough seams needed to patch the story together. True enough there is a script, but it is a rather loose one and the actors have been given quite a bit of free rein to ad lib and provide their own dialogue. This lends the production a lightness and elasticity which takes it well beyond the affectation and casual manipulation that movie audiences are so often forced to endure from over bearing directors.
The subtlety extends to the marvelous use of the actors’ facial expressions to presage the onset of a plot development or of an event which has already happened off screen. The six -year-old Mason Jr., for instance, upon meeting his mother’s university sociology professor, senses that the teacher’s interest in his mother is more than educational and this sudden realization is caught with a sharp glance at the man himself- a panicked alarm bell that warns him (and us) of something in his life that is about to change. Sure enough the next scene has the university professor returning home from his honeymoon with Mason Jr.’s mother in tow.
An almost identical scene plays out several years later when as a young college professor herself, Olivia has invited some of her mature aged students back to the family home for a Thanksgiving dinner; and in one of these guests Mason senses his mother’s more than casual interest. The next scene, a few years beyond, portrays a family dinner, yet this time it is the contemptuous look in the mother’s eye as she responds to a comment from her beer guzzling new husband that explains all we need to know of what has transpired in the interval between scenes.
As the movie progresses through the various stages of Mason’s life we see him confronting the many challenges all boys must endure at one time or another: the bullying of younger schoolboys; the experiments with drugs and alcohol; fumbling through the unknown mysteries of sex; the heartbreak of youthful romance and the desperate attempt to latch on to an individual identity. Yet though these changes – which are prefigured by changes in hairstyle, physique, facial hair, the political environment and music, Mason’s inner self changes little; his goal has remained constant – right into his late youth: the dreamy, sensitive child desperately searching for something real to hold onto.
This perhaps provides the special magic of Boyhood. It is an argument for the notion that while our environment changes and we move through different styles, fashions and experiences, the inner person within us rarely changes. Character, Linklater seems to be saying, is formed very early in the human species – perhaps even before we emerge from the womb – and while it will receive heavy bombardment from environmental factors, it remains resistant to change. As we leave the bearded Mason on his first day of college, sitting shyly and a little awkwardly with a girl he has just met on a rocky outcrop in a national park, his wonder of the world and his sense of his place in it, does not seem to have changed much at all from the moment we had met him two hours and 45 minutes earlier, as a six-year- old, staring questioningly at the blue sky.
Those of us lucky enough to have children of our own also know how the changes in them can be captured by certain occurrences which register within us with something akin to shock: The day we transform from “Daddy” into “Dad”; the long silence in the drive home from school when all answers to our questions are suddenly monosyllabic; the tendency to reject any advice we might have to offer and the growing contempt for our musical tastes.
But the real changes in our children are often imperceptible because they take place beyond our reach or our observation. It is Boyhood’s special achievement in allowing a view of the developing mind of a child, which ultimately elevates the film above almost any other coming of age movie I have seen. It is an education in itself and makes me long for another Linklater film, to appear in 12 years time, which will chronicle the same boy’s struggles through the pains, struggles, mistakes and ultimate triumphs of early adulthood.
By Avi Davis
For many years the European Union’s involvement in the Israel- Palestinian peace process has been one of benign benevolence on the outside but a malevolent interventionism in reality.
Rather than contributing to peace, the European Union has often done quite the opposite – backing the Palestinians on their wayward policies which directly and unambiguously contravene their international commitments, funding NGOs who foment anti-Israel sentiment and encouraging the Palestinians to reject negotiation with Israel as a means of achieving statehood while pushing towards open conflict.
Now the pro-active stance of Europe has spiraled into an open conflict with the Jewish state.
The decision of the Swedish Parliament to unconditionally recognize a State of Palestine, with its borders marked by the 1949 cease fire lines was the first salvo. The parliaments of the U.K., France, Ireland and the Netherlands have followed suit with provisional recognition which the respective parliaments of these countries could convert into de jure recognition at the apprpriate time.
The European support of the Palestinian candidacy to the International Criminal Court was another attempt to circumvent the process. The Palestinian Authority is legally proscribed from joining any international body until negotiations over the disposition of the territories is settled. Of course the Palestinians wish to use the court as leverage against the Jewish state – ludicrous when you consider how open to indictment it leaves the Palestinian leaders themselves.
Now comes reports of actual European Union settlements being erected in areas of the West Bank. That is not Palestinian settlements just financed by the European Union but rather settlements stamped with the European Union brand.
Regavim, an Israeli non-governmental organization issued a report this week which detailed the construction of 400 homes in Area C of the West Bank, an area designated by the Oslo Accords and subsequent agreements where no Palestinian construction could take place without prior Israeli approval.
According to the report, the structures are being built in the E1 area of the West Bank within the municipal boundary of the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, adjacent to and northeast of Jerusalem. They largely resemble prefabricated caravans.
But these are not your run -of- the-mill illegal settlements. In order to stay the demolition of the houses, the report notes the village(s) fly the EU flag and the houses themselves sport the EU logo.
Asked about the report, an EU spokesperson, Maja Kocijancic, denied any wrongdoing, insisting that construction had not yet taken place:
“The EU’s funding will provide training and expertise, to help the relevant Palestinian Authority (PA) Ministries to plan and build new infrastructure and enable people to reclaim and rebuild their land there,” she said. “To date, no construction has started yet under these programmes. The EU is not funding illegal projects.”
But Shadi Othman, a spokesman for the EU in the West Bank and Gaza, told the Daily Mail THAT construction was indeed taking place.
“We support the Palestinian presence in Area C. Palestinian presence should not be limited Areas A and B. Area C is part of the occupied Palestinian territory which eventually will be Palestinian land. Palestinians have a right to live there, build schools there, have economic development,” he said.
Hmm. One would think that the EU would be better at coordinating the messages of its spokespersons.
But no matter. There is plain evidence, gathered from its combined actions over the past 20 years, which provides solid proof of the EU being a entirely prejudiced miscreant in the region, favoring the very organization whose supporters are now fomenting riots in their own cities, burning cars and plotting the next terrorist atrocity a la Charlie Hebdo.
The Israeli government will react to the construction of the EU villages with a demolition order – and probably, although not certainly, with a demolition; which in turn, of course will spur more West Bank protests and then further calumnies which will pour down on Israel from the august offices of the European Union in Brussels.
In this way the Europeans continue to fecklessly contribute to the downward spiral of relations between Israelis and Palestinians until open, violent conflict becomes inevitable.
The ultimate truth, of course, is that violent conflict between Israel and the Palestinians in this regard is really only a proxy war. The Europeans long ago declared war on the Jewish state – having now found just the right agents provocateurs to hasten the onset of a deadly confrontation.
by Avi Davis
Now that Greece has demanded additional reparations from Germany for that country’s WWII crimes on Greek territory, many other countries might well fall in line with their tin cups extended. Soon enough Russia will be demanding reparations from France for Napoleon I’s invasion of 1812 and India might make the same demands of Uzbekistan for Tamerlane’s brutal incursion of the 14th Century. And lets not forget the Anglo-Saxons who might want some compensation for the 300 years of Norman occupation of England from 1066 onward.
Don’t get me wrong. The Germans committed heinous acts in Greece 1941-44, occupying that country for four very long years during the Second World War, deporting hundreds of thousands and exacting a terrible price from the Greeks.
But the Germans already paid and the Greeks accepted extensive reparations in the 1950s and 60s. That includes about $54 million to Greece and its citizens, an amount that would be roughly $450 million today when adjusted for inflation. No Greek public figure has made a claim for extra compensation from the Germans since that time and extra reparations have certainly not been a focal point of Greek/German relations in any sense in the intervening years. But now some Greek politicians claim Germany owes the country more than €160 billion ($181 billion) in reparations.
Why now then? Because the Greeks need leverage to use against the Germans in attempting to restructure ( another word for forgive) their debt so that that they can climb out of the crater their new leftist government is presently digging them and from which there will be no way out except via a rope thrown down by the Germans.
To me this sort of reads like the kid who skips school for the entire semester and then blames his teacher and the school’s bias for his failure in the year’s final exams.
It should not be lost on anyone that three years ago the Germans rescued the Greek economy from certain collapse when Government debt – already at 180% to GDP – was spiraling so far out of control that it looked like if the drain on Europe was not plugged it would empty the entire European economic experiment into the Aegean. The Germans came to the rescue but demanded substantial reforms – and thus the imposed austerity measures about which so many Greeks are today complaining and which ushered in the leftist government of the inexperienced Alex Tsirpas.
But so far the Germans are having none of the Greek petulance and seem unlikely to yield on their demand that in order to renew loans due on February 28th the Greek government must absolutely commit to the same austerity measures which essentially brought down the last government.
No one , however, should mistake this for a stalemate. Tsirpas’ government may think that it has the upper hand because skittish EU bureaucrats in Brussels, looking down the long barrel of the rapid devaluation of the Euro, will not allow Greece to simply walk away from the currency – which would be the inevitable result of a massive default on government debt.
However the German central banks – which are the real power behind the Euro – have so far expressed remarkable determination and show no willingness to renegotiate Greek debt with Tsirpas’ envoys.
Which brings us to the issue of the reparations. They are a clearly transparent and cynical means of building resentment against the Germans, adding fuel to a fire which had already caught ablaze among the Greek public and has enticed them into this present sleep walk over a very steep fiscal cliff.
And here’s what that fiscal cliff looks like:
Greece’s bailout from the eurozone runs out on Feb. 28. At that moment, without an extension, it will lose its last €1.8 billion disbursement from the currency union’s bailout fund, €1.9 billion in profits from Greek government bonds held by the European Central Bank and around €11 billion still sitting in Greece’s bank bailout fund. The fate of a €3.5 billion transfer from the International Monetary Fund is less obvious, since the IMF’s program for Greece runs until the end of 2016. What is clear is that Athens won’t get any money from the fund without an agreed aid deal with the eurozone.
Greek government officials have said that they could run out of money in early March, especially if tax revenues deteriorate further. At that point, the government won’t be able pay things like pensions and public-sector salaries. Crucially, for the eurozone and the IMF, it also won’t be able to repay its creditors, including the fund and the ECB. Between March and August, Greece has to repay €4.7 billion in old IMF loans and €6.6 billion in bonds held by the ECB and national central banks. Those numbers don’t include interest payments to private creditors, the fund and the eurozone along with a few smaller redemptions. They also don’t include €13.4 billion in short term debt, so-called Treasury bills, that Greece needs to roll over by the end of August.
So in order top restructure that debt, the Greeks desperately need time – or else the trains, which rarely run on time anyway, will really stop running altogether.
So what happens now?
Almost certain default. Cut off from rescue funding, Greek banks would suffer dramatic cash outflows as depositors worried about Greece being forced out of the single currency region. Currently, the European Central Bank’s emergency liquidity assistance program, operated by the national central bank, ensures that Greek banks have enough cash to cover depositor outflows. Because depositors know this, there hasn’t been a stampede of funds out of the banks.
But without the ECB, the flight of funds would cascade, threatening a Greek banking collapse. Greece would be forced to put up capital controls, limiting withdrawal of funds, and force the banks’ creditors to take losses.
Ernest Hemingway once wrote there are two stages to going bankrupt: “Gradually, then suddenly.” He could just as easily have been referring to the process of being ejected from the eurozone.
Greece’s sudden banruptcy will hurt everyone – even us here in the United States. But it might be preferable to have a temporary electric shock than a long painful death from a million minor cuts.
By Avi Davis
After his gaffes at the National Prayer Breakfast last week, it might be expected that President Barack Obama would now be a little more circumspect in his pronouncements about sensitive racial and religious topics. But just as the howls of protests over his recondite comparison of 21st Century Islamic barbarism to 12th and 15th Century Christian fundamentalism have begun to fade, along comes yet another Obama lancing wound.
In an interview on Vox.com, the President seemed rather unclear about the nature of the attack on HyperCacher, the French kosher market in Paris where four Jews were murdered by Ahmed Coulibaly on January 7th. He certainly did not seem to grasp that the attack was profoundly anti-Semitic and that Coulibaly chose his target with great care.
Questioned by journalist Matthew Yglesias about whether he feels the media sometimes overstates the level of alarm people should have about terrorism, he answered:
“Look, the point is this: my first job is to protect the American people. It is entirely legitimate for the American people to be deeply concerned when you’ve got a bunch of violent, vicious zealots who behead people or randomly shoot a bunch of folks in a deli in Paris. We devote enormous resources to that, and it is right and appropriate for us to be vigilant and aggressive in trying to deal with that — the same way a big city mayor’s got to cut the crime rate down if he wants that city to thrive.”
And it is for this reason: by bringing attention to the spread of anti-Semitism, the President is forced to recognize that Jews might actually need or desire a homeland which is safe and secure – free from the rampages of Islamists who would target them for murder as they simply shop for their Sabbath meals or merely walk their children into school.
One of the historical justifications for a Jewish state – in fact the very incidents which gave rise to Zionism and the demands for a secure Jewish homeland in the late 19th Century – were acts such as the one which occurred in the Kosher market on January 7th. State sanctioned pogroms in Russia, attacks on Jewish property in Paris, blood libels in Syria and Egypt – these all contributed in the mid to late 19th Century to a sense that the position of the Jews, even in enlightened, liberated countries – was hopeless.
The safety and security of the Jewish state, which offers the single most important buffer against the recrudescence of anti-Semitism, is something of an obstacle now to the president’s attempts to remold the Middle East. Committed to building a coalition against ISIS , the President is now moving in the direction of allowing Iran’s Mullahs the room to flex their nuclear muscle so as to win, in exchange, their support for the war against ISIS. In this he knows he must sacrifice Israeli security concerns which he is almost certain are overblown anyway.
But the Israelis are nervous for one very good reason: the Iranians have repeatedly stated their intention to destroy their country. The annihilationist rhetoric is of course anti-Semitism writ large, as febrile and determined as anything planned or executed by Nazi Germany.
Is it any wonder then that Barack Obama and his Administration do not want to recognize or accentuate the worldwide rise of anti-Semitism? It offers an increasingly annoying distraction – what to do about the Jews?
With so much else at stake, it is the last thing this President wants or needs to worry about.