Archive for March, 2011

Precept 1: The Endgame for Israel

March 29, 2011 Comments off
David Ben-Gurion (First Prime Minister of Isra...

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“If you don’t know where you are going, you might end up somewhere else” – The Great Yogi

In analyzing and developing policies, an obvious prerequisite is defining and understanding your desired outcome:  The Endgame.  One of the problems that often occurs when people are talking about Israel, Palestine and the rest of the Middle East, is that they talk past each other.  They almost immediately get caught up arguing facts (or myths), history, speculation, generalization, demonization, almost any damn “-ation” you can name.  But often they never bother to try to understand the framework of their arguments.  What is the outcome that they are looking for?  How can one determine if they are right or wrong unless they know what goal they are trying to achieve.

It seems that the endgame for Israel was defined at its very birth.  It goes back to the original Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel which David Ben-Gurion read aloud in the sweltering heat of the former Dizengoff home, the Tel Aviv Museum of Art on 5 Iyar 5708 (May 14, 1948).  The very essence of what the country stands for is contained in the 13th paragraph:

THE STATE OF ISRAEL will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.

I don’t think there can be a clearer, more succinct ideal that any of us who love the State of Israel could set for her.  And it follows from that that this should be the standard which the people of Israel and their institutions (government, the military, economic, and religious) should be measuring themselves against.  And fellow Jews everywhere should be  supporting Israel in reaching for that ideal. 

So, in summary, when analyzing policy decisions, using this definition, the endgame is the sustenance of Israel as the democratic homeland of the Jewish people.


March 29, 2011 Comments off
Pyle Precepts for print

precept [ˈpriːsɛpt]

n 1. a rule or principle for action

2. a guide or rule for morals; maxim

Over the next several months, I am going to write a series of short essays – I call Precepts – explaining the framework that I use in thinking about issues – particularly when it involves war and peace.  The United States is currently involved in overt military activity (“kinetic” seems to be the descriptive adjective de jour to apply here) in three different areas of the world.  We see images of bombs, fire fights, burned out tanks, and wounded and killed civilians – lots of wounded and killed civilians – wherever we look – in the newspaper, on TV, on the web, on our mobile phones.  And yet, we have little understanding of what, why and how we are doing what we are doing.  Our leaders seem caught up in endless partisan infighting, spewing political rhetoric like odoriferous spring fertilizer.  They cannot explain what our interests are (our Endgame).  Instead of being forthright in explaining the importance of energy, raw materials, shipping lanes, stable governments, etc., we get all kinds of wars.  Not just military warfare, but Wars on Drugs, Wars on Terror, Wars on Obesity.  The term War is used so often that it has lost its true meaning.  We are constantly at war – so war no longer seems to be such a terrible thing.  (Obviously the best treatise on the concept of constant war was written by George Orwell.  I commend you to re-read 1984.  I dare say that our current global relationships bear some resemblance to that of Oceania.  If you read carefully, although the visions are sometimes a bit more stark and excessive, you will see that much of the framework is recognizable.  Telescreens spying on our every move?  Between police cameras, security cameras and cellphone cameras, they say that you should act like everything you do is being recorded…)

All of that being said, my hope is to put together some little thought pieces that will pique your interests.  Each will likely start out very short, but I reserve the right to update, revise and expand each essay until it turns into a coherent worthy statement.

The first one follows this post.  It is a short note about the importance of defining one’s Endgame.

Has the Window closed? Seems that the Third Intifada may be starting

March 23, 2011 3 comments

Jerusalem Bombing

Today’s unexpected bombing in Jerusalem seems to be just one more violent event in recent weeks. [Unexpected because according to an Israeli police spokesperson on BBC radio, prior to the bombing all was quiet in Jerusalem and there were no indications of an increased terrorist threat.  UPDATE: Now they say “Police were prepared.”].  Off the top of my head, here are the events:

1. Tragic murder of the Fogel family in Itamar

2. Last weekend, heaviest mortar and rocket attacks from Gaza in years.  And more rockets and mortars today in retaliation for Israeli air force missile response yesterday which killed four people.

3. The interception of a ship loaded with Chinese weapons headed for Gaza

Grounded Iranian cargo plane

4.  Grounding of an Iranian cargo plane (a huge Ilyushin IL-76TD) by the Turkish air force.  This was the second plane grounded in the last few days.  First plane had no contraband, but yesterday, the plane carried a large cache of weapons that was found hidden behind food cargo.  The plane was bound for Syria.

5. Now this bombing in Jerusalem

All of these events seem unprovoked, which leads me to speculate that this may be the beginning of the Third Intifada.  Just as the Second Intifada took violence to another level from the First, it is likely that the Third will also take things up a notch.  As in any warfare, the enemy adapts its tactics.  In this sense, it may turn out that the Security Barrier will force the other side to use rockets, mortars and probably new, dangerously innovative weapons and tactics if they are really waging a new widespread operation.

Let us hope not.  But I would keep a close watch on events.

Want to read something smart about Libya? As always, Thomas Ricks is the Guy

March 23, 2011 Comments off

If you are at all interested in Peace, you must be interested in War, because they are intimately intertwined.   And one of the top guys to follow about the two is Thomas Ricks (best known as the author of Fiasco) at Foreign Policy.  Check out his latest post:  “Libya:  You want clarity?  Here it is”

Categories: Israel

Netanyahu snubs 170,000 Jews in favor of Sarah Palin

March 22, 2011 Comments off

Sara & Sarah (with two other guys)

As reported in the Jerusalem Post, Prime Minister Neteayahu wanted to expand his meeting with Todd and Sarah to a “full reception”, but couldn’t find time to meet with Jeremy Ben-Ami and Davidi Gilo, J Street leaders in Jerusalem for a “discussion” at the Knesset about whether J Street is really “pro-Israel”.  J Street has 170,000 supporters.  Sarah has Fox News.  I guess its simple.

Luckily, Sarah has said she is going to go back to Israel and this time for a whole week.  Hopefully, she will spend some time in Sderot, the settlements, Bethlehem, Hebron and Ramallah – and speak with people on all sides of the issues as well as on both sides of the Green Line.

Categories: Israel, J Street, Middle East

EXTRA! Leaked Copy of Confidential Encrypted J Street Communique; Code Cracked By The Purim-Enigma Decoder

March 19, 2011 Comments off

Dateline:  14 Adar 

J Street in the News:

Knesset announces that topic of next week’s J Street discussion was a misunderstanding.  MK’s interested in learning about Jeremy Ben-Ami’s selections in the NCAA tournament

Kadima MK Otniel Schneller questions Jeremy Ben-Ami’s preference for latkes vs. hammentaschen.  Says that no real Jew could possibly prefer latkes

Netanyahu upset that Knesset is holding hearings on J Street next week – he had hoped to invite Jeremy Ben-Ami and Davidi Gilo to his seder, but doesn’t think that they will want to come back in April


Top News:

Iranian genealogist searching for Amajinedad’s lineage comes to a dead end with someone named Haman
http://persia-today/Amajinedad-Is He Really from Philly?

Israeli government announces a complete and total halt to settlements! (each week between sundown on Friday and sundown on Saturday)

Hamas changes charter!  Says, we don’t really want to push Jews into the sea.  Just want them all to leave for Miami Beach.  And may they live and be well http://hamasworldnews/Travel News

UN approves no-zipper zone on Levi 501 button-fly jeans
http://www.washingtonpost/Rice says: US will take a fashion back seat to no one 

Top rabbinical council renounces matrilineal descent when it discovers Charlie Sheen’s mother was Jewish                                          ’s Believe It or Not

Sarah Palin going to Israel.  Looking forward to seeing the Pyramids                         http://www.newyorktimes/Palin: What? I didn’t say anything about Russia 



Netanyahu writes opinion piece in NYT:  “My opinion is that Abbas is ugly.  And by the way, Fayad, is no better”                                                   http://www.newyorktimes/FashionWeek

Glen Beck apologizes for criticizing George Soros’ actions during WWII.  What he had intended to denounce was Soros giving money to J Street   http://www.washingtontimes/print-edition/opinion/Can I be any more Anti-semetic?

Amy Sputnick

REMINDER: All posts on the J Street Purim Forum listserv are private and confidential communications that may not be shared outside the J Street family.

Categories: Israel

My Response to Ami Kaufman Published By Israeli Blogsite +972

March 18, 2011 Comments off

J Street Conference 2011

Although Kaufman’s commentary provided some food for thought, there was a whole lot of context that he missed.

Here is my response, which I had originally titled:  Ami Kaufmann’s Blogpost re: J Street Conference:  “A” for Perception, “C-” for Perceptiveness


J Street member responds to criticism of DC conference

The following is a post written by Mr. Mark Zivin, an active J Street member, in response to my earlier post titled: “The J Street conference: An ‘A’ for effort, ‘F’ for results”. In my post I claimed that the conference failed where it matters most: bringing major league politicians from Capitol Hill. As you shall soon see, Mr. Zivin thinks I might have been a tad too harsh.

By Mark Zivin

I found Ami Kaufman’s recent piece about the J Street Conference to provide some very valuable insight into how the conference was perceived outside of the United States. Part of the problem was not only the lack of media attention (and I would agree that this is a legitimate concern), but there also was a lack of depth and context to the coverage.

Part of the problem is that this conference represents more of an evolution in the development of J Street as a movement, rather than a revolution. And as we all know, the cutbacks in personnel and budgets in the traditional media make it much harder, at any point in time, for them to justify covering evolutionary progress.  And particularly at this moment in time, there just might be a few other revolutionary things going on in the world that would capture their attention before a conference in D.C.  So, let me provide some of that context.

Regarding the event itself, Ami failed to look at the numbers.  Attendance was up over 50% from 1,500 at the first conference to about 2,400 this year. For comparison sake, the AIPAC policy conference last year had 7,500, including a large contingent of about 750 from Chicago, because a very popular Lee Rosenberg from their hometown was being installed as President. Attracting almost one-third as many people as AIPAC after being in existence for only three years seems quite impressive. Even more interesting, the AIPAC numbers included 750 students; J Street had 500 students.  So, J Street was able to do even better with young people.  That is significant.

But it is in the area of the “political aspect” where not having the benefit of a broader American political perspective resulted in Ami drawing some very wrong conclusions about the political effectiveness of J Street. There are much better measures of JStreetPAC’s effectiveness than looking at the “caliber of speakers”.  Again, let’s look at the numbers. In the 2010 election cycle, JStreetPAC raised more money, over $1.5M, than any other pro-Israel PAC (AIPAC is legally not a PAC and so does not directly raise money for candidates) and 46 of 61 endorsed candidates won (granted many of these were incumbents in Democratic districts).

But, the big story of 2010 that Ami ignored was the huge Republican wave that swept Congress, including more than a few J Street incumbents – which would help explain why there were fewer Representatives at the conference. Here in Illinois, we actually lost two out of four J Street endorsees who J Street had developed strong relationships with. That scenario played out all across the country.

As for the Republicans, J Street reaches out to them on the Hill, and for the most part they will politely meet with J Street’s staff. However, it is nearly impossible to get them to accept an endorsement. There was a very brave Republican Congressman from Louisiana, Rep. Charles Boustany, who was with J Street from the beginning. He is a medical doctor of Lebanese Christian descent. He accepted J Street’s endorsement for both 2008 and 2010.  Unfortunately, when the whole flap about funding from George Soros emerged, he was forced to drop the endorsement.

And speaking of brave, although “minor league” is one way to characterize the Congresspeople that came to the conference, I know several of them pretty well.  I think that more accurate adjectives would be “tough”, “fair-minded”, and “sincere”, in addition to “brave”.  And, although Ami quoted part of a paragraph from Nathan Guttman in the Forward, he missed the point on two counts.  First, he failed to connect the very real political risk that there can be fallout from showing up at the conference with the fact that some people decided not to attend. So we have to really appreciate those that ignored that risk.  Secondly, Ami left out the last sentence of Guttman’s paragraph:

“But Rep. Lois Capps, another California Democrat who is endorsed by J StreetPAC, said that there is a “noticeable change” in Congress and more openness to listening to other views on Israel.”

I have personally heard from many Congressmen and women how thankful they are that J Street exists. It has allowed many of them to be bolder and more outspoken in their positions than they could ever have been if it was not for J Street.

And speaking of political, the day after the conference was “Lobby Day”, where hundreds of conference participants went up on Capitol Hill to meet with Senators and Representatives to promote J Street’s positions and make some type of “ask” in favor of these views. This year’s “ask” was very interesting.  Each Congressperson was asked to sign on to a letter that is sponsored by Jan Schakowsky (my Representative) and Anna Eshoo of California. The letter is in support of maintaining the level of foreign aid both to Israel and the Palestinian Authority.  The letter is very even-handed and this was evidenced by its being the lead article in the Chicago Federation’s (JUF) e-newsletter last week. Significantly, J Street was the first group to lobby for this letter on the Hill.  My hope is that we will be seeing more J Street actions which will be acceptable to a broader range of members of the Jewish community.

And speaking of Republican, one should be aware of what happened in my home district, Illinois’ Ninth. The above mentioned incumbent, Jan Schakowsky, who is Jewish, has been a strong supporter of Israel during her entire 12 years in Congress, and she was also one of the first in Congress to accept J Street’s endorsement.  And although the mantra of traditional center-right Jewish groups, including AIPAC, has been that support for Israel should not be a political issue, her young opponent disparaged mercilessly both Jan’s support for Israel and her acceptance of J Street’s endorsement. There is a large enclave of Orthodox Jews in her district and many of them supported her opponent. Despite this, Jan won handily by margins similar to prior years.

The point being that this served as a test to find out both whether J Street could muster effective political support (which it did by turning out scores of people at key debates and rallies), and whether or not J Street support could actually harm a candidate in a district with a large Jewish population. J Street fared very well on both counts. And, realizing exactly how much a litmus test this district could be, J Street actually conducted very specific polling to be able to do more than judge the results anecdotally.  These poll results indicated that despite her opponent spending over $500,000 and despite the overall Republican trend in the nation, Jan’s popularity was unscathed by her association with J Street.

So all in all, to paraphrase Mark Twain, the reports of J Street’s political demise have been greatly exaggerated. That isn’t to say that J Street has not made political mistakes or that the path forward is going to be easy, but it is to say that J Street has made, and continues to make, a significant difference in the tone of American political conversation about Israel, Palestine and Middle East Peace. And trust me, J Street’s leadership and staff didn’t spend too much time patting themselves on the back in self-congratulatory revelry. Despite tired minds and bodies, they spent the two days following the conference de-briefing, planning and preparing for what lies ahead. Knowing many of them, they certainly wouldn’t disagree with Ami that 2011 is a make or break year. But, rest assured, pep rallies aren’t in the plans. How to get to peace is what their sights are set on.

Mark Zivin is a member of J Street’s Political Finance Committee and a leader of J Street Chicago, its local branch.  He was Treasurer of the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation, and has been a supporter of major American Jewish organizations for decades.  He blogs about politics in general and Middle East Peace in particular at and Tweets at

View of J Street Conference from Israel: Ami Kaufman’s Post on +972 Blogsite Last Week

March 18, 2011 Comments off

Ami Kaufman

Here is Ami’s original posting on +972 entitled:  The J street conference: An “A” for effort, “F” for results.

See my response here:  J Street member responds to criticism of DC conference


The J street conference: An “A” for effort, “F” for results

From this Israeli’s perspective, the J Street conference looked like a pretty sleek production. Too bad that’s all it amounted to.

Now that the folks at JStreet are finished patting each other on the back for a job well done, I’d like to give them a perspective on the conference from one who did not attend. I just read about it here, on my laptop in sunny Bat Yam.
There wasn’t much to see here. Not on TV, and not in the papers. I also understand that there wasn’t much coverage in the American media. In fact, if one visits JStreet’s website and clicks on the media coverage link, it’s easy enough to compare the coverage received by this conference to the first one in 2009. Not only is the list about a third in length, but some big names don’t show up: The New York Times, The Guardian, The Washington Times, The Economist, and others.
After seeing this, I decided to take a small, totally unscientific survey of numerous friends and family in the States, all liberal, Obama-voting Jews: none of them knew the conference was going on. My only solace was found in a cousin who told me the only info he had from the conference was +972.
Look, if you can’t get an item in the NYTimes and if you can’t get the attention of the audience you’re preaching to (even though my poll was unscientific, my gut feeling is that it’s not far from the truth) – your media department is having difficulties. This is basic stuff, folks.
But media is the least of JStreet’s problems. What about what went on in the conference rooms? Sure, the speeches were nice. The two new mega stars that everybody just HAS to love these days – Mona Eltahaway and Peter Beinart – sent chills down many spines.
And, apparently, some of the panel discussions were very interesting. Take for example the groundbreaking panel on BDS – the fact that JStreet even opened that topic for debate is quite impressive.
But unfortunately, nice panels aren’t enough. Don’t get me wrong, creating discussion inside the Jewish community is extremely important, and I’m sure that’s what happened at this conference. All in all, it looks like it was a feel-good, nice n’ fuzzy kinda gathering. But a failure nonetheless.
Where JStreet failed this time is where it hurts most: the political aspect. Its most important arm is JStreetPac, the political action committee. The fruits of this pac’s efforts should have been seen in the caliber of speakers from Congress it brought to the event. Based on the 50 or so politicians who showed up, most of them minor league players, J Street supporters (myself included) should be worried. Even more so, when the best you can get from the Obama administration is a speech from Dennis Ross. I think it’s safe to say that’s even a downgrade from James Jones attending the 2009 conference.
Nathan Guttman of The Forward wrote about the possible reasons for this:

“Some members of Congress who participated in J Street’s conference spoke of the difficulties of embracing J Street’s agenda on Capitol Hill.During one panel discussion, Rep. Keith Ellison, a Minnesota Democrat, said that “there are prices to pay” for supporting J Street’s views in Congress. In another discussion, Rep. Lynn Woolsey, a California Democrat, argued that on Middle East issues the “most important decisions are governed by fear, fear of losing votes, of losing campaign donations.”

And Natasha Mozgovaya pointed out how J Street is still a novice in some areas:

The problem with J Street is that it seems to have lost a bit of its policy focus, instead plunging into controversies and acting, as some Congress staffers hint, too hastily and even arrogantly. They point to the lobby’s practice of putting out controversial statements without consulting enough with key players, making some congressmen sympathetic to a two-state solution feel uncomfortable.

J Street has got its work cut out for it. The organization must now roll up its sleeves in what will be its most difficult task: Ahead of the 2012 U.S. elections, it must prevent its next conference from being just as parve, since its arch-nemesis AIPAC will be doing some serious muscle flexing to keep its Senators and Representatives in rank.
In an emotional plea to participants of the conference, Eltahawy asked for J Street not to be 10 days too late, as were the Mideast leaders who eventually lost power. I fear Eltahawy’s request is too late in itself. American Jewry, and J Street, seem to have woken up too late. It could be that by the time J Street gets its act together, the two state solution will be dead.

The only way to make a change is to get a massive movement of big gun politicians from AIPAC to J Street. And it has to happen soon, before the next conference.

2011 is J Street’s make or break year. Otherwise, their next gatherings are in danger of turning into nothing more than annual pep rallies.

    FDIC Suing WaMu Execs for $900 Million For Gross Negligence – Finally Some Common Sense

    March 18, 2011 Comments off
    The Mallard, the archetypal "wild duck&qu...

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    Wall Street Journal Reports:  FDIC Sues Ex-WaMu Executives

    I cotton to the strong form of the Duck Theory (also known as the Duck Test):

      If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it’s a duck.”

    So, I believe that it is clear that the top officials of the banks that got us into the Fukushima of the financial world should be personally held responsible for the crisis.  There was a reason they were being paid the big bucks (big bucks? Let’s call them humongous bucks).  They either knew about the great risks they were taking, or should have known about the risks.  That was why they were being paid so much.  There are not enough of the free-marketiers out there calling for stripping all of the wealth from these folks.  If you listened to some of the hearings the responsibility of these executives was evident.  The one that sticks most in my mind was when the head of mortgage credit control for Citibank testified that he had reported up to his superiors two or three years in a row that 70-80% of the mortgages they were writing did not meet the bank’s own internal credit criteria.  If that isn’t gross negligence, I don’t know what is.

    And look, I don’t care if you put these guys/gals (though it seems to be exclusively guys) in jail.  But, please, take their money away.  They gambled with their depositors’ money and lost.  They should not benefit from that.

    Categories: Non-Middle East

    Could This Be the Beginning of Important Change on the Palestinian Side? Abbas Accepts Hamas Outreach Towards Fatah-Hamas Unification

    March 17, 2011 Comments off
    Mahmoud Abbas

    Image via Wikipedia

    There is some interesting news that may (or may not) be foreshadowing a major restructuring of the Palestinian government.  Following simultaneous demonstrations in Gaza and the West Bank on Tuesday, Haaretz reported that Mahmoud Abbas made a speech to his party today which included an important new announcement.

    Abbas has accepted an invitation from Ismail Haniyeh, Gaza’s prime minister, to go to Gaza to discuss ending the chasm between the two Palestinian political factions that has remained wide open since Hamas took over control of Gaza by force in June, 2007.  Abbas said: 

    I declare that I am ready to go to Gaza tomorrow so as to end the split and form a new government” 

    He went on to call for elections and re-emphasized the fact that he will not stand for re-election:

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