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Trump meets Netanyahu

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is going to stride in through the White House front door. President Donald Trump is not going to grimace while Netanyahu lectures.

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RON KAMPEAS

The talk in Washington this week is about how the Bibi-Donald bromance, taking centre stage on February 15 at a White House summit, is going to be easy. Netanyahu and Barack Obama definitely had their ups and downs – Obama’s grimace during Netanyahu’s Oval Office Middle East history lecture was real enough.

And now, it’s going to be all good. What did President Trump say last month on Fox News Channel about the US-Israel relationship? “It got repaired as soon as I took the oath of office.” And what was it Bibi said on Twitter on Inauguration Day? “Congrats to my friend President Trump. Look fwd to working closely with you to make the alliance between Israel&USA stronger than ever.”

There’s greater agreement between Netanyahu and Trump in areas that dogged the Obama-Netanyahu relationship. Both Trump and Netanyahu have said the Iran nuclear deal is a bad one, and Trump’s White House upended US policy last week by saying settlements are not an impediment to peace.

But there are areas where agreement is tentative and vague – and plenty could go wrong. Where are Netanyahu and Trump likely to agree and where could it go wrong? 

Iran
Where they agree: Both of them think the 2015 deal exchanging sanctions relief for a nuclear rollback gave away too much to Iran. Trump has called it the worst deal he has ever seen.

Where they may not agree: Trump’s top officials – most prominently James Mattis, the defence secretary – also don’t like the deal, but say dismantling it now that it is in place would do more harm than good.

The argument is that the sanctions relief – removing the main means of pressuring Iran – came at the outset of the deal, and that rebuilding the international sanctions regime now is all but impossible.

That also, reportedly, is the posture of the Israeli defence establishment.

But Netanyahu has consistently spoken in terms of scrapping the deal, and said not long after Trump was elected that he would present those options to him when they meet.

“There are ways, various ways of undoing it,” Netanyahu said in December.

Where they could compromise: After Iran tested a ballistic missile last week, Trump’s national security adviser, Michael Flynn, put Iran “on notice” and the Trump administration slapped new non-nuclear sanctions on that country.

The Obama administration smacked Iran with similar sanctions the last time it tested missiles, a year ago. But the tough talk and the threat of additional sanctions could provide a space for Netanyahu and Trump to appear on the same page.

 “I welcome President Trump’s insistence on new sanctions against Iran,” Netanyahu said to British Prime Minister Theresa May on Monday. “I think other nations should follow suit.”

“Netanyahu will want to know how much reassurance can [Trump] give Israel that he sees Iran as the locus of evil in the region,” Shoshana Bryen, the senior director of the conservative Jewish Policy Centre, said.

Settlements
Where they agree: The Trump administration, releasing a statement last week on Israel’s announcement of new settlement building in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem, said that while new settlement announcements “may not be helpful in achieving ” peace, they are also not an impediment to peace.

That upends decades of policy, through presidents Democratic and Republican, declaring settlements were indeed an impediment to peace.

Where they may not agree: As much the Netanyahu government welcomed the reversal of decades of policy of settlements as an impediment to peace, the thrust of the White House statement was to caution Israel: “The construction of new settlements or the expansion of existing settlements beyond their current borders may not be helpful in achieving that goal.”

On Monday, the Knesset passed a bill that would retroactively legalise settlements on Palestinian-owned land. Sean Spicer, Trump’s spokesman, declined on Tuesday to comment on the measure, except to tell reporters at the daily briefing that “it will be a topic of discussion” when the leaders meet.

Russia, whom Trump would like to cultivate as an ally, is likely relaying messages that Israeli settlement expansion could undermine efforts to rally Arabs to help crush the Islamic State terrorist group.

Where they could compromise: Netanyahu, still committed to the two-state solution, is said not to be overly thrilled with the legislation. If there is one thing he misses about Obama, it’s using him as a foil to put the brakes on the ambitions of the settlement movement.

Syria
Where they agree: Trump sees Syria as a theatre to crush the Islamic State. Israel is all for crushing the Islamic State.

Where they may disagree: This could be the knottiest problem afflicting Trump-Netanyahu comity. Trump wants to work with Russia in crushing the Islamic State. Russia is formally allied with the Assad regime in Syria, which means it is informally allied with Israel’s deadliest enemy, Iran, and with Iran’s Lebanese proxy. The last thing Israel wants is Iran and Hezbollah looming over its northern border.

Where they could compromise: Netanyahu will likely make the case to Trump that any lasting deal in Syria’s southwest – bordering the Golan Heights – needs to keep Iran and Hezbollah far away.

Another compromise – less to Israel’s liking – would be to have Bashar Assad’s forces, and only those forces, move into the region.

Israel once favoured the Assads as the best of the worst: a dangerous enemy, but at least able to keep the northern border quiet. The civil war, and Bashar Assad becoming beholden to Iran and Hezbollah, have shattered that outlook.

The Holocaust
Where they agree: Um.

Where they may disagree: Trump’s International Holocaust Remembrance Day statement omitted the salient fact that the victims of the Holocaust were Jewish. Netanyahu is all about protecting Jews. He told in London: “I think that question will be addressed fully during the visit [to Washington] and will be answered fully.”

Where they may compromise: There’s no compromise on who the victims of the Holocaust were – and Trump’s team, if anything, is doubling down on its claim that the statement was appropriate and its critics misguided.

A way out may be Netanyahu gently explaining to Trump why getting the history right is in the US interest. (JTA)

 

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Tribute to a man who embodies Judaism at its best

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As the Torah observant manager of a busy food establishment and as a member of the Jewish community, I wish to give thanks and recognition to a pillar of righteousness.

Rabbi Yossi Baumgarten joined the United Orthodox Synagogues (UOS) kashrut department more than 40 years ago, and gave the prime of his life to serve the community.

No factory was too far. No mashgiach question was turned away, even if called at 01:00.

Baumgarten addressed kashrut matters with integrity and honesty, and with a zest and energy that motivated and inspired all those who had the privilege and honour to work with him.

I once had the privilege of going on a trip with Baumgarten. The man is utter Judaism. From the way he treats others, to the way he ties his shoes and walks. His greatness is in his kindness, humility, and truthfulness.

The UOS kashrut department has been internationally recognised for decades as a result of the sterling input of Baumgarten, and this is evident by the many calls and messages he would field throughout the day from people all over the world. Whether it be a call from the Orthodox Union or the OK or Star K certification agencies, or a mashgiach or local housewife, the Jewish local community and the kosher world at large owe Baumgarten a debt of gratitude.

On behalf of the Mashgiach Association, we wish Baumgarten much strength and success in all his future endeavours.

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Deafening silence about Afghanistan, hue and cry about Israel

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Tali Feinberg’s excellent piece in the SA Jewish Report (2 September) titled Africa4Palestine Compares Israel to Nazi Germany, offers sufficient expert academic opinion to totally discredit this narrative that is the backbone of the organisation’s campaign. That crusade together with the continuous use of the apartheid canard has one goal only: the total destruction and delegitimisation of Israel. Both apartheid and Nazi myths carry powerful emotive connotations.

While these falsehoods are somewhat over-played and over-used, Israel’s defensive operations are what elevates the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions organisation’s attack to a crescendo. Just months ago, the world erupted in a show of anger, with hordes filling the streets of capital cities, admonishing only Israel during a conflict with the Hamas terror group.

Contrast that to the recent get together in which Hamas and Islamic Jihad poured congratulations on the Taliban for the takeover of Afghanistan and broke bread together. These Sunni terror groups, including Al-Qaeda, share an ideology of gender violence and misogyny, and support each other in multiple ways. Of course, the Taliban’s unmentionable barbaric treatment of women has been well documented and condemned by most of the world.

Those throngs of protesters voicing thunderous support for Hamas, the blood brothers of the Taliban, now manifest a deafening silence. Where is “the squad” – Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tlaib? Not forgetting Jewish college students on the left, who all had much to say in their condemnation of the only country in the region able to stand up to terrorism of this kind.

Are those protesters oblivious to the plight of Afghan girls and women?

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US left’s outrage over Kabul bombing smacks of hypocrisy

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As the deadline for the evacuation of those desperate to flee the Taliban take-over of Afghanistan approaches, ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) detonated two deadly suicide explosions in the airport precinct of Kabul, killing more than 60 civilians together with 13 United States (US) military personnel.

This tragedy as the events in Afghanistan unfold bought home the reality of having to contend with these types of contemptable and despicable atrocities that aren’t foreign to the Middle East – not to forget where suicide bombing originated more than 20 years ago.

The untimely deaths of the 13 US servicemen has had a profound effect on the psyche of the American public, whose outrage is expressed in most prominent press reports, and is a stark reminder of the dangers of foreign assistance to unstable areas around the world.

Why should American boys die while defending freedom and democracy, is a question on everybody’s lips.

Most Americans, from Democratic liberals to the Republicans, are outraged and incensed – about the only time that the two agree on anything. Even those high-profile celebrities, with the likes of “The Squad” – Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tlaib. Not to forget Trevor Noah and the Hadid girls, and of course, the left Jewish college students, who all had much to say in their condemnation of the only country in the region able to stand up to terrorism of this kind.

Just a short while back, these good folk were singing the praises of another organisation, the actual founders and inventors of suicide attacks, in fact showing no remorse whatsoever that such attacks are perpetrated against other democracies. In those cases, the perpetrators are the heroes, and the victims condemned by this coterie. Would this set be accused of hypocrisy? Surely not, given the outrage demonstrated today in the US.

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