A band was warming up for a free concert on the green quad of Hebrew University's Givat Ram campus before noon yesterday. The vocalist belted out a few lines of Amy Winehouse in English—"They tried to make me go to rehab"—then switched into Hebrew to talk to the soundman. Across the crowded lawn in front of the neural computation and life sciences buildings, a student was learning to walk a low tightrope stretched between two trees, and mostly falling off. The Israeli academic year starts only in October, and classes are finally back in session.
I stood on the silent street that circles a hilltop industrial park called Har Hotzvim in Jerusalem. The name means Stonecutter Mountain, but nothing as loud or low-tech as cutting stones actually happens there. Intel has a plant in the park, and the giant Israeli pharmaceutical company, Teva, has two. Software and biotech firms fill office buildings. I turned my back to the buildings and looked at the steep slope descending to the north. Below the street, unmarked on the hillside, runs the Green Line, the pre-1967 border of Israel. The City of Jerusalem's veterinary institute, hidden by trees in the valley below, is past that border, in land Israel conquered in June 1967. The tech companies and Teva's pharma factories are within pre-1967 Israel.
As if the challenges to productive Israeli-Palestinian talks—set to begin today in Jerusalem—weren’t already monumental, over the past several days the Israeli government has announced the building of over 3,000 new settlement units, and has identified a number of settlements located deep in the West Bank as “priority areas” for future development. If Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s hesitance to return to direct talks in the absence of a publicly declared Israeli settlement freeze was ever really confusing, it should no longer be. No sooner did he agree to come back to the table than the Israelis seemingly go out of their way to make him look like a fool for doing so.
"This is the chronicle of a crisis foretold years in advance," said the Israeli ex-ambassador to Germany, in that petulant tone of a diplomat working very hard not to sound infuriated. Shimon Stein was trying to explain new European Union sanctions against Israeli settlements. Neither journalists nor politicians should sound so shocked by the EU move, he lectured the anchor of state radio's morning news program. He was right, but he was trying to outshout a hurricane of public anger and disbelief. The anchor herself had begun the show with a riff of indignant surprise that the EU considered her Israeli neighborhood in East Jerusalem to be a settlement.
"Israel lobby" is a term that could have two meanings, if you think about it. In standard Washington usage, it refers to American groups—often but not always Jewish—that lobby the U.S. Congress and White House on behalf of Israel, or rather on behalf of policies that those groups think are good for Israel. But there's another possible meaning, as John Kerry implied in a speech to the American Jewish Committee on Monday: Americans, especially Jews, lobbying the Israeli government.
This already happens. Recently American Jews have publicly pushed for changes in Israeli policy on two issues. In both cases, though, they were arguing about deck chairs on the Titanic: how much they cost, and who gets to sit in them. Speaking to the AJC's Global Forum, the secretary of state warned that the ship is sailing into an iceberg. His listeners, he said, should urge, beg, nudge, and bagger the captain and crew to change course.
The clock is running out for Benjamin Netanyahu. Five weeks after his pyrrhic election victory, he is still trying to piece together a new Israeli government. The one force he has working for him is that the leaders of every other party in parliament also know how few hours are left before the buzzer sounds.
When I first read that the Democratic platform said nothing about Jerusalem, I was quite impressed. Quietly, by omission, the party had brought a moment of honesty to the fantasy-ridden American political discussion about Israel.
I know you have a lot on your mind. It's been less than three months since you won Egypt's first democratic election for president as the Muslim Brotherhood's second-choice candidate. Activists who overthrew the old regime could yet rise against you if you convince them that you stole their revolution. Millions of hungry Egyptians are waiting for you to rebuild the economy—a job made harder because the army controls so much of it.
In France's Fourth Republic, it was said that tourists in Paris made sure to take in the daily changing of the government. According to myth, a deputy who dozed in the National Assembly might wake up to be told that he'd been premier twice during his nap. The coalitions that rule countries with multiparty systems can be flimsy things. But outside the realm of myth, Israel's most recent coalition was particularly short-lived: It ruled for ten weeks, just seventy days, before collapsing this week.
If Mitt Romney visits Israel this summer, it's a safe guess that his tour will avoid demonstrations against the government's economic policies. When Mitt and Bibi dine together, the Israeli prime minister probably won't show clips of riot cops dragging away Daphni Leef, the woman who ignited the economic protests, as she tries to re-establish a tent encampment in downtown Tel Aviv.
The polls had closed a few hours earlier in Cairo, after two days of voting for a president who may or may not have any power. The Muslim Brotherhood was preparing to claim victory. Meanwhile, in the desert to the west, three gunmen crossed the border between Egypt's Sinai Peninsula and Israel, attacked an Israeli crew building a border fence, and killed a worker, an Arab Israeli named Saeed Fashafshe.
New polling from Gallup shows the president’s support among Jewish voters has dropped to 64 percent from 74 percent during the 2008 elections. Though the Gallup report noted that Jewish voters, at 2 percent of the population, “typically are not critical” in determining presidential elections, in a state like Florida, where Jews were 4 percent of the electorate in 2008, such support could be crucial in the electoral battle.
Before July 1, five apartment buildings in a West Bank settlement will be cut from their foundations and dragged over the hilly terrain to a new location elsewhere in the community. That's Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's plan, anyway.
From an engineering perspective, the idea is "delusional," as one expert put it. That's an understated evaluation. If the three-story buildings are moved and survive, it's reasonable to assume that they'll be riddled with visible and unseen fissures—just like Netanyahu's Likud party, his ruling coalition, and the jerrybuilt legal underpinnings of Israeli settlement in occupied territory. The interesting question is which of these flawed structures will collapse first.
In our last episode, dear viewers, we watched as Israel's main opposition party, Kadima, sold out its centrist voters and joined Benjamin Netanyahu's government—thereby providing the prime minister a reprieve of over a year before he must face the voters. This allows Bibi more time to raise regressive taxes, evade negotiations with the Palestinians, and deride diplomatic efforts to solve the Iranian nuclear issue.