What David Petraeus Can Teach Us About Gaza

Applying U.S. lessons of counterinsurgency to the current crisis in Gaza

A Palestinian youth walks on debris as he inspects damages following an Israeli air strike in Gaza City, on July 24, 2014. (MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images)

Emotions are running high. As Operation Protective Edge enters its third week, Israel and Hamas’s relative moral standing has been called into question. On the one side are those who argue that Israel is morally superior for their marksmanly attempts to avoid civilian casualties, while Hamas immorally places weapons stores in kindergartens and hospitals, immorally targets Israeli civilians, and use their own as human shields. Others have argued that Israel is responsible for the immoral collateral damage of more than 700 civilians, many of them children, while the Palestinians are blameless victims of colonial oppression. But what if the moral question is not the only, or even the most important, question?

Israel is surely not to blame for protecting its citizens. But here’s another, uncomfortable truth: Hamas is not entirely to blame for targeting them. (more…)

Rapfogel Sentenced to up to 10 Years in Prison

Former Met Council chief stole more than $7 million from Jewish charity

Former Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty CEO William Rapfogel. (Michael Priest)

William Rapfogel, the disgraced former head of the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty who stole millions from the New York-based charity through an elaborate insurance fraud scheme, was sentenced to up to 10 years in prison yesterday, the New York Times reports. Rapfogel, who led the organization for more than 20 years until getting fired in August 2013 during an investigation into financial improprieties, admitted in April to stealing more than $7 million from the charity.

Following the terms of a plea agreement he accepted in April, Mr. Rapfogel paid the remaining balance of $3 million he owed in restitution and was sentenced to 3 1/3 to 10 years in prison by Justice Larry Stephen of State Supreme Court. He had faced a slightly longer sentence of four to 12 years if he could not pay the full amount.

The Met Council gets the bulk of its funding from state and city government, but also receives donations from private sources. (more…)

Aviation Ban Lifted; Egypt Foils Attack on Israel

Palestinian death count reaches 746 as IDF operation enters 17th day

Israeli soldiers prepare their Tanks in a deployment area on July 24, 2014 on Israel's border with the Gaza Strip. (Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images)

As Operation Protective Edge entered its 17th day, a short-lived aviation ban on Israel put in place on Tuesday night by the Federal Aviation Authority was lifted on Thursday, and European providers are expected to follow suit.

With tens of thousands missing work for reserve duty and the economy taking a hit across the country, Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu said Thursday afternoon that he would convene the cabinet to vote on financial assistance for civilians adversely affected by the operation. The proposal would help employers and reserve soldiers compensate for their missed work days and would help local authorities construct bomb shelters and boost tourism and social services, particularly in the south. (more…)

If You Want To Find Support for Israel, Read the Newspapers—in Cairo

Arab frustration at Hamas has exposed changing attitudes toward Israel

A newspaper stand in Cairo, Egypt. (Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

Historically, Arab states have banded together in support of the Palestinians when fighting with Israel erupted: Any mention of Israel typically drew accusations of IDF gross misconduct and dramatic statements of solidarity with the Palestinian people. This has not been the case in the latest round of fighting. Egypt’s stance specifically has changed remarkably, combining implicit support for Israel’s military operation in Gaza with harsh criticisms of Hamas.

Egyptian Foreign Minister, Sameh Shoukri, went so far as to blame Hamas for Palestinian deaths: “Had Hamas accepted the Egyptian proposal, it could have saved the lives of at least 40 Palestinians,” as reported by Egyptian state news agency MENA.

Numerous Egyptian media reports have also expressed explicit support for Israel’s actions. (more…)

Suspected Nazi Dies Day Before Judge Orders Extradition

Accused Auschwitz and Buchenwald guard had been living in Philadelphia

The entrance to the Auschwitz concentration camp. (JANEK SKARZYNSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

A U.S. judge issued an order today to have suspected former Nazi guard Johann Breyer extradited to Germany to face trial, only to learn that the 89-year-old longtime Philadelphia resident died yesterday. NPR reports that the extradition order, which would have needed government approval before going into effect, was issued after U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas R. Rice ruled there was probable caused to believe Breyer “is the same person sought for aiding and abetting murder in Germany.”

Breyer was arrested in June at his Philadelphia home and denied bail earlier this month. His arrest is part of recently renewed German efforts to identify and arrest former Nazi guards who are still alive. (more…)

The Politics Behind the FAA’s Israel Flight Ban

Is the White House using the agency to push its own agenda?

A departure time flight board displaying various cancellations at Ben Gurion International airport near Tel Aviv on July 23, 2014. (GIL COHEN MAGEN/AFP/Getty Images)

On Tuesday, the Federal Aviation Administration issued a notice prohibiting U.S. carriers from flying to or from Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport after a rocket launched by Hamas from Gaza landed near the Tel Aviv airport. The FAA notice cited “the potentially hazardous situation created by the armed conflict in Israel and Gaza,” as the rocket landed a mile away from the airport.

The FAA’s notice followed a State Department travel warning on Monday. Some have questioned the timing and purpose of both the warning and the subsequent FAA prohibition, which came as Secretary of State John Kerry was traveling to the region to broker a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. Kerry discussed the ban over the phone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But the State Department denied that there were any ulterior motives behind the FAA’s notice. “The FAA’s notice was issued to protect American citizens and American carriers. The only consideration in issuing the notice was the safety and security of our citizens,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement Tuesday. (more…)

In Israeli Prison, a Captive Audience for Rockets

Palestinian and Israeli inmates take cover alongside guards when sirens blare

Shikma Prison in Ashkelon, Israel. (ChameleonsEye /

When the rocket sirens go off in this warehouse district of Ashkelon, no one stops to take a picture with their cell-phone of the Iron Dome intercepting the rockets, and everyone knows exactly where to run. To be fair though, that’s probably because the 550 inmates have all had their cell-phones confiscated and have heard on average about eight rocket sirens per day during the past few weeks, giving them more than enough chances to practice.

“On the outside they have the choice to run or not when there’s a siren. But here, they have no choice but to take cover,” said junior commissioner Avraham Miron, who runs the facility. (more…)

Joshua Ferris Longlisted for Man Booker Prize

In To Rise Again at a Decent Hour, an atheist dentist seeks Jewish community

(Erik Mace)

Although I haven’t read most of the titles on the just-announced Man Booker Prize longlist, I’d wager that the most Jewish of the lot is Joshua Ferris’s To Rise Again at a Decent Hour, about an atheist dentist who longs for nothing more than to be part of a Jewish community, even while he doesn’t believe in god.

Ferris was on Vox Tablet earlier this year talking about his wry, often hilarious novel. Listen here to get a taste of his droll sense of humor, his curiosity about religious experience, and how he used the story of Amalek as a writing prompt. Then, go out and get the book.

Related: Joshua Ferris Takes on All Kinds of Decay in His Ambitious New Novel

Hero IDF Commander in Gaza Isn’t Jewish

Druze leader of Golani brigade returns to unit after being wounded by rocket

Israeli soldiers from the Golani Brigade take part in a military training exercise on September 1, 2013. (JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

The commander of Golani, the Israel Defense Forces brigade that suffered the heaviest losses thus far while fighting in Gaza, was himself wounded earlier this week. When he arrived in the hospital, his face was bloody. The doctors who examined him determined his condition as moderate, and recommended a battery of tests. The Colonel refused. It’s just a few scratches, he told his attending physicians. Then he got up, checked himself out, and rejoined his men.

The Colonel’s name is Ghassan Alian. He’s a Druze. (more…)

What Slate Got Wrong About Birthright and Max Steinberg’s Death

Placing blame for an IDF casualty on a free trip to Israel is irresponsible

Birthright participants on Mount Hertzl in 2012. (Margarita Korol)

“There are many people to blame for [Max] Steinberg’s death,” Slate’s Allison Benedikt writes, about the 24-year-old American who died this week fighting in the Israeli army. “There is the Hamas fighter behind the weapon that actually killed him. There are the leaders, on both sides, who put him in Gaza, and the leaders behind all of the wars between Israel and the Palestinians. I can trace it back to 1948, or 1917, or whatever date suits you and still never find all the parties who are responsible. But I have no doubt in my mind that along with all of them, Birthright shares some measure of the blame.”

Her thinly argued piece, which one can imagine struck her editor as an ingenious, high-controversy bit of click-bait, goes on to hedge its bets a tad: “Maybe Max was especially lost, or especially susceptible, or maybe he was just looking to do some good …” But the gist is that the Bronfman-funded trip that has sent hundreds of thousands of young Jews on a Zionism tourist safari helped nudge a young man to his death. (more…)

Aviation Ban Isolates Israel as Casualties Mount

Third Israeli civilian killed in rocket attack; Palestinian death count passes 600

Passengers check a departure time flight board displaying various cancellations at Ben Gurion International airport, near Tel Aviv, on July 23, 2014. (GIL COHEN MAGEN/AFP/Getty Images)

As Day 15 of Operation Protective Edge came to a close on Tuesday, Israel found itself facing a level of isolation that it had not experienced in decades, as the Federal Aviation Administration placed an aviation ban on U.S. flights to Israel for 24 hours, following a rocket strike in a house hours earlier near Ben Gurion Airport, Israel’s only international airport. By Wednesday morning several European airlines had also followed suit, including Turkish Airlines, KLM, Lufthansa, and easyJet.

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg flew to Israel on El Al to protest the ban, which he called “a mistake that hands Hamas an undeserved victory.” (more…)

French Prime Minister Denounces Anti-Zionism as Anti-Semitism

Manuel Valls shows political courage, becomes a hero to Jews worldwide

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls delivers a speech on June 27, 2014. (DOMINIQUE FAGET/AFP/Getty Images)

Against the backdrop of large anti-Semitic riots in Paris, and the murder of four people at the Jewish Museum in Brussels by a French Muslim killer, Mehdi Nemmouche, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls made a resoundingly firm connection between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism that other world leaders—and many Jews—are afraid to make. As is his style, he went straight to the point: “Anti-semitism, this old European disease,” he said in a speech, has taken “a new form. It spreads on the Internet, in our popular neighborhoods, with a youth that has lost its points of reference, has no conscience of history, and who hides itself behind a fake anti-Zionism.”

The occasion was the 72th anniversary of the Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup—the arrest of 13.000 Jews in Paris, by the French police under German authorities during World War II on the 16th and 17th of July, 1942. Valls’ strong, clear words are a breakthrough that separates him from the general complacency on the subject among most European politicians—and separates France from its growing reputation as a beacon of hate. (more…)

An Idealist Says Goodbye to Israel

Israeli Arab writer Sayed Kashua is moving to Chicago with his family

Israeli Arab writer Sayed Kashua. (Die Welt)

Sayed Kashua has long represented the hope that some kind of co-existence in Israel can be achieved between historical antagonists. After all, he is an Israeli Arab who has lived in Jerusalem for 25 years and seems to have thrived there. A popular writer, he has a column in Haaretz, worked in television, and has three novels under his belt, all inspired by his experiences.

When he was 14, Kashua won a spot in a Jewish boarding school in Jerusalem and left his family and village behind. In the Guardian on July 19, he describes his initial encounters there with Hebrew literature. “I read Agnon, Meir Shalev, Amos Oz and I started to read about Zionism, about Judaism and the building of the homeland. During these years I also began to understand my own story,” he writes. “I began to write, believing that all I had to do to change things would be to write the other side, to tell the stories that I heard from my grandmother. (more…)

Did ‘Close Encounters’ Herald the Advent of a New Religion?

Spielberg’s 1977 sci-fi epic is loaded with portents, but what do they mean?

Richard Dreyfuss in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. (IMDb)

You don’t need to strain too hard to find the biblical imagery in Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. You don’t even need to see the movie. The poster alone—a mountain clouded with smoke and bathed in heavenly light—is enough to signal that something big is about to be revealed.

In the movie itself, the allusions to Mount Sinai are even more direct. When we first meet our protagonist, electrical lineman Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss), he’s just given his kids permission to watch Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments, even though it’s almost bedtime. “Roy, that movie’s four hours long,” complains his wife, Ronnie (Teri Garr). “I said they could watch five commandments,” he answers. (more…)

Are Israel’s Attacks on Gaza Proportional?

The answer isn’t in the skewed number of casualties or mismatched weaponry

Smoke from an Israeli offensive is seen as people gather at a cemetery during the funeral for members of the al-Kelani family in Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip, on July 22, 2014. (MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images)

Israel is often accused of using disproportionate force. Last Thursday, U.K. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg blasted Israel’s operation in response to Hamas rockets raining down on its cities as being “deliberately disproportionate”. Similar claims have been made by other world leaders and can be frequently heard in the corridors and meeting halls of the United Nations in New York.

So what does “disproportionate” mean? The number of dead on each side is often cited as evidence of disproportionality—so far more than 600 Gazans have been killed and 30 Israelis. In war, one side aims to emerge victorious and intuitively their casualties will be fewer. Israel’s Ambassador to the U.S., Ron Dermer, has highlighted that this was the case in World War II, when German casualties were 20 times greater than those of the Allies, who turned German cities to piles of rubble despite the fact that Germany never managed to drop a single bomb on the continental U.S. (more…)

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