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Maybe not ‘anti-Semitic,’ perhaps Time is ‘anti-semantic’

September 28, 2010 Leave a comment

By Bruce S. Ticker 

Bruce S. Ticker

PHILADELPHIA — Editors at Time Magazine may be unfairly accused of anti-Semitism, but they are reckless with their semantics. As experienced journalists, they should understand that misleading language can be dangerous.

The magazine’s Sept. 13 cover headline – “Why Israel Doesn’t Care About Peace” – brought its editors condemnation from supporters of Israel. The Anti-Defamation League slammed the Time article for stressing Israelis’ inclination to make money. 

Academy Award-winning actor Jon Voight, a staunch gentile supporter of Israel, called Time “anti-Semitic” because of the headline and its accompanying article inside which contends that Israelis are apathetic toward the peace process with the Arabs.

Karl Vick, the writer, indeed succeeds in reaching this conclusion. Who can blame the Israelis?

Hostilities resulted from the offer of a Palestinian state in 2000 and withdrawal from Gaza in 2005.

Personally, I long ago ceased understanding what Israel gets out of negotiating a pact with Arabs over Israel’s territories.

Vick and his editors made three mistakes. First, a Time spokesman boasted that the article is a scoop. Oh yeah? A Newsweek article reached the same conclusion last January.

The article carelessly states: “They’re otherwise engaged; they’re making money; they’re enjoying the rays of late summer.”

No doubt that claim is factually true for many Israelis, but the phrase “they’re making money” is delicate wording when applied to Jews, who have been stereotyped as greedy throughout the ages.

The most gaping blunder is the headline, which presumes that Israel is apathetic to peace.

“Peace” is not what Israelis need from Arabs in the territories. They already have a relative level of peace within Israel proper. Terrorist bombings from the West Bank ended after the security barrier started going up. Rocket attacks from Gaza and southern Lebanon dwindled after recent military confrontations with Hamas and Hezbollah.

Time would have been more factual, if tedious, had they composed this headline: “Why Many Israelis Don’t Care About Reaching Terms.”

The word “peace” is tossed around too casually in the context of this conflict, and Time is far from alone in committing this offense. “Peace” has evolved as shorthand for a process that is too convoluted to be reduced to a single five-letter word. It allows for a catchy phrase, but Time editors may disdain letting the facts get in the way of a good headline.

The only objective that seems plausible is the handover of land – namely, Gaza and the West Bank – so the Arabs can form their own society. That’s fine, but a treaty will not ensure “peace” and “peace” need not be achieved through a treaty. Even if it agrees to a near-perfect deal, Israel must still worry about Iran’s nuclear designs and the ongoing arms build-up in Gaza and southern Lebanon.

The same obstacles persist – security needs, excessive Arab demands, settler resistance, Hamas’ control of Gaza and right-wing pressures within the Israeli government.

Hawkish advocates for Israel will insist that the West Bank is not peaceful, but what do the settlers expect when they choose to live amid a hostile population? “Peace” can only be accomplished there by removing the settlers, even unilaterally; expelling the Arabs; or negotiating a pact that is fully enforced. Israelis who live in Israel proper care about West Bank “peace” when their sons and daughters in uniform are assigned to protect the settlements.

For the record, it would be valuable if an accord is reached, but it is still a feat that most Israelis can live without…in peace. Violence can erupt at any time, as was the case with riots in east Jerusalem and the murder of four settlers in recent weeks. Even if a “peace” treaty is ever implemented.

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Ticker is Philadelphia bureau chief for San Diego Jewish World

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Up, up and oy vey! Shaloman saves the day!

September 22, 2010 Leave a comment

By Bruce S. Ticker

Bruce S. Ticker

PHILADELPHIA –Al Wiesner attended Hebrew school in Philadelphia since he was 4 or 5, was influenced by grandparents who were deeply religious and his mother was active in the local synagogue. He even spoke Yiddish at home.

“I got to know it so well they couldn’t talk in front of me. So they spoke Hungarian,” he recalled.

His Jewish identity was forged so early that he felt left out when he became enamored of cartoon superheros. He had Superman and others, but no superhero for the Jewish people. 

“There were no Jewish characters,” he said.

Shaloman

Since nobody else would create a Jewish superhero, the task was left to Wiesner. Decades later, after studying art, serving in the Air Force, holding a day job as a hairdresser and raising a family, Wiesner gave the world – drum roll, please – “Shaloman.”

After 22 years and more than 40 issues, the super-human Shaloman has saved Purim, Passover and Chanukah and confronted baddies who took an airplane’s passengers hostage and seized the Statue of Liberty. He has served President Derek Montana – who coincidentally resembles President Obama – and taken on a villain much like Osama bin Laden.

If you are in trouble and need Shaloman to rescue you and your friends and save Israel, if not the world, all you need do is cry out: “Oy Vey!”

Read more…

Commentary: A crucial settlement concern

September 18, 2010 Leave a comment

By Bruce S. Ticker

Bruce S. Ticker

PHILADELPHIA — “Everybody loses if there is no peace.” So stated Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at the White House to herald the revival of peace talks.

Too bad Israeli troops were not around to keep the peace the night before on the road to the West Bank settlement of Beit Hagal. What two women and two men had to lose were their lives, near Hebron.

Nothing justifies how these savages fired upon their car and removed the victims from the vehicle when they shot them again to ensure that they were dead. The New York Times carried a photo of Hodaya Ames, 9, as she wept next to the draped body of her mother, Tali Ames, 45, who had been pregnant and was also a grandmother.

However, the Israeli government under the current and past administrations – whether right-wing or left-leaning – knows that the Aug. 31 slaughter is the latest in an ongoing pattern of Arab attacks in the decades since the settlements swelled in the West Bank. Read more…

There are alternatives to the ‘two-state’ solution

August 30, 2010 Leave a comment

By Bruce S. Ticker

Bruce S. Ticker

PHILADELPHIA–Low expectations, or no expectations, can only benefit the revived Middle East peace talks.
 
As Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof” assesses his future son-in-law, Motel the tailor, we can characterize the Israeli and Arab leaders’ prospects thus: “They have absolutely nothing. On the other hand, things could never get worse for them. They could only get better.”
 
To the surprise of only the most optimistic, the average observer fully anticipates the new talks to fizzle out before the one-year self-imposed deadline ends. The Washington Post signaled that this new development hardly constitutes major news by running the story of the announcement on page two.
 
With expectations so low, Israelis and Arabs might not be too disappointed if the talks are unproductive. It will be all the more an impressive surprise if Israel and the Arabs reach a settlement that will improve the lives of both peoples.
 
In typical inside-the-box thinking, they are operating on the assumption that an independent Palestinian state is the solution. Is that the only possible solution?
 
A Palestinian state could founder for any number of reasons: Israeli security concerns, unknown governing abilities, the undersized dimensions of the territory, excessive Arab demands, divided Arab factions, settler resistance to expulsion and so on. Said Palestinian state could be dependent on international support for years, maybe forever.
 
There are other possibilities which are presented here as raw concepts. They are likewise vulnerable to failure. Present realities alone, such as Hamas’ stranglehold on Gaza, could preclude their chances of success:
 
Annex Alternative – On paper, this concept makes the most sense. Egypt would annex Gaza and Jordan would negotiate with Israel to annex part of the West Bank. Egypt is located adjacent to Gaza, and the West Bank is separated from Jordan by the narrow Jordan River. Egypt and Jordan both have peace treaties with Israel and will provide a ready-made defense operation. As Arabs, most of their citizens share the same religion and traditions.
 
Downside: The leaders of both Egypt and Jordan want nothing to do with the territories, which ironically they spent 25 years trying to seize by force. They fear that extremists will attempt to undermine their governments. Likewise, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has dismissed such an arrangement.
 
Disengagement, again – Israel would unilaterally pull out of the West Bank with the exception of the Jerusalem suburbs. Unlike the Gaza pullout, Israel would maintain a military presence to prevent attacks on Israel proper and arms smuggling from Jordan. While some believe Israel has a right to occupy the West Bank, the territory has been a burden since both settlers and the troops assigned to protect them have been vulnerable to attacks.
 
Downside: The Palestinian Authority will probably balk at such a move and many settlers will resolve to remain in place. Israel should go through the motions of consulting beforehand with both parties. If the authority refuses to cooperate, that is their decision. Israel should not try to forcibly remove the settlers, and let them know that they are on their own; consider that many settlers have military experience and have no doubt assembled arsenals of their own.
 
Knesset in Charge – Israel would continue to occupy the territories in a shared governance arrangement. The West Bank and Gaza (assuming that Hamas is contained) would be formed as provinces or states of Israel. The citizens would vote for their own elected officials who will be responsible for all locally-oriented services and Israel would administer programs which affect both Israel proper and the territories.
 
Downside: While the Palestinian Authority would condemn this plan for lesser reasons, they would oppose the denial of voting rights for national elections. This plan is designed as a compromise so that citizens of the territories can elect officials responsible for direct local needs. However, their inability to vote in national elections would preclude them from dominating the national government. This is an admission that, if it comes down to it, Israel must remain Jewish as the sovereign power. Israel was created as a Jewish state in the middle of far larger Muslim-dominated countries.
 
Turkish Dish – The bloody flotilla incident could offer a silver lining. The Turkish government and a controversial charity organization claimed they are deeply concerned about the fate of Gaza’s citizens. They have a chance to prove it: Annex Gaza and maybe the West Bank. Turkey can govern one or both territories and set everything right. They have the resources and their close relationship with Hamas might permit a peaceful end to Hamas’ chokehold. Turkey is close enough geographically to Gaza for ready access, but far enough that Gaza is not positioned to undermine its government. Turkey would be responsible for security and must answer for any lapses.
 
Downside: Obviously, Turkey may not be willing to put its money where its mouth is. Hamas may be unwilling to cooperate with Turkey.
 
Each one of these plans is filled with pitfalls, but no more or less than a formalized two-state solution. My expectations that any of the parties would give these proposals any consideration are, well, quite low. Who knows? There could be a workable solution down there somewhere.
 
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Ticker is Philadelphia bureau chief for San Diego Jewish World

Intimidation persuades many Arabs to never cross the party line

August 21, 2010 Leave a comment

By Bruce S. Ticker

Bruce S. Ticker

PHILADELPHIA — Heartwarming words from Sarah Shiha, a student at Ain Shams University in Cairo: “Apart from the political issues, we are humans. I respect your religion, you respect mine.”

Her next comment, on Israel, sounded more robotic than humane: “What we see is that we had a land, and that people came and took this land. Now they want to stay here, and every day they are killing more and more of our siblings.”

Shiha is among 20 students from Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon who participated in a five-week program sponsored by the U.S. State Department to learn how religious pluralism is among America’s great strengths, according to an article in The Jewish Exponent of Philadelphia.

It seems that Shiha and her associates could have been a tad more diplomatic, especially since her inflammatory comment might be read by thousands of American Jews. She could have easily sidestepped the question by insisting she needed to learn more about the Israeli/Arabic conflict, couldn’t she? She might have faced more than verbal disdain back home. She might be murdered by her own people.

In the Middle East, free speech can carry a fatal price. Arabs have murdered their own who were suspected of collaborating with Israel, and Arab leaders who suggested or acted upon peaceful existence with Israel. Remember Anwar el-Sadat?

Yasser Arafat indicated that he feared a comparable fate if he assented to the peace plan offered during the Camp David summit 10 years ago. In his book “The Missing Peace,” Dennis Ross (then President Clinton’s Middle East envoy) relates a conversation in which Arafat asked then secretary of state Madeleine Albright if she wanted to attend his funeral. This comment came out of left field, but why else would he say this?

Arafat’s comment could invite some sarcastic responses – such as, his funeral was long overdue. I think his top motive for rejecting the plan was fear that other Arabs would kill him because they refused to accept any peace settlement.

It is clear that many Arabs keep silent because they fear retaliation. Of course, it is impossible to determine how many Arabs really loathe Israel and those who follow the script to protect themselves and their families.

Examples do abound. Before returning to his current prime minister post, Benjamin Netanyahu was asked by a television interviewer to identify Arab businesspeople with whom he communicates; he refused because, he said, it would jeopardize their lives. I recently read a report of an Arab man who saved Jews during World War II and told them to say nothing about his help. Israeli leaders claim that Arabs who sold land to Jews denied doing so because they could be harmed.

Some months ago, a native Iranian on a German sports team refused to play against an Israeli team. He did not offer this as a reason, but he still had family in Iran who could be endangered by his participation in that game.
 

The Arab and Muslim world is tightly controlled in parts. Putting Israel aside, ordinary Arabs and Muslims must worry about violent feuds between families and tribes, honor killings of women and conflicts with the ruling class. On Aug. 8, an Iranian attorney fled to Norway after he defended a woman who faced being stoned to death because she allegedly committed adultery. An Afghan couple were stoned to death, on Taliban orders, because they allegedly cheated on his wife and her family-chosen fiance.

Those familiar with the Middle East attest that roughly half of Turkish and Iranian citizens are sensible people who yearn for more moderate leaders. Egyptian businesspersons worked well with their Israeli counterparts, and Turks in the military oppose their ultra-religious regime. 

Tom Friedman of The New York Times reported on a Gazan woman whose son’s life was saved by a Jewish physician at an Israeli hospital. Now she wants her son to blow up…er, grow up…to become a suicide bomber. Consider that she must return home to face not only her neighbors but also Hamas, which has the power to make life miserable for her.

It is most annoying that American Muslims readily complain of bigotry, yet are less consistent in condemning Islamic-related violence – especially when Israelis are victimized. Muslim society in America appears to be closeted and hard to figure out.

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the driving force behind the proposed mosque near Ground Zero, dodged a radio reporter’s question as to whether he concurred with the State Department’s designation of Hamas as a terrorist group, The New York Jewish Week reported.

Said Rauf: “I’m not a politician. I try to avoid the issues. The issue of terrorism is a very complex question…I’m a bridge builder. I define my work as a bridge builder…I will not allow anybody to put me in a position where I am seen by any party in the world as an adversary or as an enemy.”

Far from an exercise in clarity.

It is strange that free speech exists on two levels in our own country – one standard for most of us and a self-imposed standard for a stifled and bewildering minority.

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Ticker is the Philadelphia bureau chief for San Diego Jewish World
 He may be contacted via bticker@comcast.net

Recent attacks underscore security concerns for the West Bank

August 16, 2010 Leave a comment

 ‘Cannon to right of them, Cannon to left of them, Cannon in front of them volley’d and thunder’d; Storm’d at with shot and shell, Boldly they rode and well, Into the jaws of Death, Into the mouth of Hell Rode the six hundred.’ – from The Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred, Lord Tennyson


By Bruce S. Ticker

Bruce S. Ticker

 PHILADELPHIA–Gaza rockets from the south of them, a Sinai rocket from the southeast of them and an OK Corral-style shootout from the north of them.

These days, Israel’s multiple conflicts resemble the aforementioned passage in The Charge of the Light Brigade. Where is Errol Flynn when we need him?

 Israel endured a two-front war at this time four years ago, and in recent months it has contended with attacks on four fronts, by my count – the blockade incident on the high seas, Gaza, southern Lebanon and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. Israel and Egypt signed a peace treaty three decades ago, yet Egypt cannot control terrorists operating on its lands.

Meanwhile, President Obama and others pine for the day when Israel hands over the West Bank to the Palestinians so they can, supposedly, live happily ever after. Many in the pro-Israel camp believe that the Arabs will never be happy until all of Israel is, well, no longer Israel.

Foes of a Palestinian state have said that Israel does not need another front. The most worrisome concern over a Palestinian state is Israel’s security. The border between Israel and the West Bank is much longer than its other borders, and Israel proper is directly vulnerable to attack.

Israeli leaders have said that Ben Gurion International Airport is within range of the West Bank. Security must be directly addressed before Israel considers further negotiations about the West Bank. It has not been adequately addressed.

Some protective measures have been taken. Construction of a security barrier along the border has eliminated terrorist attacks that were rampant up to five years ago. A strong Palestinian security force has been built. The West Bank has been much calmer. Still, none of these developments, even combined, guarantee that Israel will be safe from attack if a Palestinian state is established.

Events of recent weeks underscore security concerns. Israel withdrew all troops and settlers from the Sinai Peninsula three decades ago; all troops from Lebanon in 2000; and all troops and settlers from Gaza in 2005. After Yasser Arafat rejected a peace plan in 2000, the Palestinians started a war that led to fierce fighting in Gaza and the West Bank and terrorist attacks in Israel proper. The Gaza evacuation was followed by thousands of rocket attacks into Sderot and other sections of southern Israel.

My educated guess in 2005 was that the Gaza evacuation would produce some aggression, but Israel could manage it. I was wrong.

Beyond rocket attacks, Israel fought a two-front war against terrorists in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006, and again in Hamas-controlled Gaza in December 2009. More worrisome is the build-up of weapons in Gaza and Lebanon to be used for future assaults against Israel.

Last month, Gaza terrorists broke a long lull firing rockets that struck the Israeli coastal city of Ashkelon and Sapir College near the border, The New York Times reported.

Then Monday, Aug. 2: A barrage of missiles fired from the Sinai Peninsula struck both the resort city Eilat in Israel and neighboring Aqaba in Jordan, where a taxi driver was killed. Egypt subsequently admitted that they were fired from Sinai, ostensibly under Egyptian control.

The following day, Lebanese soldiers – possibly influenced by Hezbollah – fired at Israeli soldiers tending a fence within Israel territory. United Nations peacekeepers declared that the Lebanese were entirely at fault.

It should be no surprise if someone – perhaps Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – was conspiring to provoke Israel to engage in yet another war.

With all this on Israel’s plate, Israeli leaders are still willing to enter negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. Fortunately, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has raised security concerns.

What might that entail? Possibly Israel can evacuate the more isolated settlements while maintaining a strong military presence. However, that military presence would be trimmed somewhat because the troops would not need to worry about protecting the settlements.

Maybe that will not be necessary, but I for one do not want to be wrong again.

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Ticker is Philadelphia bureau chief for San Diego Jewish World.  He may be contacted via bticker@comcast.net

Commentary: U.S. Senate election in Pennsylvania becoming a Middle East referendum

August 12, 2010 Leave a comment

By Bruce S. Ticker

Bruce S. Ticker

PHILADELPHIA –A dual loyalty test approaches that Jews in Pennsylvania do not need.
 
Old conservative hands William Kristol and Gary Bauer are being abrasive…er, gracious…enough to spend time reminding us that we could be choosing between policies that will better America and those that imperil the security of Israel. How generous of them.
 
As is usual in mid-term elections, President Obama’s policies will be reconsidered by voters this November through Democratic surrogates running for House and Senate seats. Jewish voters in Pennsylvania must choose between Obama’s slow-moving progressive agenda and deep concerns over the White House’s depth of support for Israel.
 
The vast majority of American Jews – roughly 75 to 80 percent – nearly automatically vote for Democrats or moderate Republicans because of their support for centrist and liberal policies. Nearly 80 percent of Jews were estimated to vote for Obama in 2008 at a time when we had a right to wonder about Obama’s position on Israel.
 
During the special Senate election in Massachusetts last January, the majority of voters in most towns with large Jewish populations, especially Newton and Brookline, cast ballots for Democrat Martha Coakley over Scott Brown, the Republican who won the election. However, there were no known reports of Israel being raised as an issue.
 
This year, the dual loyalty test for Pennsylvania Jews is more sharply defined.
 
Injecting part of that sharper definition is U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak, who is accused by some supporters of Israel of anti-Israel attitudes. He beat Sen. Arlen Specter in last May’s Democratic primary and faces Republican Pat Toomey in November. Toomey is an ultra conservative former congressman, and Republicans claim to staunchly back Israel.
Kristol and Bauer have formed the Emergency Committee for Israel which targeted Sestak with hardhitting television ads, reported Politico and The New York Jewish Week.
 
Team Kristol/Bauer’s initiative could prove a double-edged sword. Maybe it will serve as shock therapy for Obama and Democratic senators and representatives who stubbornly assail Israel’s blockade of Gaza, peace-process policies and Jerusalem housing. American Jews have understandable reasons to be upset with the White House and some congressional Democrats. However, invoking Israel as an election issue could get messy.
 
Sestak was among 54 Democrats criticizing Israel’s blockade of Gaza without mentioning the four-year imprisonment of Israeli Sgt. Gilad Shalit, who was seized by terrorists in a cross-border raid on June 25, 2006.
 
However, Sestak was subsequently a co-sponsor of a House bill urging the immediate release of Shalit.
 
Obama repeatedly calls the conditions in Gaza “unsustainable,” yet critics ignore the fact that Israel no longer runs Gaza. Hamas governs it, and that makes them responsible for the welfare of their citizens. Hamas has launched thousands of rocket attacks against Israel, which is positioned to advance or devastate Gaza’s economy as it pleases.
 
Vice President Biden’s outburst last March over housing plans in Jerusalem triggered anger among Jews because the project was proposed in a Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem, and many supporters of Israel oppose giving up any part of Jerusalem to the Arabs. Biden’s complaint would have been understandable if he referred to West Bank settlement expansion, which has far less support among Jews.
 
Granted, a vocal Jewish minority adamantly opposes any peace settlement, adheres to the biblical proclamation that God gave all this land to the Jews and refuses to criticize any Israeli failings. Most American Jews are flexible and rational – to varying degrees – in assessing the situation and for now believe Israel is in the right on most basic issues.
 
Obama and Congress deserve credit for persistently contesting Iran’s nuclear ambitions; standing behind Israel’s response to attempts to breach its blockade of Gaza; and being deeply involved in the peace process. Sestak has pointed to many of his strong pro-Israel positions.
 
Nonetheless, Obama and Sestak invited the wrath of Kristol and Bauer – respectively, the editor of the conservative Weekly Standard, and a former Republican presidential candidate – because of their aforementioned positions. It would benefit everyone, except political opportunists, if Obama and other members of Congress would rethink their past actions.
 
This emergency committee already struck with an advertisement carried on Comcast blasting Sestak’s letter on the Gaza blockade while refusing to sign a petition of defense of Israel circulated by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and for his appearance at a fundraiser for the Council on American Islamic Relations, which the FBI called a “front group for Hamas,” Politico reported.
 
The ad’s narrator asks, “Does Congressman Joe Sestak understand Israel is America’s ally?”
 
Sestak spokeswoman April Mellody tells Politico of Sestak’s pro-Israel record, but adds this dismissive statement: “It’s political silly season so it’s not surprising these conservatives are trying to distort Joe’s record.”
 
Israel is fair game in an election. Though conservatives can be shrill on many issues, Kristol and Bauer raise legitimate concerns on Israel’s fate. Shamefully, rational discourse is hardly the outcome when Israel is raised as an issue. Any American Jew can be rightfully apprehensive that mention of the Middle East in this election could become ugly and chaotic.
 
Remember that Republicans’ most sincere intentions have not always translated into the best outcome for Israel. President Bush created a monster when he drove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq, which freed up Iran from its historic tensions with Iraq. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – the monster in question – emerged as Iran’s president and focused his government’s attention on threatening Israel with nuclear annihilation.
 
Less than two weeks following the committee’s formation, The Philadelphia Daily News reported that Sestak said his campaign asked Comcast to cease running the ad because it is “harming Israel’s security.” How does an advertisement jeopardize Israel?
 
Just as puzzling are these words, also quoted in The Daily News, uttered by committee spokesman Michael Goldfarb: “We were outraged that they tried to get our ad taken down through legal threats.” Sorry their feelings were hurt.
 
Rational discourse this isn’t. So far, absurdity trumps reason. Kind of like life in the Middle East.
 
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Bruce S. Ticker is a Philadelphia freelance journalist.