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      Fundamentally Freund
      by Michael Freund
      An alternative approach to Israeli political commentary.
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      Michael Freund is Founder and Chairman of Shavei Israel (www.shavei.org), which reaches out and assists "lost Jews" seeking to return to the Jewish people. He writes a syndicated column and feature stories for the Jerusalem Post. Previously, he served as Deputy Director of Communications & Policy Planning in the Israeli Prime Minister´s Office under former premier Benjamin Netanyahu. A native of New York, he holds an MBA in Finance from Columbia University and a BA from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. He has lived in Israel for the past decade.
      Kislev 4, 5768, 11/14/2007

      Pre-Annapolis Concessions



      Who in their right mind walks into a tough negotiation having already conceded the other side's point?
      The Annapolis conference hasn't even convened yet, but Israel's government is already making concessions.

      Unnamed government sources cited by the Ha'aretz newspaper say that in advance of the gathering, Israel will announce " a freeze on settlement construction... and will also declare its willingness to dismantle illegal West Bank settlement outposts".

      These steps, according to the report, "are meant to make it clear that Israel does not intend to remain in the territories, and understands that its presence there is only temporary." Furthermore, Israel hopes that by making such a "gesture", it can convince Arab states such as Saudi Arabia to attend the conference.

      Even if one puts aside for a moment the various ideological, historical and security reasons why Israel must retain control over Judea and Samaria, the Government's behavior is remarkably obtuse.

      Who in their right mind walks into a tough negotiation having already conceded the other side's point? What possible logic is there in agreeing in advance to your foe's demands, without getting anything - anything! - in return?

      It is this point which should disturb every single Israeli, regardless of where they are on the political spectrum, because it goes straight to the sheer incompetence and downright inanity of our current leadership. They are "negotiating the peace" the same way they handled the war in Lebanon: hastily, sloppily and ineptly.

      And that most certainly does not bode well for the outcome.

       



      Cheshvan 21, 5768, 11/2/2007

      Has the Emperor Gone Mad?



      If committed peace-processors such as Yossi Beilin, Shimon Peres and Ehud Barak were unable to solve the "core issues" in the decade after the Oslo Accords, then what makes Olmert think he can do so in just 12 months?
      There is a big headline in the Ha'aretz newspaper today, and it's the kind of headline that makes you scratch your head and wonder about the sanity of those in positions of power.

      "Olmert seeks accord on 'core issues' within a year", says the paper, noting in its report that, "Prime Minister Ehud Olmert hopes to reach an agreement on all the core issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict within a year, the premier said in conversations with both Israeli officials and foreign diplomats over the last few days."

      Behind the rather innocuous-sounding term "core issues", of course, lie various matters such as the future of Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees. If committed peace-processors such as Yossi Beilin, Shimon Peres and Ehud Barak were unable to solve the "core issues" in the decade after the Oslo Accords, then what makes Olmert think he can do so in just 12 months?

      Moreover, it is astonishing just how Mr. Olmert's optimism is so radically disconnected from the reality on the ground. Even as he was busy having those conversations with Israeli and foreign officials, the Palestinians were ratcheting up their daily rocket attacks on Israel's southern cities.

      And just with whom does Olmert plan to forge a deal? He is negotiating with Mahmoud Abbas, whose control over the Palestinians doesn't extend much beyond the desk of his secretary. So even if Olmert were to finalize matters with Abbas, what value would such a deal have in the first place?

      Sometimes, it really, truly does seem that the Emperor has gone mad, as I'm sure many citizens of ancient Rome used to mutter to themselves from time to time. The only problem is that as he descends into madness, he runs the risk of taking the future of Israel with him.

       



      Cheshvan 13, 5768, 10/25/2007

      The Mad Rush to Annapolis



      Abbas and his men must be having quite a good laugh at the turn of events
      In recent days, there have been two headlines which underline the absurdity of the Olmert Government's desire to attend the proposed Annapolis summit meeting later this year with the Palestinians.

      The first, of course, was the news that Palestinian terrorists belonging to PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah faction had planned to assassinate Olmert during a visit to Jericho a few months back.

      Despite the fact that the would-be assassins were Abbas loyalists serving in one of his so-called "security forces", Olmert continued to press forward and negotiate with the Palestinian leader as if nothing at all had happened. Instead of sanctions and retaliation, Israel chose instead to "hit" the Palestinians with unprecedented concessions.

      Abbas and his men must be having quite a good laugh at the turn of events.

      The second news item worthy of attention was this from Ha'aretz: "U.S. official doubts ability of PA to police West Bank". According to the story, General Keith Dayton, US Security Coordinator in the Palestinian areas, has reached the conclusion that the Palestinian security forces in Judea and Samaria are incapable of enforcing security needs in the area. This assessment is also shared by Israeli military and intelligence officials as well.

      But that doesn't appear to have stopped the Olmert government from its efforts to make a mad rush to Annapolis, where it hopes to turn over virtually all of Judea and Samaria to Palestinian control. They are so determined to reach a deal in order to salvage Olmert's political legacy, that "minor issues" such as an assassination plot against the Prime Minister or the security vacuum that an Israeli withdrawal would create, just don't seem to matter to them very much.

      And that, perhaps, is the scariest thing of all.



      Cheshvan 6, 5768, 10/18/2007

      Why is the Government Blocking the Return to Zion?



      I'd like to put Mr. Sheetrit and his colleagues on notice. The Divine process of Israel's return to Zion is far greater than any single person or even government, and no human power can stand in its way.
      This past Sunday, the Israeli cabinet adopted a decision which, if implemented, will slam the door shut in the face of thousands of "lost Jews" seeking to return to Zion and the Jewish people.
      This ridiculous decision can not be allowed to stand - and we must fight it with all our might - it is part of this Government's post-Zionist campaign to disconnect Israel from its Divine and prophetic mission.
      As I argue in the column below, Israel should be embracing "lost Jews" such as the Bnei Menashe of northeastern India, and welcoming them back home rather than slamming the door shut before them.
      If you agree, please e-mail Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit at: mshitrit@knesset.gov.il and politely voice your protest.
       
      thanks,
      Michael Freund

      Minister Sheetrit: Let our people into the Promised Land!
      By Michael Freund

      Well, we can all rest easy now. Sure, Iran is still threatening to incinerate the Jewish state, Syria is actively trying to obtain weapons of mass destruction, and Palestinian terrorists continue to fire rockets into southern Israel on a near-daily basis.
      But have no fear! The government, at its weekly cabinet session this past Sunday, decided to devote precious time and energy to protecting us all from a far graver threat to the future of Israel: increased aliya from abroad.
      That's right. You read that correctly.
      At the instigation of Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit, the government adopted a shameful decision aimed at slamming the door shut on groups of people who want to be Jewish and come to Israel.
      According to the cabinet communiqué, it was decided that the Interior Ministry "would issue entry visas for groups regarding conversion and the acquisition of citizenship only with government approval and in accordance with special criteria."
      But behind that rather innocuous sounding language lies a far more sinister objective, which is Sheetrit's stated determination to prevent groups with historical ties to the Jewish people from returning to Judaism and moving to Israel.
      After all, requiring full cabinet approval every time a group of 100 or 200 people wish to move here and undergo conversion is a recipe for bureaucratic inertia, as there is little chance of getting such an item onto the busy agenda of the entire government. Hence, by creating a virtually insurmountable obstacle to approval, he hopes to bury the issue once and for all.
      Why, you might be wondering, would Sheetrit and his cabinet colleagues do such a thing? The answer is really quite simple. It is post-Zionism of the ugliest sort, tinged by prejudice and sheer ignorance.
      IN RECENT months, Sheetrit made clear that he opposes efforts to bring on aliya communities such as the Bnei Menashe of northeastern India, who claim descent from a lost tribe of Israel, and now he is doing his utmost to ensure that they will not be able to come home.
      Without having met any members of the community, nor even studying the issue, he is prepared to seal their fate because they don't fit his preconceived notion of what a Jew is supposed to look like.
      Just last month, Shavei Israel, the organization that I chair, brought a group of 230 Bnei Menashe to Israel after having received written permission from Ronnie Bar-On, Sheetrit's predecessor at the Interior Ministry.
      When Sheetrit found out, he tried to scuttle the group's arrival, even as they were in transit on their way to Israel. Fortunately, he failed.
      Perhaps Mr. Sheetrit simply assumed that anyone seeking to come here from India must be doing so out of economic necessity rather than sincere ideological and religious convictions.
      Amazingly enough, though, Sheetrit himself was born in the town of Ksar Souk, Morocco in 1948 and made aliya at the age of 9. He undoubtedly endured various types of discrimination as he was growing up here, as many veteran Israelis looked down on Sephardic immigrants from Morocco.
      It is therefore all the more astonishing that he would now adopt the very same prejudices about the Bnei Menashe that were hurled against him and his fellow Moroccan immigrants, merely because of their complexion or national origin.
      Indeed, it does not seem to matter to Sheetrit that Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar formally recognized the Bnei Menashe as "descendants of Israel" in March 2005 and called for them to be restored to Israel and the Jewish people.
      Nor does it seem to bother Sheetrit one bit that there are already 1,400 Bnei Menashe living here as Jews and Israelis in every respect. All have undergone formal conversion by Israel's Chief Rabbinate. They live observant Jewish lifestyles, serve in the army, and support themselves and their families with dignity.
      Three young men from the community have recently received rabbinical ordination, while others are studying subjects ranging from computer science to education at Israeli colleges and institutes. In last year's Lebanon war, over a dozen young lone soldiers from the Bnei Menashe fought on the front-lines as part of the IDF, battling our foes and defending this land.
      NONETHELESS, Sheetrit is stubbornly insisting on turning away the 7,000 Bnei Menashe still in India who are waiting to come here. This is a tragedy of immense proportions, not just for the families and people themselves, but for the State of Israel too.
      The Bnei Menashe are part of the extended Jewish family. Their ancestors were taken away from us against their will, yet they managed to persevere down through the centuries, maintaining their Jewish identity. Now, after so many generations of exile, they are reaching out to us and asking to be brought home.
      But instead of extending a hand to our brethren, Sheetrit and the government prefer to slap them in the face, failing to realize just how much people such as the Bnei Menashe help to strengthen this country.
      Sadly, what our leaders seem to have forgotten is that Israel is supposed to serve as the Zionist lifeboat. Comfortably ensconced on board, Sheetrit and his colleagues seem to have no qualms about swatting away those who also seek their place among us.
      Well, I'd like to put Mr. Sheetrit and his colleagues on notice. The Divine process of Israel's return to Zion is far greater than any single person or even government, and no human power can stand in its way.
      Despite this week's decision by the cabinet, the historic homecoming of the Bnei Menashe and other such groups can and will continue.
      We will launch a very loud, and very public, campaign on their behalf, and we will not rest until they are all able to come home.
      And, with G-d's help, I am confident that they will. 

      (this column originally appeared in The Jerusalem Post, October 17, 2007)



      Cheshvan 4, 5768, 10/16/2007

      The Stench of Corruption



      Prime Minister Ehud Olmert set a new personal and political record this week, when Attorney General Menachem Mazuz authorized yet another police investigation against him - bringing the total number now in play to three.
      You can smell it from a mile away.

      Just take a deep breath these days, and it is hard not to notice a residue of odor in the air. I'm not referring to global warming, carbon emissions or your run-of-the-mill air pollution - but to pollution of a different sort, the type that erodes a nation and its institutions, slowly wearing them down and eating away at the foundations of society. It is called corruption, and Israel's government is wallowing in it.

      Prime Minister Ehud Olmert set a new personal and political record this week, when Attorney General Menachem Mazuz authorized yet another police investigation against him - bringing the total number now in play to three. And so, at a time when the nation faces a series of grave existential threats, the prime minister is busy consulting his lawyers, trying to keep the investigators at bay.

      By any standard of decency and integrity, Olmert should have stepped aside by now. And he most certainly should not be undertaking fateful negotiations on the future of this country and its borders. He lacks the standing and the mandate to do such things.

      They say that a nation gets the leaders that it deserves. But when one looks at our present leadership, I can't help but think: we deserve a whole lot better.