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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.
      Adar 21, 5765, 3/2/2005

      Who Said Violence Doesn't Pay?

      Palestinian rockets in Gaza may still be flying, and their bombs still exploding, but that hasn’t stopped Prime Minister Ariel Sharon from agreeing to make a series of “gestures” to Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman Abu Mazen.

      1597 Just yesterday, the Palestinians fired two mortar rounds at the Jewish community of Neveh Dekalim and opened fire on Israeli army posts at Gadid and Rafiach Yam. In addition, four explosive devices that had been planted by Palestinians next to Rafah were discovered and neutralized by the IDF.

      Nonetheless, in advance of next week’s summit meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh, Sharon convened a meeting of several ministers this morning, where it was decided to free 900 Palestinian security prisoners and turn over control of 5 cities in Judea and Samaria to the PA.

      And so, simply for reducing the level of anti-Israel violence (reducing, not eliminating!), the Palestinians are being rewarded handsomely by Sharon – who is once again sending them the message that violence does indeed pay, and quite well at that.

      Adar 13, 5765, 2/22/2005

      Standing up to Syria

      The sight of thousands of Lebanese in Beirut bravely protesting against the Syrian occupation of their country yesterday is a compelling sign that the archaic political foundations of the Arab world are suddenly being shaken to the very core.

      Lebanon_1The assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri a week ago sent shock waves across the region. The US and the UN expressed outrage, and even the Europeans are now demanding a full-scale investigation, even though it is all but clear that Syria lies behind Hariri’s murder.

      But the big question in the wake of the incident was how the Lebanese would respond. Would they sit tight and bite their lip once again at this latest Syrian outrage, or would they muster up the courage to defy their Damascene overlords once and for all?

      It is still too early to tell, but the rally yesterday was an encouraging sign. After all, the Syrians are known to play hardball, and their willingness to take out someone of Hariri’s prominence was either a sign of utmost confidence or downright stupidity on their part.

      Say what you will about US President George W. Bush’s goal of democratic reform in the Middle East – he is clearly having a major impact on this part of the world. The sight of Iraqis and Afghans voting at the polls in recent months surely left its mark on the Lebanese, who have been chafing under Syrian domination for decades.

      A freer Lebanon would clearly be in Israel and America’s interests. It would reduce Syrian influence in the area, and might lead to the establishment of a more responsible government along Israel’s northern border, one that would be less likely to tolerate the presence of Hizbullah terrorists provoking cross-border trouble.

      So while we might disagree with President Bush when it comes to his views on the establishment of a Palestinian state, his goal of reshaping the region in a more democratic fashion is one we can, and should, embrace.

      Adar 12, 5765, 2/21/2005

      A Mr. Popularity Contest

      If a new Gallup poll is to be believed, Israel’s position in the eyes of American public opinion has never been better.

      The survey found that a remarkable 69% of Americans have a favorable view of the Jewish state, while just 25% of those questioned said they had an unfavorable view of Israel.

      By contrast, 62% of Americans view the Palestinian Authority unfavorably, with only 27% having a favorable opinion.

      Number_one The poll also sought to gauge where Americans stand on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and there too Israel came out ahead, with an impressive 52% saying they sympathize with the Jewish state, while just 18% said they are more sympathetic to the Palestinian side.

      What is truly extraordinary about the results is the fact that despite the widespread bias of the mainstream media, the overwhelming majority of Americans still side with Israel. It is almost as if the steady diet of anti-Israel propaganda being fed to the American public by various media outlets has little, if any, real impact on their world-view.

      Indeed, even with all of the energy, funds and resources that the Palestinians have invested in cultivating greater support for their cause, they are still just about as popular as cod-liver oil or spoiled milk.

      Of course, much of the bedrock support that Israel enjoys in America is thanks to the growing population of tens of millions of evangelical Christians, whose backing for the Jewish state is passionate, ardent and rooted in Biblical principles.

      While some Jews still look askance at such support, it is time for us to put aside our suspicions and recognize the importance of US Christians and the sincerity of their stance. They have proven to be among the best friends that Israel has, and for that we should be grateful and appreciative.

      Adar 11, 5765, 2/20/2005

      Please Remove the Price Tag

      Jordan today decided to return its ambassador to Israel after an absence of over four years.

      But the new envoy, Dr. Maaruf al-Bakhit, had scarcely descended from the plane and collected his bags at Ben-Gurion Airport before the Jordanians announced that they now expect to receive something in return from Israel for this “gesture”.

      In an interview with Israel Radio this morning, Jordanian government spokesman Asma Khader said that Amman insists that Israel now agree to release Jordanian prisoners and allow Jordanian troops to train the Palestinian security forces.

      While it is certainly good news that Jordan’s embassy in Israel will now be manned by a senior diplomat again for the first time since November 2000, it would be a grave error on Israel’s part to “reward” the Jordanians for taking this long overdue step.

      After all, Israel and Jordan signed a peace treaty on October 26, 1994 to normalize relations between the two countries. Part and parcel of any normal bilateral relationship is the exchange of ambassadors. The fact that Jordan has now chosen to return its representative to Tel Aviv is not an act of mercy or benevolence on the part of Amman – it is a basic element in fulfilling the peace treaty between the two countries.

      To yield to Jordan’s demand for some “payback” on this matter will only invite further such mischief down the road. Indeed, it will lead other countries, such as Egypt, which has yet to return its ambassador to Israel, to up the ante and seek their own diplomatic or political gains as well at Israel’s expense.

      Price_tag The Government, then, should make it clear to the Jordanians that while Israel welcomes Dr. al-Bakhit to its shores, his arrival should not come with a price tag attached.

      Adar 9, 5765, 2/18/2005

      A Mere 7 Percent

      This Sunday, the Israeli cabinet is slated to approve two decisions with critical long-term repercussions for the country’s future.

      In addition to bringing the expulsion of Jewish communities from Gaza and northern Samaria to a vote, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will also seek ministerial approval of his plan to move the security fence even closer to Israel’s pre-1967 frontier. In effect, the Government is setting the stage to hand over nearly all of the territories to eventual Palestinian control.

      Whereas the plan originally approved in October 2003 would have incorporated 16 percent of Judea and Samaria on the Israeli side of the fence, the new plan going before the cabinet on Sunday includes just 7 percent. This, of course, means far less land would remain under Israeli control, and far more Jews will be on the “wrong side” of the fence.

      To be fair, a number of the changes made to the fence’s route are the result of rulings by Israel’s Supreme Court, which occasionally seems more concerned about ensuring access to Palestinian olive trees than preserving Jewish lives.

      Fence But let’s not kid ourselves – the fence being built has powerful political and symbolic value, and there is little doubt that the Palestinians and others will relate to anything “beyond the fence” as having been conceded by Israel.

      It is a testament to this Government's failure that all it has to show for its efforts is retreat, withdrawal and abandonment. Instead of fencing in the bad guys, the Government is handing them 93 percent of what they wanted on a silver platter.

      This Sunday, the borders of the country might very well be drastically re-drawn - and in exchange for making unprecedented concessions, Israel will receive nothing, absolutely nothing, in return. Talk about a bad deal.