By GARY ROSENBLATT June 11, 2021 (New York Jewish Week via JTA) — Whether this week marks the last of Benjamin Netanyahu’s record-setting tenure as prime minister or is just a prelude to another never-count-him-out comeback, it seems a fitting moment to try to understand why he has consistently treated diaspora Jewish media with disdain.
It’s something I’ve experienced personally on several occasions and may well reflect the prime minister’s attitude not just toward the Jewish press but toward American Jewry in general.
It seems ironic, if not baffling, that Netanyahu would be rude to the one group of journalists who are most sympathetic and accommodating. But then he is a man of many contradictions, with remarkable skills and ugly traits, towering oratory and gutter-level charges, and great success in protecting Israel from outside threats while allowing the weakening of Israeli society from within.
I have interviewed the prime minister one on one in his Jerusalem office, attended a number of meetings he’s held with the press, and heard him speak many times in the United States and Israel. Perhaps the most illuminating example of his contradictory behavior dates back to a visit he made to the U.S. when he first served as prime minister, from 1996 to 1999.
During that visit 25 years ago, Netanyahu’s staff scheduled back-to-back sessions for him with two separate groups of journalists in a small conference room at his Manhattan hotel. The first group consisted of about a dozen major media figures, including the network news anchors of the day and A-list reporters. The second meeting was with the same number of editors of Jewish newspapers from across the country.
As editor and publisher of The Jewish Week, I was invited to the second meeting. But thanks to an influential friend at the local Israeli Consulate, I was allowed to attend the first meeting as well, though I was asked to keep a low profile.
When Netanyahu walked into the room with the media notables seated around a table, he was warm, friendly and upbeat from the outset. He greeted them individually by name, shaking hands, making small talk as he moved gracefully around the room. During the session he handled questions with aplomb, on point, articulate, and used colloquial expressions at times – it was easy to forget that he was the leader of a foreign country. He was thoroughly charming.
About 15 minutes after the meeting, while Netanyahu was taking a break, my Jewish media colleagues were ushered into the room. When we were settled in, the prime minister reentered and immediately sat down at the head of the table. No schmoozing this time. He was all business and began: “OK, ask me your questions.”
A bit taken aback by the abrupt opening, the chair of our delegation asked if it would be all right for us to introduce ourselves briefly, stating our names and professional titles. Netanyahu agreed. When it was my turn, the prime minister looked closely at me and said, “You look familiar.”
I said, “I was with the first group here as well.”
(What I wanted to add was, “I saw how engaging and friendly you can be if you want to make the effort. What’s your problem?”)
For a split second, Netanyahu seemed a bit taken aback, but he just nodded and the intros continued.
The mood of the session could not have been more different than the earlier one. Though he was in the presence of loyal, influential Zionists who treated him with great respect, the prime minister was curt, contentious and clearly couldn’t wait to be done with us.
“Ask me your questions”
A few years later, when I was in Israel, I was granted a one-on-one interview with Netanyahu in his Jerusalem office. I was ushered in by an aide who announced my name as I sat down in a chair facing the prime minister. He wore a leather bomber jacket and was seated at his desk, reading through a document in front of him.
“Go ahead, ask me your questions,” he said without looking up. He was using a yellow outliner pen to mark his reading material.
I wasn’t sure how to proceed and waited for him to make eye contact. After a moment he repeated his request. I waited again — it felt like minutes but was probably only a few seconds — before proceeding, reluctantly, with the interview.
I don’t remember the details of what transpired, only that I was thrown by Netanyahu’s rudeness, and that the agreed-on 45-minute session ended abruptly when an aide came in to announce that the prime minister was needed for a pressing matter. It seemed prearranged; the prime minister got up and followed him out of the office without a word or gesture to me.
One more: Five years ago, at a Jewish media conference in Jerusalem I attended with dozens of colleagues from the U.S., Europe and South America, Netanyahu addressed our group and was ornery from the outset. His manner was challenging and dismissive, interrupting the moderator, the Forward’s Jane Eisner, and suggesting alternative topics. At one point he evaded a question about his government’s relations with American Jewry and responded, in effect, “why not ask me about Israel’s impressive dairy output?” He then waxed eloquent on the subject and had an aide display a chart on the wall with statistics about Israel’s prolific cows.
“After the session ended, some of the women journalists in the room were furious, sure that he acted as he did because I was the moderator,” Eisner wrote. “I appreciated their support, but male colleagues tell me that Netanyahu can be similarly dismissive to them, too.”
How does one explain this behavior?
I turned to two close colleagues and veteran Bibi watchers — journalist and author Yossi Klein Halevi in Jerusalem and Mideast expert David Makovsky in Washington — and asked why they think Netanyahu treats the Jewish media so shabbily. Is it because he doesn’t respect us as journalists? Or because he believes that Diaspora communities are less relevant to Israeli politics? Or neither, or both?
“Bibi treats his friends worse than anyone,” Klein Halevi responded, “which is why, at the end of the day, he doesn’t have any. He takes them for granted and abuses their trust. That’s why this new government is being led, in part, by three of his former closest aides,” Naftali Bennett, Avigdor Lieberman and Gideon Saar.
“The American Jewish media was simply in his pocket,” Klein Halevi continued, “or so he assumed, and he could treat them with the special contempt he reserved for those on his side.”
Makovsky believes Netanyahu views the Diaspora Jewish media in the larger context of his attitude toward American Jewry — seen as declining dramatically in relevance.
On a practical level, he noted, Diaspora Jews don’t vote in Israeli elections and so are “less central for his [Netanyahu’s] purposes to cultivate.” Similarly, the prime minister focuses mainly on Israeli media, which he views as either for him or against him, so the Diaspora media is less important.
The prime minister has told those who meet with him privately that with the exception of the Orthodox, “American Jews will last another generation or two … due to assimilation and low fertility rate,” Makovsky said. “This has enabled him to discount the liberal attitudes and voting trends of non-Orthodox American Jews and not think of the impact of a few of his policies on the relationship.”
In addition, Netanyahu has said in private that as long as he has the support in America of evangelical Christians, who vastly outnumber Jews, and the Orthodox Jewish community, he is in good shape.
We’ll know in the coming days the shape of Netanyahu’s immediate future. But even if the “change” coalition is sworn in, no one who knows Bibi Netanyahu believes he can be counted out.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of JTA or its parent company, 70 Faces Media.
An Arab Trusteeship Council for Gaza
By Prof. BRYAN SCHWARTZ Oct. 17, 2023 (Originally posted to The Times of Israel)
1 No peace is possible with Hamas. It is genocidally antisemitic. This position is foundational, not rhetorical or mutable. Waiting for the emergence of a “pragmatic” version of Hamas is suicidally naïve.
2 Peace and cooperation are possible with most of Israel’s non-Iranian neighbours. They are militarily threatened by Iran, not Israel. For many in those countries, Iran’s version of Islam might be more problematic from the religious perspective than Israel’s Jewishness.
3 Hamas’ attack was partly to prevent a Saudi deal and a long-term economic cooperation
4 Israel has no territorial claim to Gaza and no material, religious, or ideological interest in running it.
5 Israel has vital moral and material interests in the emergence of a peaceful, demilitarized, and prosperous Gaza. If that can occur in the medium term, a long-term reconciliation of the Palestinians with Israel is achievable.
6 As and when Hamas is evicted from power, Gaza will need some new form of government.
7 The Palestinian authority probably cannot be trusted to take over Gaza. It is corrupt and lacked- and probably still lacks- credibility with a majority of the population in Gaza.
8 There used to be a concept called trusteeship in international law, whereby foreign powers would govern a territory in its best interests until its final status is clarified at the wishes of its own people.
9 The United Nations cannot be trusted to administer Gaza – any more than it has shown to be trustworthy to maintain strategic security in Southern Lebanon or to operate UNWRA in a manner that is effective for Palestinians and not hostile to Israel.
10 Consider this alternative. After Hamas is evicted from power, there is an interim period- say five to seven to ten years -of governance over Gaza by an Arab trusteeship council. The Council members are appointed primarily by Arab states sympathetic to Israel and eager to see the people of Gaza thrive. This Council could include local Gaza representatives and a representative of the Palestinian Authority but the majority would be representative of states like Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia.
11 The trusteeship agreement would be formal, agreed to by Israel, and unequivocally state its objectives, including:
-defining the sole purposes for which outside reconstruction and development money can be spent and requiring strict accounting
-ensuring that the education system in Gaza is not contaminated by antisemitic hatred;
-promoting sound administration of Gaza, including providing for transparent and non-corrupt government, with significant safeguards for human rights, and conformity to the rule of law;
-promoting the development of a real economy for Gaza, not one fuelled primarily by international subsidies.
13 No state could participate in the Council without having a peace agreement with Israel.
14 In fact, the creation of the Council and Saudi participation in it could be part of a peace deal with Saudi Arabia. The deal could involve a reconstruction package from the Saudis for Gaza, which would help secure the support of the people of Gaza for the Council arrangement as an interim measure.
15 Policing would be carried out by a force composed of Palestinians and members of the police forces of Trusteeship states, under the direction of the Council.
16 The net effect would be to remove Gaza from Iran’s influence and establish temporary control by a consortium of mostly Sunni states. The latter would be chosen from among those that are at least reasonably friendly to Israel and genuinely committed to good governance in Gaza.
17 The definitive solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict can only be achieved in a series of steps. Compromises are even more painful if they are framed as permanent. But if practical peace, stability, and some prosperity can be achieved in the medium term in Gaza and the West Bank, an amicable and enduring resolution should be achievable with the Palestinians.
18 While Israel is under severe military menace right now, it is not too early to think about how a positive political outcome can be achieved after the necessary and painful battle is concluded.
19 The current catastrophe is a so-far successful attempt by the regime in Teheran to disrupt peace negotiations involving Israel, the United States, and Saudi Arabia. Political vision along with military force might enable Israel to turn around the situation and complete and consolidate a lasting peace with almost all of its Arab neighbours and to set the stage for a formal and enduring peace with the Palestinians. The Teheran regime would be isolated, diminished in prestige, and more likely to be replaced from within.
About the Author
Bryan’s Jewish-themed musical “Consoulation: A Musical Mediation” premiered in the Spring of of 2018; https://consoulation.com His new album will appear in the coming months. Bryan Schwartz graduated with a doctorate in law from Yale School and holds an endowed chair at the University of Manitoba Law School. He is the author or editor of over thirty books and collections of essays. Bryan also created and helps to deliver an annual summer program at Hebrew University in Israeli law and society. He has served as a visiting Professor at both HU and Reichman university. . As a practising lawyer, Bryan has argued a number of cases at the Supreme Court of Canada, advised governments, and served as an arbitrator at the provincial, national and international level.
Who knew? Former Blue Bomber great Willard Reaves’ father was Jewish – and is buried in Israel
Usually when I write my column in The Jewish Post & News titled “Short takes,” I focus on one or two themes. This time, I’m departing from that style. Instead, I’m going to offer a series of true “short takes.”
To begin with, I have to admit my surprise at a story that Sid Halpern related to me – about former Winnipeg Blue Bomber great Willard Reaves. Reaves, who is running once again for the Liberals in the upcoming provincial election in the riding of Whyte Ridge, against another former Blue Bomber great, Obby Khan, was speaking at the Simkin Centre at a current events program that Sid runs (and which I occasionally host as well).
At that recent program, Reaves told the Simkin Centre residents who were gathered to hear him that his late father was Jewish and that he was buried in Israel.
When Sid related that story to me my reaction was – and I’m sure it would be the same for anyone else who knows who Willard Reaves is: “You’re kidding. What’s the story behind that?”
So, I contacted Willard and asked him to fill me in. He told me that his father, whose name was Johnny Reaves, had been a brilliant engineer who worked for General Dynamics in Fort Worth, Texas. Willard said that his parents separated when he was young and that he grew up in Flagstaff, Arizona, although he and a brother of his did spend half a year living with their father in Fort Worth.
According to Willard, his father was interested in finding out about different denominations, including Judaism. Eventually, Johnny Reaves converted to Judaism and, in 2016, he moved to Israel, saying “good bye to me,” Willard said, adding that his father also said “I will die in Israel.”
It was in Israel that Johnny Reaves took the Hebrew name “Tzadok Avraham,” Willard added. He also became fluent in Hebrew, Willard said (in addition to four other languages he spoke). In 2021 Johnny Reaves – or Tzadok Avraham, as he was then known, died. Willard said that he had wanted to fly to Israel for the funeral, but was told that his father was going to be buried the next day – which wouldn’t have given Willard enough time to make it there for the funeral.
Quite the story, but to give equal time to Obby Khan, about whom I’ve written in the past, when he sponsored a floor hockey tournament at the Rady JCC in memory of Obby’s late mentor, Richard Tapper, Obby will also be appearing at the Simkin Centre in September – and when he does, we’ll try and grab an interview with him as well.
The movie “Golda” has received fairly awful reviews from critics – and deservedly so. It’s hard to understand why this movie was even made. Aside from having an A-list star, Helen Mirren, in the title role, honestly, how many people out there who aren’t Jewish and of a certain age would be interested in seeing a movie about Golda Meir?
It’s the kind of movie that you might expect to have been made for a streaming service rather than be given a theatrical release. It’s quite dark – and despite the action revolving around the Yom Kippur War, there’s no dramatization of any battle scenes nor, for that matter, is there much in the way of actual footage from the war – which could have easily be integrated into the film.
Like a lot of others who have already commented on “Golda,” I’m trying to figure out what the motivation was of whoever was behind it?
By this time of year one would have expected to see the report of the Jewish Federation’s Budget and Allocations Committee. That particular committee is tasked with divvying up funds for the 13 beneficiary agencies of the Jewish Federation and, although I’m told each agency has been informed by now what the allocation they will be receiving will be, the Federation’s fiscal year begins September 1, and in the past we’ve been able to report on the allocations either in June or July at the latest.
There have been a series of changes at the top level of the Jewish Federation this past year, including the most recent one – which, of course, we’ve given major attention, that being the hiring of Jeff Lieberman as the Federation’s new CEO.
But the awful slowness in receiving the report of the Budget and Allocations Committee points to how much the Federation has been missing the absolutely key contribution that Faye Rosenberg Cohen made in her capacity as the Federation’s Chief Planning and Allocations Officer. Faye, who had been an employee of the Federation since 1994 – up until her retirement this past December, was largely responsible for drawing up the report of the Budget and Allocations Committee.
And, although the committee always has a number of experienced volunteers serving on it, nothing can replace the type of experience that a seasoned staff member such as Faye was able to bring to the job. Sharon Graham has been hired as Faye’s replacement and, although we’re sure that Sharon will prove fully capable of filling Faye’s shoes, replacing someone with 29 years experience in a job can’t happen overnight.
In addition to Faye’s retirement, there have been two other notable departures from the Federation in recent months. In June we announced that Rebecca Brask was leaving the position of Chief Development Officer for the Federation. Rebecca’s replacement is Graciela Najenson, who has been with the Federation since 2017. The fact that Graciela had been serving as Development Director makes her transition to the role previously held by Rebecca somewhat easier.
And, just recently Carlos Benesdra moved on from being Chief Financial Officer of the Federation to CFO of Gray Academy, while Shannon Slater has moved over from the Asper Jewish Community Campus to take over as Federation CFO.
Those are four major moves within a three-month period. Based on my recent experience of not being able to get information about the all-important allocations that our Jewish agencies are going to be receiving, I can only surmise that the Federation is in a state of flux.
The success of the Israel pavilion continues to reverberate. As I note in my look back at the early days of the Israel pavilion on page 1, back in 1970 it would have been impossible to anticipate how important both Foklorama – and the Israel pavilion, would become. As David Greaves writes in his paean to the Israel pavilion on page 16 of this issue, the role that the Israel pavilion now plays in boosting Israel’s image is immeasurable.
The sale of the Etz Chayim is not yet complete. Although there is an offer on the table, nothing has been finalized, according to congregation president Avrom Charach.
Here is an email exchange I had with Avrom on August 23:
“I’ve heard that the building has been sold – again. Can you confirm?
Avrom responded (less than an hour after I emailed him. That could be a lesson for some other Jewish organizations in this city, where respondents often don’t respond or take an interminable amount of time to respond):
“We accepted an offer within two weeks of the previous deal not closing.
Their due diligence period has not yet finished but we are getting close to the day when it does.
“As such I can confirm we are conditionally sold but nothing more than that.”
otage from the war –
Will the affable Jeff Lieberman be able to make tough decisions in the years to come?
By BERNIE BELLAN The hiring of Jeff Lieberman as the new CEO of the Jewish Federation got me to thinking about how long I’ve been with this newspaper. I started with The Jewish Post two years before Bob Freedman was hired as Executive Director of what was then the Winnipeg Jewish Community Council.
As a matter of fact I did an hour-long interview with Bob in 2021 (that can still be viewed on Youtube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i66AyZ8x60k) in which he looked back over his long career with both the WJCC and the Jewish Federation. Be warned, however: Bob had quite the potty mouth during that interview.)
Bob Freedman though, had quite a grasp of how to run the Jewish Federation – which could occasionally lead him to knocking heads with members of the community, especially when it came to him telling various leaders of organizations that they weren’t going to get what they wanted from the Federation.
I especially recall when the Gwen Secter Centre was in a very precarious situation – when the building that had been the home for that centre was going to be sold by the National Council of Jewish Women. (Does anyone remember the reason that the NCJW gave for wanting to sell that building? I do. It was to raise money for something to do with addictions. I’m still waiting for that to happen – more than seven years after the NCJW received over $900,000 for the building as the result of a gift from an angel donor – whose name I have kept secret all these years, as I was asked to do.)
It was a tough time to be the CEO of the Jewish Federation – and to turn down a request to step in and help keep the Gwen Secter in its Main Street home, but Bob Freedman had the strength to say no. Was he right to do that? That’s for others to judge, but since that near-death experience for the Gwen Secter Centre, it has turned out to play a very important role for the Jewish community, providing a variety of programming that is certainly far above what one would expect from an organization that was hanging on the precipice eight years ago. But Bob couldn’t have known that, so I’ll absolve him of blame on that one.
Certainly the impact that Covid had on so many community organizations is still being felt – and our Jewish community is continuing to evolve a great deal in response to how Covid affected so many community institutions. One need only look at the huge changes that our two major synagogues are undergoing in order to realize how much the Jewish community has changed over the past 20 years – as both the Shaarey Zedek and the Etz Chayim have had to rethink their roles, at least partly in response to how Covid changed how members now interact with synagogues.
Something else that any Federation CEO is going to have to address is the relative decline in moneys raised by the Combined Jewish Appeal in recent years, at least when one takes inflation into account. While the amount raised this past fiscal year was $6.3 million, five years ago it was $5.6 million, but when one factors in inflation (approximately 19.4% cumulatively over the past four years) that means the CJA is raising much less on a relative basis than it was five years ago. The CJA would have had to raise well over $7 million this past year just to keep pace with inflation.
The saving grace for the Federation, as I’ve noted in the past two years, has been the huge increase in the total amount that the Jewish Foundation has been distributing, including to local Jewish organizations. No doubt that has taken some of the pressure off the Jewish Federation to increase what it distributes to its beneficiary agencies, but going forward it is difficult to see how the Federation will be able to come up with the funds that the beneficiary organizations are going to need simply to maintain their present levels of service.
A few weeks back we reported that the Federation had released a strategic plan to direct resources and planning for the next six years, but that plan was couched in such generalities that it seemed more like a wish list with which no one could argue. How, for instance, could one object to enhanced “collaboration with community partners; increased engagement through education and training; strategies to develop Jewish life; developing external relationships with other community and faith-based organizations; and combating anti-Semitism” – among its objectives?
While Jeff Lieberman comes into his new position of CEO saying that his strength is “building relationships” and being “a good people person,”I’d sure like to know whether he has a long-term vision for the community. Bob Freedman presided over what was probably the most exciting period in the history of our Jewish community when he played an instrumental role in the development of the Asper Campus, but that period is over. Does Jeff have a vision similar to what Bob had? I didn’t ask him that when I chatted with him – mostly because that’s the kind of question that is unfair to spring on someone, but I do wonder whether he was asked that when he was interviewed for the job and, if so, how did he answer?
As I attempted to demonstrate in various articles I wrote about the 2021 census, the Jewish community in Winnipeg – if it can even be called a community since it’s now so disparate, is hardly the kind of community that we used to recognize. When only a little more than 6,000 individuals say they’re Jewish both by ethnicity and by religion – well, that goes to show how much the Jewish “community” has changed in the past 20 years – which is when the last authoritative census was conducted.
While the River Heights – Tuxedo-Crescentwood neighbourhoods still contain large numbers of Jews according to the census, there has been a huge shift in where Jews are now living – especially to areas such as south St. Vital, and south Ft. Garry (including Bridgewater). Of course, given how people interact with each other these days, especially through social media, it matters little where people live in terms of how an organization such as the Jewish Federation might want to reach them, but the sense of community that Jews used to have from seeing one another physically cannot be replicated by posts on Instagram, for instance – which it seems is where the Jewish Federation now concentrates a fair bit of its resources.
If there’s anything that I’ve learned over the years, however, it’s that former members of Winnipeg’s Jewish community who have left for other cities still retain a significant attachment to the Jewish community here – perhaps more so than can be said of any other city that Jews would have called home. There is still such an eagerness among ex-Winnipeg Jews to keep informed – and in touch with what’s going on in Winnipeg within our Jewish community, that in many ways it’s helped to sustain this newspaper.
In that vein – I’m pleased to announce that, after an almost two-month period in which our website, jewishpostandnews.ca, was not up, it’s back – and it’s been totally revamped. While I wouldn’t pretend that the website is constantly updating local news – it does have a constinually refreshing news feed provided by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that is proving to be hugely popular with viewers. As well, the website does include all obituaries that appear in the print version of The Jewish Post & News and, as most readers are no doubt aware, obituaries and memoriams are an integral part of what keep former Winnipeg Jews in touch with the community here. In time we hope also to have a section for memoriams on the website – as we continue the process of providing the same experience online as readers can have by reading the print paper (or a pdf version of the paper, which is also available to any print subscribers).
And that’s where I think Jeff Lieberman – and the rest of the Jewish Federation, can take a cue from this paper. It’s all well and good to offer grandiose plans for the future, but it’s still important to remember what made this community great – which was a deep respect for continuing what helped to build the Jewish community here. At the same time though, what always marked the Jewish community here was a tradition of different individuals and groups challenging accepted orthodoxies, be they religious, political, social, or otherwise. However, I’ve never thought of either the Winnipeg Jewish Community Council or the Jewish Federation as being interested in hearing from voices that challenge accepted orthodoxies, especially when it comes to criticizing Israel. And, I don’t expect that’s going to change with Jeff Lieberman at the head. On the other hand, a quirky s-t disturber like me is probably not what the community needs as its head either.