Posts Tagged ‘Jordan’

Israel’s Self-Inflicted Wounds

March 19, 2018


New mobile homes being installed in Amichai in February. Credit  Ahmad Gharabli/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

As the state of Israel approaches its 70th anniversary, I am filled with pride as I watch the vulnerable Jewish state of my childhood evolve into the strong and prosperous nation it is today.

As president of the World Jewish Congress, I believe that Israel is central to every Jew’s identity, and I feel it is my second home. Yet today I fear for the future of the nation I love.

True, the Israeli Army is stronger than any other army in the Middle East. And yes, Israel’s economic prowess is world renowned: In China, India and Silicon Valley, Israel’s technology, innovation and entrepreneurship are venerated.

But the Jewish democratic state faces two grave threats that I believe could endanger its very existence.

The first threat is the possible demise of the two-state solution. I am conservative and a Republican, and I have supported the Likud party since the 1980s. But the reality is that 13 million people live between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. And almost half of them are Palestinian.

If current trends continue, Israel will face a stark choice: Grant Palestinians full rights and cease being a Jewish state or rescind their rights and cease being a democracy.

To avoid these unacceptable outcomes, the only path forward is the two-state solution.

President Trump and his team are wholly committed to Middle East peace. Arab states such as Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are now closer to Israel than they have ever been, and contrary to news media reports, senior Palestinian leaders are, they have personally told me, ready to begin direct negotiations immediately.

But some Israelis and Palestinians are pushing initiatives that threaten to derail this opportunity.

Palestinian incitement and intransigence are destructive. But so, too, are annexation plans, pushed by those on the right, and extensive Jewish settlement-building beyond the separation line. Over the last few years, settlements in the West Bank on land that in any deal is likely to become part of a Palestinian state, have continued to grow and expand. Such blinkered Israeli policies are creating an irreversible one-state reality.

The second, two-prong threat is Israel’s capitulation to religious extremists and the growing disaffection of the Jewish diaspora. Most Jews outside of Israel are not accepted in the eyes of the Israeli ultra-Orthodox, who control ritual life and holy places in the state. Seven million of the eight million Jews living in America, Europe, South America, Africa and Australia are Modern Orthodox, Conservative, Reform or secular. Many of them have come to feel, particularly over the last few years, that the nation that they have supported politically, financially and spiritually is turning its back on them.

By submitting to the pressures exerted by a minority in Israel, the Jewish state is alienating a large segment of the Jewish people. The crisis is especially pronounced among the younger generation, which is predominantly secular. An increasing number of Jewish millennials — particularly in the United States — are distancing themselves from Israel because its policies contradict their values. The results are unsurprising: assimilation, alienation and a severe erosion of the global Jewish community’s affinity for the Jewish homeland.

Over the last decade I have visited Jewish communities in over 40 countries. Members in every one of them expressed to me their concern and anxiety about Israel’s future and its relationship to diaspora Jewry.

Many non-Orthodox Jews, myself included, feel that the spread of state-enforced religiosity in Israel is turning a modern, liberal nation into a semi-theocratic one. A vast majority of Jews around the world do not accept the exclusion of women in certain religious practices, strict conversion laws or the ban of egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall. They are bewildered by the impression that Israel is abandoning the humanistic vision of Theodor Herzl and taking on a character that does not suit its own core values or the spirit of the 21st century.

The leadership of the Jewish world always honors the choices made by the Israeli voter and acts in concert with Israel’s democratically elected government. I’m also keenly aware that Israelis are on the front lines, making sacrifices and risking their own lives every day so that Jews worldwide will survive and thrive. I count myself forever in their debt.

But sometimes loyalty requires a friend to speak out and express an inconvenient truth. And the truth is that the specter of a one-state solution and the growing rift between Israel and the diaspora are endangering the future of the country I love so dearly.

We are at a crossroads. The choices that Israel makes in the coming years will determine the destiny of our one and only Jewish state — and the continued unity of our cherished people.

We must change course. We must push for a two-state solution and find common ground among ourselves so that we can ensure the success of our beloved nation.


Jordan halts free trade accord with Turkey amid increasing geopolitical tension

March 15, 2018

A handout picture released by the Jordanian Royal Palace on August 21, 2017 shows Jordanian King Abdullah II (R) greeting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the royal palace in Amman. (AFP file)
AMMAN/ LONDON: Jordan has suspended a free trade agreement (FTA) with Turkey in a move as much about regional politics as imports and exports, according to a leading academic at the London School of Economics (LSE).
In an interview with Arab News, Fawaz Gerges, professor of international relations at the LSE, said: “What you are seeing now is Jordan’s realignment with its key Arab allies, to send a clear message to Turkey that what Turkey has been doing is unacceptable.”
Turkey, he claimed, had been “intervening” in internal Arab affairs — for instance, offering economic and “military support” for Qatar, which has been boycotted by Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE for its alleged support of extremism and links with Iran.
According to Jordan’s state-controlled Petra news agency, Amman’s decision to suspend the FTA with Turkey was taken “in light of the closure of border crossings with neighboring countries and the shrinking of traditional markets for national exports.”
Additionally, Jordan faced “unequal” competition with Turkish products, which Amman alleged receive Turkish government subsidies, leading to negative effects for local producers. Petra reported that the FTA had “further tilted the trade balance in favor of the Turkish side, which had failed to ensure the flow of sufficient investments into Jordan.”
But Gerges told Arab News: “Behind the trade issue, relations with Turkey have reached a really low point.” He mentioned a number of tensions such as Turkey’s military incursions into Syria, the civilian casualties, Turkish support for Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt — all these factors had “poisoned” Arab-Turkish relations,” he said.
Gerges claimed that Turkey had hosted hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood members, and Turkey had “overwhelmingly supported the Muslim Brotherhood against the Egyptian government of Abdel Fattah El-Sisi.
He said: “At one point Turkey was very powerful, a very influential state before the Arab Spring uprising. But Turkey has sided fully with the Islamists; this has really angered not just Arab regimes but also big chunks of the Arab populations,” he said.
“What Turkey is trying to do is to fill the vacuum of Arab fragility (post the Arab Spring), and this is unacceptable to key Arab states… in particular Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt.”
Gerges also said that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had gone out of his way to take sides, which he said was an example of how Turkey had not recognized “the limits of its influence.”
He added: “Jordan has been trying to walk a tightrope between its close relations with its Arab allies, and Turkey as a non Arab state. And this has now proven to be untenable. “The straw that broke the camel’s back is Turkey’s row with the Gulf over Qatar, which is a huge issue for the Arab states.”
Last year, a group of Turkish servicemen arrived at a base in southern Doha in accordance with an agreement signed between Qatar and Turkey in 2014.
The Turkish military held their first drills at the Tariq bin Ziyad military base in August 2017. It was reported that Ankara deployed yet more troops to Qatar’s Al-Udeid Air Base in December, but in February 2018 Turkey refuted claims that Ankara had sent additional military forces.
The suspension of the FTA comes a month after a visit by the Turkish foreign minister and top officials to Jordan, where they discussed political and economic relations.
Petra said that Jordan was in the process of evaluating all FTAs that may not have resulted in the envisioned benefits to the national economy.
Turkey and the UAE last week clashed in a separate incident when a senior UAE official tweeted that Turkey’s policy toward the Arab states was not reasonable and advised it to respect their sovereignty.
“It is no secret that Arab-Turkish relations aren’t in their best state,” UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash tweeted.
“In order to return to balance, Ankara has to respect Arab sovereignty and deal with its neighbors with wisdom and rationality,” he said.
The two countries were drawn into a different quarrel in December over a retweet by the Emirati foreign minister that Erdogan called an insult.
Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, UAE minister of foreign affairs and international cooperation, shared a tweet at the time that accused Turkish troops of looting the holy city of Madinah a century ago, prompting Erdogan to lash out saying that the minister had been spoiled by oil money.
Turkey then renamed the street in Ankara where the UAE Embassy is located after the Ottoman military commander who Sheikh Abdullah had appeared to criticize.
Last year, Turkey exported goods and products worth $672 million to Jordan, mainly composed of textile and furniture; while Jordan mostly exports fertilizers to Turkey worth of $78 million. Turkey’s direct investments to the country stand at about $300 million.
Currently, Turkey has 24 FTAs with various countries, including Palestine, Egypt, the Palestinian Authority and Israel, while the FTA with Syria was suspended in 2011 due to the civil war. The FTA with Lebanon awaits the Lebanese parliament’s approval. The FTAs abolish customs duties between the contracting parties.
Ali Bakeer, an Ankara-based political analyst and researcher, believes that the Jordanian decision is purely economic and has nothing to do with any political issue; because it is suspended and not canceled.
But Esen Caglar, managing director of Policy Analytics Lab, a think tank and consultancy based in Ankara, said Jordan’s decision to suspend the FTA between the two countries was bad economic policy.
“Jordan is a small economy. It should be a small open economy if it wants to improve the welfare of its citizens and competitiveness of its producers,” Caglar told Arab News.
“The way of protecting its national economy is not by taking such measures, but by increasing competitiveness of its sectors. Jordan also needs to improve its investment environment and make it more predictable and cheaper to do business” he added.
Salameh Darawi, editor of the economic website Al Maqar, told Arab News that the trade deal was not providing the promised Turkish investment in Jordan. “The deal had two parts: One investment in IT and in mining industries, and the other free trade.”
While there is no disagreement that Turkey has not invested in Jordan, there are mixed opinions as to the benefits of the free trade deal. “While the trade balance is in favor of Turkey, it is not clear if subsidized Turkish goods have flooded the local market to the degree that it has hurt local products,” Darawi told Arab News.
Issam Murad, the head of the Amman Chamber of Commerce, however, responded in a statement by saying that “stopping free trade with Turkey will hurt the commercial and service sectors.” The statement further noted that “many investments, deals and agreements were made based on this agreement and all of these commercial entities who worked on the basis of an existence of a valid agreement will be hurt.”


Middle East Nations Eager To Match Iran’s Nuclear Technology, Capability

February 28, 2018

While the Netanyahus drink champagne and Trump tweets, the Russians changed the Mideast’s nuclear calculus – and this time, Israel has no feasible military option. But can Jerusalem really depend on the White House to avert a nuclear arms race?

.A 1956 nuclear test conducted by the United States at the Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands.
A 1956 nuclear test conducted by the United States at the Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands.Science History Images / Alamy Stock Photos

While our leaders in Jerusalem were giddily drinking champagne and Washington was proudly trumpeting tweets, the Middle East continued its march towards the nightmare scenario of a region with multiple nuclear actors.

This time, it’s not just about Iran, but about the rapid spread of civil nuclear programs all around us. The various programs reflect legitimate energy needs, but civil nuclear programs in the Middle East have a nasty tendency to morph into military ones, or at least the technological basis for this.

Saudi Arabia already consumes approximately 25% of its total oil production and unless it diversifies its sources of power – astonishingly –  it risks becoming a net importer of oil by the early 2030s. The Saudis thus recently issued tenders for the first two of 16 planned nuclear power reactors.

In addition to energy needs, the Saudi program is also motivated by fear of Iran, along with growing doubts regarding the reliability of the American security guarantee, and a consequent desire to ensure that the kingdom has the infrastructure in place for a military program.

The Saudis are also opposed to the U.S. demand that they forgo the right to enrich uranium, as a condition for the sale of American reactors. This condition is considered essential today to ensure that civil nuclear programs are not misused for military purpose and both Egypt and the UAE accepted it in deals with the U.S. in recent years.

The 2015 nuclear deal with Iran recognizes its right to continue uranium enrichment, albeit at lower levels, thus making it difficult for the U.S. to now demand that the Saudis forgo a similar capability. The U.S. is also concerned that if it insists on this demand the Saudis may turn to other manufacturers, including Russia and China, which impose less stringent conditions for the sale of reactors and ongoing inspection.

It is thus now considering a waiver for the Saudis, but this is likely to lead to similar demands by Egypt and the UAE and to a heightened Iranian threat perception. The result could be a collapse of the nuclear agreement and a regional nuclear arms race.

.Trump receiving the Order of Abdulaziz al-Saud medal from Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud at the Saudi Royal Court in Riyadh, May 20, 2017.

Trump receiving the Order of Abdulaziz al-Saud medal from Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud at the Saudi Royal Court in Riyadh, May 20, 2017.MANDEL NGAN/AFP

Russia is using nuclear deals and arms sales to resurrect its standing in the region. It recently concluded a nuclear cooperation agreement with Saudi Arabia and also signed its first arms deal with it, including advanced anti-aircraft systems, missiles and more.

In December 2017 Russia also signed a deal with Egypt to build and finance four power reactors by 2028, and to establish factories in Egypt to manufacture some of the necessary components. Some observers believe that there are more cost-effective means of producing energy in Egypt and therefore question the deal’s motivations.

Last year, Russia also began supplying advanced fighter aircraft and helicopters to Egypt and tentative agreement was even reached providing, for the first time since the Soviet eviction from Egypt in 1974, for Russian use of Egyptian airbases.

The Egyptian and Saudi slaps in America’s face resounded all the way to Washington.

In 2016 Russia signed a deal with Jordan for two nuclear power reactors, to be completed by 2025. A nuclear research reactor, of South Korean manufacture, became operational in Jordan in 2016.

Rex Tillerson speaks with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahayan of the UAE during the Gulf Cooperation Council leaders summit in Riyadh
Qatar crisis: UAE behind hack which prompted Gulf state boycott. Pictured: U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaks with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahayan of the UAE in Riyadh JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS

In the UAE, the first of four South Korean power reactors, to be built by 2020, will become operational this year. In 2017 Russia signed $2 billion in arms deals with the UAE, including advanced air-defense systems and missiles, and it is reportedly considering Sukhoi fighters. Turkey also purchased similar air-defense systems recently and Bahrain, Qatar and Morocco have expressed interest. The Russians have already deployed these systems in Syria.

Israel is being surrounded by civil nuclear programs on all sides. There is no immediate danger and it would take many years, possibly decades, to turn these programs into military ones, but the technological clock may have begun ticking. Moreover, these programs may undermine the relative regional stability gained by the Iran nuclear deal.

In weighing its policies towards these developments, Israel faces a difficult dilemma which does not exist in the case of Iran today, nor Syria, Iraq and Libya in the past.

The countries in question all maintain formal, or de facto peace with Israel, share a desire to contain Iran, are friends of the U.S. and enjoy at least some American commitment to their defense.

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a session during the Week of Russian Business, organized by the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (RSPP), in Moscow, Russia February 9, 2018
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a session during the Week of Russian Business, organized by the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (RSPP), in Moscow, Russia February 9, 2018REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

In reality, Israel does not have a military option against them, except in extreme circumstances, and thus Jerusalem is approaching the end of the “Begin Doctrine,” which held that it must act militarily, after exhausting other options, to eliminate nuclear threats.

On this issue, as is the case of the other primary challenges Israel faces today (the Palestinians, Iran, the “northern front”), Israel does not have an effective military option, at a price it is willing to pay, and is increasingly coming up against the limits of military force. The IDF can gain time for decision-makers, but the only true solution to these challenges may lie, if at all, in the diplomatic realm.

Israel should urge the U.S. to insist that the Saudis forgo uranium enrichment. Even at this turning point, when Israel hopes for a breakthrough with Riyadh, it should oppose a decision that may spark a regional nuclear arms race.

A possible compromise, however, that might preserve both Saudi interests and face, may be found in the recent proposal by the noted U.S. nonproliferation expert, Robert Einhorn, to craft a “practical compromise” – limiting the agreement to a period of 15 years. In the future, the U.S. can always demand an extension.

A further possibility would be to urge the administration to pursue a new international norm, among the six countries that manufacture reactors today, to make their sale contingent on the recipient’s willingness to forgo uranium enrichment and to purchase nuclear fuel from the manufacturer throughout the reactor’s lifetime.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with his bomb illustrating the red line for Iran's development of a nuclear bomb, at the UN in 2012.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with his “bomb” illustrating the red line for Iran’s development of a nuclear bomb, at the UN in 2012.AP

This will not be easily achieved, American competitors will fear the loss of a commercial advantage at a time when a number of deals are in play, but the principle is acceptable to all and a deal is worth the try.

In the longer run, these developments, along with already existing trends, will require that Israel devote considerable thought to its strategic policies. The danger of a Middle East with multiple nuclear players may require that Israel reconsider its policy of ambiguity, seek a defense treaty with the U.S., or even explore what is today still considered a totally fanciful option: regional arms control.

In the meantime, they’re still drinking champagne in Jerusalem.

Chuck Freilich, a former Israeli deputy national security advisor, is a senior fellow at Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. He is the author of “Israeli National Security: A New Strategy for an Era of Change” (Oxford University Press, 2018)


EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini Warns U.S. of “False Steps” on Middle East Peace — Europe, Arab League see ‘eye to eye’

February 27, 2018

 FEBRUARY 27, 2018 08:23

 Image result for Federica Mogherini, photos

European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini appeared to warn the US against putting forward its peace plan at this time, saying in Brussels on Monday that “given the region, any false step can be very dangerous.”

Speaking to reporters after a meeting in Brussels between the 28 EU foreign ministers and a delegation of Arab foreign ministers, Mogherini said both the EU and Arab League ministers “have dealt with the conflict long enough around our common table to know what can fly and what cannot fly, and we believe it is wise to consider what can fly and cannot fly in terms of peace plans before putting any plans on the table and avoiding any false steps.”

The Arab delegation – called the Delegation of the League of Arab States on Jerusalem, which was set up after US President Donald Trump’s decision in December to recognize the holy city as Israel’s capital – included the foreign ministers of Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, the United Arab Emirates and the Palestinian Authority. The delegation also included Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit.

Mogherini said the EU and the Arab countries “have a level of knowledge of the file, of the region” that “cannot be underestimated and has to be taken into consideration appropriately if we want to avoid false steps.”

The EU is adamantly opposed to Trump’s decision on Jerusalem, as is the Arab League.

“What brought us here, the ministers of the League of Arab states and the ministers of the European Union, is this concern we have about any false step on the Middle East peace process and on Jerusalem in particular,” Mogherini said.

Any false step, she said, could “strengthen radical positions, close the space for those who still want to live side by side in security and peace and could turn the conflict from a political conflict into a religious conflict, and then we will have a problem much bigger than the one we have today.”

The United States has been working on a peace plan for months. But since Trump’s declaration on Jerusalem in December, the Palestinians have been pushing for the EU to take a more active position in the peace process, claiming that the US is no longer an honest broker and is biased toward Israel’s positions.

Mogherini opened up her press conference by saying the EU and the Arab ministers are very much on the same page regarding the relaunch of the Middle East peace process.

“We have full convergence of purpose,” she said. “We have clearly seen that we see eye to eye between the European Union and its member states, and the League of Arab states and its member states, first and foremost on the need to preserve the horizon of two states as the only viable one, with Jerusalem as both the capital of the State of Israel and the State of Palestine and the need to preserve the status of the holy places.”

The ministers decided to coordinate their positions and actions, and there was a “commonality of perspectives,” Mogherini said.

The ministers also discussed the need to “use this moment to discuss the possibility to not only advance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but also on the Israeli-Arab conflict, that could create an interesting incentive, or environment, to move forward,” she said.

The EU and the Arab League shared “a lot of concerns about the situation on the ground,” specifically the US decision to move the embassy and the current state of financing to UNRWA, Mogherini said.

The EU foreign ministers’ meeting with the Arab delegation follows a meeting they had last month with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and one in December with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Netanyahu, meanwhile, told the Likud faction he will travel to the US on Saturday night for a meeting with Trump and personally thank him for his decision to open the US Embassy in Jerusalem in May to coincide with Israel’s 70th anniversary.

Israel is currently in contact with other countries to follow the US lead, Netanyahu said, adding that he is “convinced it is only a question of time” before other states “join the important move by the United States.”

Netanyahu said he also will discuss with Trump the need to make decisions now regarding the nuclear agreement with Iran, as well as how to prevent Iranian aggression in the region. This is important not only for Israel, but also for the US and the world, he said.



US senator Lindsey Graham says $6bn in aid for Jordan likely to rise

February 20, 2018

Sen. Lindsey Graham said senators dealing with foreign aid will talk to the International Monetary Fund ‘about taking some pressure off’ Jordan regarding economic austerity measures. (AP Photo)
AMMAN, Jordan: The chairman of a US Senate panel dealing with foreign aid says a recently signed agreement granting Jordan $1.275 billion a year through 2022 “is a floor” and that Congress is likely to authorize additional financial support for the kingdom.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, was among seven senators visiting Jordan, a key US security ally in the region.
Graham told reporters Tuesday that he hopes everyone in the US “understands how important it is for this kingdom to survive.”
He says the senators will talk to the International Monetary Fund “about taking some pressure off” Jordan regarding economic austerity measures.
Jordan has suffered an economic downturn and rising unemployment, raising fears of growing instability, in part because of fallout from conflicts in neighboring Syria and Iraq.

The Americans and President Trump have no policy on Syria and the Middle East — Israel is on its own

February 15, 2018



As the White House goes AWOL on the threat from Syria and Iran, Jewish Republicans’ attempt to justify their ‘Trump is Israel’s best friend’ mantra is just defensive and desperate nonsense

US President Donald Trump speaks during a National African American History Month reception in the White House. February 13, 2018.
US President Donald Trump speaks during a National African American History Month reception in the White House. February 13, 2018.MANDEL NGAN/AFP

I am sorry I missed the Republican Jewish Coalition’s National Leadership meeting in Los Vegas last week. From the reports I’ve read – it was a hoot.

A small group of wealthy Jews spent their time in shameless groveling and sycophancy, declaring their allegiance to a Donald Trump that they don’t trust and a Sheldon Adelson whose money they desperately need.

Their reported proclamations of loyalty to the President sounded strained, desperate, and defensive, as if they were trying to convince not only others but also themselves of the President’s commitment to Jewish interests and values.

The wreckage of an Israeli jet brought down by Syrian anti-aircraft defenses on fire near Harduf, northern Israel. Feb. 10, 2018

The wreckage of an Israeli jet brought down by Syrian anti-aircraft defenses on fire near Harduf, northern Israel. Feb. 10, 2018Yehunda Pinto/AP

And in a wonderfully ironic twist of fate, the RJC’s supposed clincher – that Donald Trump is the best president for Israel ever – was undermined if not utterly decimated by outside events that occurred at the very time that the meeting was taking place, on Israel’s northern border.

There aren’t all that many Jewish Republicans to begin with, and fewer than 25% of American Jews voted for Trump. Nonetheless, some Jews – and Orthodox Jews in particular – are attracted by the conservative social values of the Republican Party and its declarations of support for the State of Israel.

In addition, Jewish plutocrats – like plutocrats of every religious and ethnic stripe – are drawn to the tax-cutting, pro-business policies of the party. And there are also politically-engaged, conservative Jews who see the Republican Party as the carrier of classical liberalism. And they embrace it because of its professed commitment to fiscal prudence, free markets, global engagement, and moral decency.

Given the very modest numbers of Republican Jewish voters, the focus of the RJC has been on the wealthy businesspeople who can donate to Republican PACs and candidates and thereby multiply Jewish influence on Republican campaigns. Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino owner and rightwing supporter of Israel, is the senior statesman of the RJC and one of its major donors. Its chairman is Norman Coleman, former Senator, former lobbyist for Saudi Arabia, and former chair of the Congressional Leadership Fund Super PAC.

Much time at the meeting was spent lauding Adelson, even though he was unable to attend. With Democrats mobilizing energetically for the upcoming 2018 Congressional elections, RJC leaders are hoping that Adelson will contribute early and often to endangered Republican candidates, boosting the party and the RJC’s status.


U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson answers a journalist's question during a news conference in Kuwait City, Kuwait, Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Kuwait City, Feb. 13, 2018. Tillerson’s Mideast tour does not include a stop in Israel despite the current crisis and calls for him to do soJon Gambrell/AP

The big problem for the RJC, of course, is that Jews – even rich, Republican Jews – don’t much like Donald Trump.

The true conservatives among them are appalled by his fiscal profligacy, his extreme rhetoric, and his attacks on constitutional norms. They know that Jews thrive in stable, middle class societies.

But when the FBI, the Justice Department, and America’s free and independent press are continually subjected to threats and ridicule by the president of the United States, the stability upon which Jews depend for their well-being can no longer be assured.

As Glueck noted in her McClatchy article, Republican Jews of every sort were especially appalled by Trump’s waffling after the incident in Charlottesville. Six months later, the President’s “good people on both sides” comments continue to infuriate. Even the most virulent Obama and Hillary haters know that neither of these Democrats would ever utter such a sentiment. Nazis are Nazis, after all, and it is madness to say that “both sides” were to blame.

It is true that after Charlottesville, the RJC issued a mild rebuke of the President. It is also true that many prominent RJC supporters chose to show their distaste for Trump by not attending the meeting. And some, speaking off-the-record, pointed out that President Trump’s style is “not a good fit” for Jewish Republicans.

.U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi, in Amman, Jordan. Feb. 14, 2018.

Rex Tillerson with Jordanian FM Ayman Safadi, in Amman, Jordan. Feb. 14, 2018. Tillerson’s Mideast tour does not include a stop in Israel despite the current crisis and calls for him to do soRaad Adayleh/AP

Nonetheless, the RJC basically functions as a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Republican Party, and there was never any possibility that it would distance itself from Trump or chart an independent course. Like the Republicans in Congress, it has decided that despite the reservations of even its own well-off donors, no action by Trump will be too reckless, too imprudent, or too extreme to shake its ties to the Republican mother ship.  For the RJC, Trump is its destiny.

In the words of Norm Coleman, recalling perhaps the enthusiasm he once mustered for Saudi Arabia, Jewish Republicans are “thrilled”with the Trump administration after its first year.

And what is the major reason for their being “thrilled,” despite the President’s fanaticism, the endless missteps, the affronts to Jewish values, the deepening racial divide, and the indifference to the rights and safety of women? The answer: Israel. Coleman and virtually every other RJC leader and member explained their support for Trump by emphasizing the U.S.-Israel relationship.

This claim is not totally without foundation. President Trump repaired strained ties with Israel, appearing to warmly embrace the Jewish state. And he recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital – a step that I supported.

But the problem is that this was mostly a charm offensive and not a substantive one. And if proof were needed, it arrived right in the middle of the RJC meeting, when Syrian forces, allied with Iran, brought down an Israeli fighter jet over Syria, and Iran sent a drone into Israeli airspace.  Israel responded aggressively with strikes against Syrian targets until a phone call from Russia’s President Vladimir Putin forced Israel to end its attacks.

.U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry are seen during their news conference in Cairo, Egypt February 12, 2018.

Rex Tillerson and Egyptian FM Sameh Shoukry in Cairo, Egypt, Feb. 12, 2018. Tillerson’s Mideast tour does not include a stop in Israel despite the current crisis and calls for him to do so\ POOL/ REUTERS

And what are the lessons here? That Putin is calling the shots in Syria, filling the vacuum created by American withdrawal. That Putin sided with Assad and the Iranians against Israel, while Trump said nothing and did nothing.  That an American spokesperson did no more than offer the obvious statement that Israel has a right to protect herself. That Putin is likely to support an Iranian presence in Syria in the future while limiting Israel’s freedom of action there.

That, as Ronen Bergman pointed out in the New York Times, the Americans and President Trump have no policy on Syria and the Middle East, no idea of what they hope to accomplish, and no understanding of Israel’s strategic needs in the north.

And so my question for the RJC leadership is: How can you reasonably claim that President Trump is keeping Israel safe and defending her strategic interests?

As a Jewish liberal, I welcome debate with serious Jewish conservatives who care about Jewish tradition, worry about Israel’s security, are committed to integrity in private and public life, and think hard about America’s role in protecting Israel and maintaining a just international order.

My problem with the RJC is that it is not committed to any of these things.  What we saw in Los Vegas is that it is committed only to Donald Trump.

Eric H. Yoffie, a rabbi, writer and teacher in Westfield, New Jersey, is a former president of the Union for Reform Judaism. Twitter: @EricYoffie


Tillerson says Hezbollah ‘part of political process’ in Lebanon

February 14, 2018

US Foreign Secretary Rex Tillerson speaks during a joint press conference with Jordanian foreign minister in Amman on February 14, 2018. (AFP)
AMMAN: US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Wednesday conceded that Iran-backed Hezbollah is part of the “political process” in Lebanon, appearing to soften Washington’s tone ahead of a visit to the country.
“We support a free, democratic Lebanon free of influence of others, and we know that Lebanese Hezbollah is influenced by Iran. This is influence that we think is unhelpful in Lebanon’s long-term future,” Tillerson said at a press conference in Jordan.
“We also have to acknowledge the reality that they also are part of the political process in Lebanon.”
Hezbollah — the only faction to have retained its weapons after Lebanon’s civil war — is a member the Lebanese government of Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
Despite being branded a “terrorist” organization by the United States and targeted with economic sanctions, Hezbollah has risen to play a decisive role in regional conflicts including Syria.
The US Justice Department in January announced the creation of a special task force to investigate what it called “narcoterrorism” by the powerful movement.
The United States levied sanctions in early February against six individuals and seven business with alleged links to Hezbollah financier Adham Tabaja.
In the wake of the crisis Lebanon’s political players — including Hezbollah — agreed to stick to the country’s official policy of “disassociation” to stay out of regional conflicts.
Tillerson is due to meet Lebanon’s political leadership Thursday as part of a tour of the Middle East.


Will Netanyahu Scandal Impact Middle east Stability?

February 14, 2018
 FEBRUARY 14, 2018 18:54

Netanyahu outlasted many of his opponents, from Ahmadinejad in Iran to extremists like Nouri al-Maliki in Iraq.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks in Tel Aviv, Israel February 14, 2018

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks in Tel Aviv, Israel February 14, 2018. (photo credit: NIR ELIAS / REUTERS)

When news of the corruption scandal affecting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu began to be revealed on Wednesday evening, the Middle East was preparing for dinner. In Egypt and Kuwait, major papers reported the scandal on their home pages, but most of the region has remained relatively indifferent. One man from Gaza remarked that Netanyahu’s insistence on staying in office and “talking about conspiracies” reminded him of “some Arab rulers.

It is a testament to Netanyahu’s staying power – almost nine years in office – that he has become one of the stable landmarks of the region.

Those ossifying Arab dictators who were in power when he returned to the Prime Minister’s Office in 2009 – Hosni Mubarak, Muammar Gaddafi, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia and Ali Abdullah Saleh in Yemen – are gone. Two were brutally murdered. Such was the fate of Arab nationalism.

The region’s rising stars, such as Qatar’s Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani (aged 37) and Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman in Saudi Arabia (age 32), are young compared to Netanyahu, who is 68. Bashar Assad, who has been in power since 2000, and King Abdullah of Jordan, who assumed the throne in 1999, are both in their 50s. In short, Netanyahu is the elder statesman of the region.

MKs respond to police reccomendations that the AG indict Netanyahu on two accounts of bribery, Febraury 13, 2018. (Reuters)

The corruption scandal casts doubt on his ability to govern in the coming years. For regional actors such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, this presents a problem. Over the past several years there has been a growing sense that Israel and these two Gulf states see the region through a similar lens. They fear Iran and its tentacles. Along with Egypt and Jordan, the two neighboring countries Israel has official peace with, there is a kind of block against the instability that spread with the “Arab Spring” and the rise of Islamic State.

With ISIS mostly defeated in Iraq and Syria, and the US administration seeking to give wind to a post-ISIS Middle East, Israel has a role to play. Netanyahu sought to cast Israel in the role of the realistic state that forgoes idealistic notions of democracy spreading to the region in favor of hard-nosed policies against Iran and talking up fear of Islamist influence. Mr. Security. King Bibi. But corruption and bribery threaten those two pillars of identity.

For Israel’s foreign policy, which has been in Netanyahu’s hands since 2015 as he refuses to relinquish the ministerial portfolio to any rivals, the problems now add up. Iran is near the Golan, and several Shi’a militia leaders from Iraq have recently been in Lebanon. Hezbollah is beating its chest after the downing of an F-16 by Syrian air defense. The “axis of resistance” thinks it smells weakness in Jerusalem. Now all the fears that Netanyahu has played on, his redlines, his constant warnings, could be closer to coming true.

As the Iranian threat manifests itself, the man who was the foremost opponent of it, and someone that some in the region looked to for guidance on the issue, could be leaving power. Nonscientific surveys posted on Twitter show that many in the region fear Iranian influence and quietly applaud when Israel strikes back in Syria. Netanyahu is seen as the driver of that policy, even if under other leadership Israel would likely maintain the same posture.

Netanyahu outlasted many of his opponents, from Ahmadinejad in Iran to extremists like Nouri al-Maliki in Iraq. He also outlasted the Obama administration. When US President Donald Trump went to Riyadh to speak and called to drive out Hezbollah and Hamas, it was a speech Netanyahu could have made.

At the precise time that the region seems to be partly cast in his image, his power base in Jerusalem could be teetering. His fall from power would leave the Middle East wondering what comes next and whether Iran and its tentacles might exploit the political process in Israel.



U.S. to Increase Aid to Jordan, Despite Opposition to Jerusalem Move

February 14, 2018

Decision highlights importance the administration places on security cooperation with its Middle Eastern ally

The U.S. will commit at least $1.275 billion a year to boost Jordan’s security, despite the Middle Eastern country’s opposition to America recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II
The Wall Street Journal

AMMAN—The U.S. will commit at least $1.275 billion a year to boost Jordan’s security Wednesday, increasing its aid to a key ally in the tumultuous Middle East.

The agreement will boost the U.S.’s contribution by nearly $1.4 billion over five years and follows a threat by President Donald Trump to cut aid to countries—including Jordan—that opposed America’s move to declare Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The administration’s decision not to make good on its threat highlights the importance it places on security cooperation with Jordan.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will sign the memorandum of understanding in Amman on Wednesday, ahead of a meeting with Jordan’s King Abdullah.

Jordan remains a key partner to Washington in the fight against Islamic State. The Pentagon has relied on Jordan to stage military operations in the region and Jordan has been a hub to train Syrian fighters. The countries also have close intelligence ties.

Trump administration officials previewed Mr. Tillerson’s announcement earlier this week as part of the unveiling of the 2019 budget, which also proposes to slash State Department funding by 30%.

Hari Sastry, director of the Office of U.S. Foreign Assistance Resources, told reporters Monday that Mr. Tillerson would sign the agreement committing the U.S. to $1.275 billion annually in foreign assistance for five years.

In a speech before Israel’s legislature in January, Vice President Mike Pence said the U.S. embassy will be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem by the end of 2019, ahead of schedule.

The previous memorandum of understanding committed the U.S. to $1 billion annually in foreign assistance to Jordan. However, the U.S. has given more, such as in 2017 when it committed $1.3 billion in foreign assistance and $200 million in Pentagon funds to support Jordan’s military.

President Donald Trump and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley in December lashed out at countries who backed a resolution at the United Nations condemning Washington’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. That included Jordan and 127 other nations, many of them U.S. allies.

“Let them vote against us—we’ll save a lot. We don’t care,” Mr. Trump told reporters ahead of the vote.

In January, Ms. Haley held a party in New York for the 64 countries that didn’t vote against the U.S.

Write to Felicia Schwartz at




US set to boost aid to Jordan despite Trump threats of cuts


AMMAN, Jordan (AP) – Despite repeated threats to punish countries that don’t agree with U.S. policy in the Middle East, the Trump administration is set to boost aid to Jordan by more than $1 billion over the next five years.

President Donald Trump has vowed to cut aid to nations that oppose the U.S., yet rhetoric appears to have hit reality with Jordan, a critical American partner in the volatile Middle East that has opposed the administration’s Mideast approach.

Jordan voted in December to condemn the U.S. for recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and has criticized the U.S. for withholding millions in funding for Palestinian refugees, many of whom live in Jordan.

Nonetheless, U.S. officials say the administration has decided to give Jordan $1.275 billion annually until 2022. That’s $275 million more per year than the current level.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Jordan’s foreign minister will sign the aid agreement in Amman on Wednesday, according to officials, who were not authorized to preview the announcement and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The expected announcement appears to represent a victory of sorts for Tillerson and U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, both of whom have been lobbying the administration to continue such assistance on national security grounds. But Trump and his U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, have been pressing for aid cuts.

Jordan, a longtime partner of the U.S and one of only two Arab nations to have full diplomatic relations with Israel, is especially critical as an American ally, given its large Palestinian population along with the influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria.


King says Jordanians ‘let down’ by international community

February 14, 2018

Jordan’s King Abdullah II said: Jordanians have paid a high price for shouldering a heavy refugee burden and he wished ‘the world was more sympathetic to their plight.’ (AFP)
AMMAN, Jordan: Jordan’s King Abdullah II says that “life for Jordanians today is very, very tough” as a result of a large refugee influx and that he feels the international community has “let down our people.”
He spoke to Russia’s TASS news agency in comments published Tuesday, ahead of a trip to Russia.
Abdullah praised “the work that Russia and Jordan have done in southern Syria to bring stability” to the area bordering the kingdom and said it’s now time to push for a political solution to Syria’s seven-year-old civil war. The fighting has displaced millions of Syrians, including many who fled to Jordan.
The king says Jordanians have paid a high price for shouldering a heavy refugee burden and that he wished “the world was more sympathetic to their plight.”