Gershom Gorenberg

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Our movie’s antihero, an Israeli citizen, wakes at 6 a.m. to the buzz of an alarm clock and groggily slaps it off. By force of habit, he — or she, perhaps, in this remake — grabs a cellphone and checks the news. Headlines refer to elections and polls, to Yair Lapid and Benjamin Netanyahu. One is prime minister, the other the challenger. Which is which? Our antihero tries to remember. Is this the third or the fifth recent election in which they’ve faced off?

She, or he, scrolls down. More headlines: a warning to Iran from the prime minister (which one is he again?);…  Seguir leyendo »

An Israeli soldier stands guard during a demonstration by Palestinian and Israeli peace activists against settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank on July 27. (Jaafar Ashtiyeh/AFP via Getty Images)

When I read the headline about the Israeli Supreme Court’s latest decision on West Bank settlement, I was angry — at the court and at myself. The anger at the court was straightforward. A 4-3 majority allowed a settlement to stay on land privately owned by Palestinians, thereby giving judicial approval to theft.

As for being vexed with myself, I realized I had been holding onto a shard of hope that it was possible to fight the settlement enterprise, the core of the occupation, by bringing evidence and reasoning to the nation’s highest court. I’d been naive.

I learned this hope — I’ll say in my defense — from history, and from activists and commentators I respect.…  Seguir leyendo »

Oops, the Israeli government fell. It just slipped out of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s hands and broke apart.

For just over a year, an abnormal, unexpected normalcy pervaded Israeli politics. After last year’s election, a government was actually formed. It passed a budget. The prime minister did not constantly attack the media or try to control it. He was not under criminal investigation or indictment. He did not trumpet his relations with a Republican leader in the United States or fight publicly with the Democratic president.

This is the way things are supposed to work, and often did in the past.…  Seguir leyendo »

The reason intelligence agencies keep getting it wrong

Intelligence agencies have a poor record of crucial predictions lately, at least of those that have become public knowledge.

Until the last minute, the grimmest forecasts of U.S. intelligence agencies last summer said Afghanistan’s government could hold out against the Taliban for three to six months after American forces left. No one expected near-instant collapse.

Then, in mid-February this year, “U.S. officials” — in the usual anonymous style — expected Russia to take Kyiv in several days and all of Ukraine in about a week. Russia’s own strategy assumed no resistance, believing Ukrainians would greet the invaders with flowers as liberators.…  Seguir leyendo »

More than a week after Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett flew to Moscow in a bid to end Russia’s war against Ukraine, only this much can be known for sure: Bennett had some reason to believe that he had enough chance of success that waiting — even till that evening — might cost lives.

We know this because he flew on Saturday. Bennett is an Orthodox Jew, for whom the one justification for traveling on the Sabbath is possibly saving human life. With him as his interpreter was Kharkhiv-born Housing Minister Zeev Elkin, also Orthodox. I have many doubts about both men, but I’m certain they wouldn’t have flown on Shabbat without that hope.…  Seguir leyendo »

A man stands with an Israeli flag before another person, holding up a Palestinian flag, in East Jerusalem on Feb. 25. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty Images)

If all the plans for how Israelis and Palestinians can peacefully divide or share their homeland were printed and shelved, they could overflow the vast Library of Alexandria. And yet, the latest one deserves attention, and not just for what it states explicitly.

While the world is watching the war in Ukraine, it’s worth remembering those persistently working to make peace elsewhere. The Holy Land Confederation plan comes from Hiba Husseini, former legal adviser to Palestinian negotiators; Yossi Beilin, one of the Israeli architects of the Oslo process; and a team of other Palestinian and Israeli experts.

The key word in the title is “confederation.”…  Seguir leyendo »

Naftali Bennett, Israel's prime minister, speaks at the United Nations General Assembly via live stream on Sept. 27. (Michael Nagle/Bloomberg)

Naftali Bennett is boring. A hundred days and a bit more into his term, this is the Israeli prime minister’s most attractive quality — and also his most dangerous.

Watch his recent speech to the U.N. General Assembly, for as long as you can stay awake. He showed he can speak fluent American as well as Israel’s former guy, Benjamin Netanyahu. Attempting informality, Bennett tossed in the occasional Netanyahu-esque “my friends”. Like his predecessor, he devoted a large chunk of his time to Iran. He did not, however, hold up visual aids such as a cartoon of a bomb.

Bennett’s delivery was plodding.…  Seguir leyendo »

Workers unload a batch of 700,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine sent by Israel, part of a vaccine swap between the two countries with Seoul to return the same number in coming months, at Incheon International Airport on July 7. (-/AFP/Getty Images)

The photo showed a chartered Israeli airplane on a South Korean runway and the freight it had just brought from the far end of Asia: crates containing 700,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine against coronavirus. South Korea, facing a new surge of cases, needed more vaccines quickly. It will pay Israel back with the same number of doses, which it’s due to receive from Pfizer in the fall. Israel expects to need more by then — possibly to give third shots as boosters.

Think of this as a no interest loan, denominated in small, lifesaving vials. The cooperation in fighting the pandemic is reason to celebrate.…  Seguir leyendo »

This picture taken from Sderot in southern Israel, shows rockets fired from Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system, on Thursday. (Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images)

We could go on forever this way, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his cheering squad wanted us to think. The intifada was long past. We were secure.

We were supposed to believe Gaza could suffer quietly under blockade. The conflict, if not over, was under control. We would make peace with far-off oil kingdoms, without giving anything up or seeing the people living next to us.

The police could crush protests angrily, as if protesting were primarily a rude insult to the police themselves. They could neglect the daily violence of despair in Arab towns in Israel, and yet turn violent at protests against their neglect.…  Seguir leyendo »

A man walks past an election campaign billboard of the Blue and White party, the opposition party led by Benny Gantz, shown at right, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, of the Likud party, in Tel Aviv on March 11. (Oded Balilty/AP)

Two pivotal events are scheduled to take place in Jerusalem next Monday. At the Jerusalem District Court, prosecutors will at last begin presenting evidence in the corruption trial of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Meanwhile, across town, President Reuven Rivlin will start meeting representatives of Israel’s political parties to hear who they want to lead Israel’s next coalition and government — Netanyahu or one of his challengers — in the wake of last week’s general election.

That the two events are happening at the same time is an accident, but one laden with meaning. It sharpens the question of whether the era of Netanyahu is finally over.…  Seguir leyendo »

U.S. soldiers keep to the sides of a Tunisian road and walk in open formation as they approach the active front on April 17, 1943. (AP/Eliot Elisofon/Life Magazine)

The roundup of the Jews of Barce, Derna and other towns in eastern Libya began in the spring of 1942. The order came directly from Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. Colonial authorities packed the Jews on trucks for a five-day journey across the desert to the Giado concentration camp. There, inmates received rations of 100 grams of bread a day and were subjected to forced labor. A plan to liquidate the camp by mass execution wasn’t carried out, but by the time the British army liberated Giado in January 1943, a fifth of the 2,600 prisoners had died of disease or hunger.…  Seguir leyendo »

Israelis protest parliament's plans to ban them from demonstrating during the nationwide covid-19 lockdown in Tel Aviv on Tuesday. (Oded Balilty/AP)

The new Jewish year has gotten off to a savagely grim start in Israel. On the eve of the Rosh Hashanah holiday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government imposed the country’s second lockdown since the start of the covid-19 pandemic. Last week, the government again tightened restrictions. Citizens may travel no farther than a kilometer from their homes. Much of the economy will shut. The government even ordered synagogues closed, though it allowed indoor prayers under special rules on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year, which fell on Monday.

Superficially, this makes sense. Israel is indeed facing total breakdown in dealing with the pandemic.…  Seguir leyendo »

Israeli police use a water cannon to disperse people during a protest against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu In Jerusalem on July 18. (Oded Balilty/AP)

At twilight, Paris Square in central Jerusalem was already packed late last week with more protesters than at the four previous demonstrations that had taken place there in little more than a week against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. A long banner hung on the side of a building, bearing a single Hebrew word that means, “We’ve woken up” — describing the protests, or possibly an entire generation of Israelis.

Hundreds of people sat meditating in lotus position, as if to announce, “This is a peaceful protest”. Their ability to focus was astounding. The square, and the avenue leading toward the prime minister’s residence on Balfour Street, was awash in a tsunami of noise.…  Seguir leyendo »

I had to take a long walk. I needed to get away from the headlines, especially the ones about the impending Israeli annexation of part of the West Bank.

For days, I had compulsively clicked every update about David Friedman, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his main coalition partner, Benny Gantz, to get them to agree on annexation. I read the leaked forecasts from Israeli generals that annexation could spark conflict in Gaza, the warnings from King Abdullah II of Jordan that it could destabilize the whole region, the precise argument from analyst Dahlia Scheindlin that annexation cracks the global order that prevents wars.…  Seguir leyendo »

A placard with a picture of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his rival-turned-partner Benny Gantz at a demonstration in Tel Aviv on May 2. (Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images)

On paper, the score was 11-0. In a rush decision, delivered near midnight on May 6, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the Knesset could name Benjamin Netanyahu to form the next government and stay on as prime minister — even though he has been indicted on fraud and bribe-taking charges in that office.

The real score, peaking out between the lines of the ruling, appears to be simpler: Netanyahu's belligerent populism 1; rule of law, 0. The meaning of the decision is that, having procured a parliamentary majority by whatever means necessary, Netanyahu can ride roughshod over constraints on the majority's power.…  Seguir leyendo »

“Are we a vassal state of yours? Are we a banana republic?” Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin whipped U.S. Ambassador Samuel W. Lewis with rhetorical questions. It was December 1981. The Israeli leader was furious about a series of punitive measures against Israel by President Ronald Reagan, the latest in response to Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights. Even more, Begin was incensed by what he perceived as Reagan’s attitude that Israel had to follow instructions from Washington. The prime minister called in the ambassador and read out a prepared statement. “We have enough strength”, Begin declared, “to defend our independence and to defend our rights”.…  Seguir leyendo »

Israeli soldiers guarding the Israel-Gaza border on Tuesday. (Ariel Schalit/AP)

Here are the two takes from the Israeli military on the Gaza border clashes on Monday, during which soldiers killed at least 60 Palestinians: “We won.” And, “Well, not so much.”

“We won” is my abbreviation of the banner headline in the daily Yediot Ahronot. As the paper’s military commentator explained, the army kept demonstrators from crossing the border and entering Israeli communities, and no Israelis were hurt. If you measure victory by whether you held your territory, and by the relative body count, that’s a win.

“Not so much” is the very short version of what an Israel Defense Forces spokesman reportedly said during a briefing organized by the Jewish Federations of North America on Tuesday.…  Seguir leyendo »

Rally organizer Yoaz Hendel, center, is shown during a protest against government corruption in Jerusalem on Dec. 23. (Abir Sultan/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock

It was a strange protest rally, ambivalent in message, ambiguous in the numbers it drew. A thousand people, by the most generous estimates, showed up Saturday night at Zion Square in central Jerusalem, a traditional venue for right-wing demonstrations. It was more than a handful, less than a movement.

The main organizer, a former adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, insisted it was a rally “for” — not “against” — clean government, for the rule of law. Never mind that the reason for protesting was the corruption allegations against Netanyahu, his attacks on the police and his attempts to change laws to save himself.…  Seguir leyendo »

“Clearly, there’s a war here, sometimes even worse than the one in Samaria,” the yeshiva student said. “It’s not a war with guns. It’s a war of light against darkness.”

We were sitting in the mixed Jewish-Arab town of Acre in Israel. The war he described was another front in the struggle he knew from growing up in a settlement in the northern West Bank, or Samaria: the daily contest between Jews and Palestinians for control of the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.

The explicit reason that his yeshiva had been established in Acre was to serve as a bridgehead in that struggle, just as West Bank settlements are built to bolster the Jewish hold on land there.…  Seguir leyendo »

It has become a fixed feature in the Israeli media, almost like the weather forecast. Nearly every day come reports that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's government is on the verge of a deal with President Obama to avoid a full freeze on construction in West Bank settlements. The sources are normally Israeli government officials, with an occasional American source speaking very far off the record.

What changes from one rumor to the next is the reason that the Obama administration has purportedly decided to let the concrete mixers keep churning: One day it's that Netanyahu has explained that he can't legally stop construction underway.…  Seguir leyendo »