Nuclear Semantics


Iran looks set to promise the West that it won’t produce nuclear weapons, but no outsider will be able to know whether it actually has any.

Read more at Begin-Sadat Center

More about: Iran, Israel, Nuclear Bomb, United States


Fewer Young Arabs Are Blaming Israel


In a recent survey of Arab youth, surprisingly few respondents ranked Israel as “the biggest obstacle facing the Middle East.” Evelyn Gordon believes this and other signs offer grounds for optimism:

This year, defying a long tradition of blaming all the Arab world’s problems on Israel, only 23 percent of respondents cited the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as the region’s main obstacle. . . . A comparison with previous surveys shows that this figure has been declining slowly but steadily for the past few years. . . .

The poll also highlights another encouraging fact: the issues young Arabs do see as their top concerns—Islamic State (IS), terrorism, and unemployment—are all issues on which cooperation with Israel could be beneficial, and in some cases, it’s already taking place. For instance, Israeli-Egyptian cooperation on counterterrorism is closer than it’s been in year—not only against Hamas, but also against Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, the IS branch in Sinai. Israel and Jordan cooperate closely on counterterrorism as well, and it’s a safe bet that quiet cooperation is also occurring with certain other Arab states that officially have no relations with Israel.

Egypt and Israel have also ramped up economic cooperation, even manning a joint booth at a major trade fair earlier this year.

Read more at Evelyn Gordon

More about: Arab anti-Semitism, Arab World, ISIS, Israel & Zionism, Israel diplomacy, Terrorism


A Strategic Retreat for Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home


Naftali Bennett, head of the Jewish Home Party, recently decided to withdraw his bid for either the defense or foreign ministry in Benjamin Netanyahu’s soon-to-be-formed government, and is instead asking for the post of education minister. The shift, writes Haviv Rettig Gur, signifies a strategic retreat for Bennett, who has worked to expand the appeal of his party beyond its traditional base:

Polling as high as sixteen seats just a couple of months ago, Jewish Home under Bennett seemed headed to unprecedented success, and Bennett talked explicitly about its eventually becoming Israel’s ruling party. Key to this surge, and to Bennett’s influence, was the dramatic change he tried to lead within the party itself, branching out of the narrow confines of the ideological West Bank settler community and the religious-Zionist fold. [In the event, however, the party ended up] with just eight seats in the new Knesset.

Like many sectoral Israeli parties, . . . Jewish Home is not just a political party. For its base, it serves as an expression and symbol of religious and communal identity. While its overarching ideology is anything but sectoral, seeking the “redemption” of the land, nation, and even the spiritual world of the Jews, it has succumbed to the same social segmentation that has come to define Israeli religious and political identity. Religious Zionists refer to themselves as a migzar, a “sector” or “camp” distinct from the mainstream, from secular Israelis, or from the ultra-Orthodox. . . .

Education was a traditional bastion of the religious-Zionist camp, a source of influence from which the idealistic “sector” could bring its religious and political program to larger audiences. . . . Bennett has spent the past two weeks speaking to his own camp to gauge the sentiments of his constituents. What he heard . . . was that it was time for religious Zionism’s ambitious, tech-savvy young leader to return to the party’s traditional priorities: the sacred tasks of education and settlement.

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Israel & Zionism, Israeli politics, Jewish Home, Naftali Bennett, Religious Zionism

A Film about Ḥasidim that Moves beyond Stereotypes


The movie Felix and Meira tells the story of a ḥasidic woman unhappy with her marriage and her community who toys with leaving the fold and pursues a dalliance with a Gentile. The movie, writes Shulem Deen, succeeds because, unlike other treatments of restless Ḥasidim, its characters are humans rather than archetypes:

Felix and Meira is the story of one ḥasidic woman, not ḥasidic womanhood; this is not a woman’s rebellion against religion, but the story of a wife and husband badly paired, who simply want different things out of life. [Her husband] Shulem wants the life he was born to live. A typical ḥasidic young man, he wants to study, pray, raise children, and maintain his good standing within the community. His wife wants more, but he does not understand her. . . .

Meira is not a one-dimensional figure with traits plotted along the dots of common ḥasidic female stereotypes. She’s given a voice and a psychological profile that is at once endearing and exasperating. Shulem, too, while possessing fewer distinguishing characteristics, is well cast; he comes across as balanced, having neither great passion nor great dullness. His equanimity may not stir in us great sympathy, but we cannot dislike him, either.

Read more at New Republic

More about: Arts & Culture, Canadian Jewry, Film, Hasidism, Heresy

Applying the Lessons of North Korea to Iran


Despite long-running diplomatic efforts by the U.S., North Korea has developed a sizable nuclear arsenal, allowing it to bully its neighbors and shake down the international community. Some, arguing that the failure to restrain North Korea’s nuclear program was due to U.S. intransigence, conclude that negotiations with Iran will succeed only if America is more generous this time. These analysts, write Sue Mi Terry and Max Boot, have it backwards:

It takes a willful denial of reality to claim . . . that the United States was at fault for the breakdown in U.S.-North Korean negotiations. A dispassionate reading of the evidence suggests that North Korea was never serious about giving up a nuclear program into which it had invested decades—not to mention billions of dollars—and that it saw as vital to regime protection and internal legitimacy. If North Korea has not developed as many nuclear weapons as U.S. intelligence agencies once feared, that is most likely a side effect of the regime’s dysfunction rather than any lack of desire to acquire more weapons.

The parallels with Iran are not comforting. If Iran is anything like North Korea, it will seek to gain the benefits of a deal—notably, the lifting of sanctions—without truly ending its nuclear program. Keeping Iran in check will require verification procedures more strict than those imposed on North Korea. But there was little sign of such procedures in the framework agreement [with Tehran] negotiated in Lausanne. In fact, shortly after the deal was announced, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, said that Iran would never accept unfettered inspection of its military facilities. And even if Iran does eventually accept stricter oversight, the United States will have to commit to holding the country to account instead of simply offering extra concessions in a futile bid to get it to live up to its original promises, as it did with North Korea. Only then will the lessons of the Agreed Framework truly have been learned.

Read more at Foreign Affairs

More about: Iran nuclear program, North Korea, Nuclear proliferation, Politics & Current Affairs, U.S. Foreign policy

Excavating Mount Zion


Archaeologists have discovered artifacts on Mount Zion—located near the Temple Mount in Jerusalem—stretching from the 8th century BCE to the period of Ottoman rule. Among other things, they have uncovered a housing complex they believe belonged to the family of the High Priest in the 1st century CE. It contains some familiar objects of Jewish life, including a ritual cup:

The cup . . . was found in four pieces within a fill layer containing 1st-century pottery fragments above a barrel-vaulted ceiling of a mikveh (ritual bath). . . . The inscription on the cup has not yet been completely and definitively translated, but study of the cup and the historical context of its finding suggest that it might have been a ritual-cleansing cup, used for the washing of hands before engaging in liturgical functions. [Excavation director Shimon] Gibson suggests [that] “the discovery of the cup in the area of the upper city of Jerusalem, in which priestly families are known to have resided . . . may hint at the original priestly function that this specific vessel had some 2,000 years ago.”

Read more at Popular Archaeology

More about: Ancient Israel, Archaeology, History & Ideas, Jerusalem, Second Temple