a different side of Israel

Tag: Ehud Olmert (page 2 of 7)

2008 Elections – Israel should follow American example – Debate the issues

Tomorrow, unless something truly extraordinary happens, the Knesset will vote to disperse itself, setting the scene for November 2008 elections in Israel. As we all know, the American public is scheduled to go to the polls in November 4th, but unlike their Mid-Eastern counterparts, they’ll be doing it willingly.

It’s been said time and time again in the Israeli media over the past couple of weeks that no one in the political arena is truly interested in initiating such a dramatic move, especially at such a critical point in time. Nevertheless, it seems we’re heading there anyway.

Israel doesn
This isn’t debating

I think I’ve probably said it before: Whoever wins the American elections in November will be a better president, just by going through the elections process, than he could be if he was elected today. The political arena is the perfect training ground for any national leader — but only when this arena features the issues and not the backstage transactions.

Having to undergo 26(!) televised debates, the Democratic candidates had sufficient opportunities to clearly describe to the public their stance on all the major issues. In fact, candidates who had started this campaign with vague platforms and relatively little public experience, had to become savants in economics, foreign policy, and health care — naming just a few of the issues — if they wanted to survive the process of primary elections and to present themselves as viable and serious candidates. They also had to literally “go to the people”, hold local gatherings, tour the country, get to know their constituents first-hand. The American voters have come to know these people rather well, being acquainted with their style of behavior, type of personality — and most importantly — knowing exactly where these candidates stand when it comes to the issues, and how well they understand what they’re talking about.

Additionally, required to clearly state their platform time and time again, these candidates also demonstrate whether they hold an honest agenda or whether they constantly change their positions according to the recent opinion polls. This is crucial information for constituents.

This entire process happens before an American president enters office! He has plenty of time and opportunities to make noticeable mistakes and to learn from them before these mistakes have the potential to cause national instability. Here in Israel, the same process tends to happen after a Prime Minister has been put in office by his party.

In short, what I’m trying to say it this:
The Israeli public deserves to have a series of televised debates where all presumptive PM candidates face each other and publicly answer questions.

Americans do hold political debates
This is debating

It is frighteningly amazing how a man such as Ehud Barak can be chosen to lead a major political party in Israel without actually saying anything clear about the issues! Or how both he and Ehud Olmert allow themselves to go public with peremptory announcements every now and then — and then to never go through with their own promises! What’s even more regrettable is the fact that no one expects them to be clear or consistent anymore!

This is absurd. And I’d like to see both the Israeli public and the Israeli media pushing forth the notion that Israeli politicians must follow the example of their American counterparts and publicly clarify their positions during face-to-face televised debates — before they enter office.

Desperate times bring about desperate spins

PM Ehud Olmert knows his time in office is coming to a close. He knows he doesn’t have a political backing to push forward any peace accord with the Palestinians. He knows he could end up in jail, or alternatively merely end up as the most-corrupted Israeli PM (to date) in tomorrow’s history books. This is a desperate period for Mr. Olmert, and he’s got nothing to lose.

DJ OlmertIn recent years, the Israeli media is steadily growing more and more cynical. Leading commentators (both on air and in print) have become accustomed to label practically any move by Israeli politicians as a “spin” — i.e., a statesman’s attempt to distract the public attention from his wrongdoings by generating an alternative “buzz”. As a result, the Israeli public now takes the regular use of “spinology” for granted. We’ve become indifferent, and many of us won’t bother to even cast our vote next time.

Yesterday it was published that Olmert’s delegates and Abu Alaa (the head of the Palestinian negotiation team) have begun to formulate a draft of the basic agreements made by both sides regarding the minor issues of the peace process. There is yet no discussion regarding the core issues, such as Jerusalem and the permanent borders. Nevertheless, many politicians, such as Avigdor Liberman, were quick to point out that this draft is meaningless, and wouldn’t gain the Knesset’s support. Most Israeli people clearly see this as a “spin” — But if so, why do the Palestinians play along… Abu Mazen certainly has his own reasons to spin the Palestinian public opinion.

If this wasn’t enough, Olmert made sure to issue a second spin: He offered Abu Mazen to send the IDF back into the Gaza Strip in order to conquer it again(!!) and remove the Hamas militants, who carried out a military coup against Abu Mazen’s Fatah movement exactly a year ago. Accepting such a move would obviously be a political suicide for Abu Mazen, and it has the potential of igniting an all-out civil war among the Palestinians. Olmert’s completely aware of this, of course, and still he suggested this outrageous offer — maybe as an attempt to court his right-wing opponents.

Nevertheless, Olmert wasn’t the first spin-doctor in modern history, nor will he be the last. For example, still another outrageous public statement made yesterday (that’s already three in one Shabbat) belongs to the Minister of Transportation, and former IDF Chief of Staff, Shaul Mofaz. He told the media that Israel will have no choice but to carry out a military strike on Iranian nuclear facilities. Besides this statement being strategically stupid and diplomatically harmful, it was issued as if Mofaz’s opinion is the official Israeli stance. Could it be that both Olmert and Mofaz play “who has the biggest balls”?

Are we too cynical? Do our political representatives genuinely only care about their own survival? I’d like to think we live in a true democracy and not in a Spinacray… but in the meantime, I might just turn off the news and watch the Euro Cup.

Picture by Galatz

Spunky News

Israeli people are known for their sauciness and their “spunk”. They have the boldness to strive for success and to invent breakthrough enterprises. A good example for this would be the large amout of Israeli entrepreneurs, especially in the high-tech domain. And an even better example would be the state of Israel itself! I mean, it took major spunk for the first Jewish immigrants to disobey the Turkish and British authorities in Palestine, and to claim their place in the world. Whenever they were told “No”, they did not waver, and came up with saucy ideas such as the “Tower and stockade” operations.

Yesterday we saw a good example of that spunk on TV. As a prelude to his second visit of Israel (which began today), gave George W. Bush an exclusive interview to Israel’s Channel 10 News, conducted by front anchormen Yaakov Eilon and Gil Tamari. They sat down for an open, apparently unscripted, conversation with the US President. He seemed amused by their questions and attitude, and they came across as naughty kids who enjoy pushing the envelope ever more.

Watch a short clip of the interview: Mr. Bush on the Olmert Allegations

You could see them inquiring the president about his vision for the middle east, asking for his opinion as regards to the corruption allegations againt Israeli PM Ehud Olmert, and greeting him on his daughter’s wedding. At one point, they began speculating about a possible Iran attack, and albeit Mr. Bush said he doesn’t like to talk hypothetically, they continued to press the issue. Later, they teased the president about his relative lack of involvement in the middle east, saying it took him 7 years to actually “get started”, and asking whether the next president should start earlier. Yes, it actually happened, and I must say that admired the president’s way of handling the cross-fire. He remained calm, even laughed a bit, and then gave straight and frank answers about what he think that could and couldn’t be achieved by the end of his candidacy.

Finally, these two cheeky anchormen directly appealed Mr. Bush to release Jonathan Pollard — the Israeli spy held prison in the States since 1987 — as a goodwill gesture in accordance with Israel’s 60th birthday. He simply said that his policy on the matter hasn’t changed, and even agreed to reveal that he continually receives such official requests from the Israeli government; a piece of information the Israeli public would find very satisfying.

Maybe it’s the freshness of Channel 10 attitude, or perhaps it’s the lax behavior of a president who’s about to leave office — in any case, this rare interview was a pleasure to watch.

From celebrations to allegations

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert denies allegations for allegedly accepting bribes worth millions of dollars from US businessman, Moshe (Morris) Talansky. On Thursday, at the end of Israel’s 60th Independence Day, Olmert addressed the Israeli public during his post gag order press conference:

“I was elected by you, citizens of Israel, to be the prime minister and I don’t intend to shirk this responsibility. At the same time, and even though the law does not require me to do this, I will resign from my job if the attorney general decides to issue an indictment against me” , said Olmert.

Prime Minister OlmertOlmert says he will resign if indicted. Dramatic as it may sound, it would be impossible for any prime minister to stay in office if investigation continues.

“I was not born to be prime minister, and I’m not going to stay here until the end of my life. I’m too young for that. Right now, I think it will be a mistake (to leave), and I have a job to accomplish, a vision to realize. This is the great vision of peace which I think is possible this time more than ever”, he said to the American press during the weekend.

Moshe (Morris) Talansky, a key witness in the investigation, is now in Israel.

We will have to wait and see what happens next.

One thing you can say for sure while celebrating 60 years of statehood –there has never been a dull moment!

Sources: Ynet , Haaretz ; Picture by PM Office

Olmert Under Investigation – Again

This is from the NYPost

A Long Island mogul is at the center of a sensational bribery scandal that could bring down embattled Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, The Post has learned.

Millionaire financier Morris Talansky – who runs an investment firm out of his tony home in Woodmere – allegedly passed money to Olmert while the politician was mayor of Jerusalem in the ’90s, sources said.

In a highly unusual move, Israeli authorities have barred the country’s media from publishing Talansky’s name – revealed now in The Post – saying it could hamper their investigation. Israeli media has referred only to the involvement of an “American businessman.”

Talansky is apparently set to sing to Israeli authorities about his alleged role in the scheme, sources said.
“It looks serious, and it looks like they have a state witness” in Talansky, one source said.

Talansky – a philanthropist and political contributor to everyone from Rudy Giuliani to Bill Clinton – is in Jerusalem, where he has an apartment, preparing to head to a closed-door court hearing as early as today, sources said.

The 75-year-old was earlier questioned about the alleged scheme almost immediately after arriving in the country for Passover, and he implicated Olmert, sources have said.

It was unclear what the alleged payments to Olmert were for, but sources said they involved hefty amounts of cash.

Talansky repeatedly appears – sometimes under the nickname “The Laundry Man” – in the logs of financial dealings kept by Olmert’s longtime aide, Shula Zakan, a source said.

Olmert was grilled by investigators Friday. He has vehemently denied any wrongdoing.

The allegations are only the latest in a string of woes for Olmert, who has battled past charges of government corruption and questionable personal business practices.

“But this time seems very serious, and it seems eventually, we don’t know if it will be days, weeks or months, in the end, he may not be able to continue to be prime minister,” one source said.

A man answering the phone at Talansky’s multimillion-dollar mansion in Woodmere yesterday said, “He’s not available.”

Talansky lists himself as CEO of the Global Resources Group, a self-described financial-investment firm.

Ehud Olmert 2008Ehud Olmert , the Israeli Prime Minister, is again suspected of corruption. On Friday, police investigators including the Head of the National Fraud Unit came knocking on Ehud Olmert’s door at his official residence in Jerusalem. Olmert was questioned on suspicion of receiving bribes from an American businessman a few years ago.

The prime minister answered all of the investigators’ questions on the subject, and will continue to cooperate with all legal authorities to the extent he is required to do so,” said the official statement from Olmert’s office.

Another official statement from the Prime Minister’s office said he “is convinced that with the discovery of the truth in the police investigation, the suspicions against him will dissipate.”

The Israeli Prime Minister might be facing serious allegations. Can Olmert politically survive this last high profile interrogation that connects him to severe corruption affair? In the last few years, Olmert has demonstrated fantastic survival skills in the political arena.

A senior source has told the media in response: “Olmert is in a grave situation, it is doubtful whether he will be able to continue to hold his position.” In the meantime, Ehud Olmert denies all allegations.

Israeli ministers certainly make police forces work hard these days. Israeli former finance minister , Avraham Hirchson, also faces criminal investigation , suspected of being involved in the embezzlement of 10 million dollars, partly from a charity fund.

The list does not end here unfortunately.
I guess many MKs will not be celebrating Israel’s Independence Day next week.

Hirshson Steals The Entire Cookie Jar

Avraham HirchsonI am getting the feeling that as we approach our 60th anniversary we are moving closer towards some sort of corruption climax. As an optimist I would like to think that we are cleaning house before the special birthday (this Wednesday night…). Today our Minister of Finance (Ex) was finally accused of theft – big time theft. In his capacity as Chairman of the Employees Organization he allegedly store 4 Million Shekel – 2.5 of which ended in his pocket. He is also charged with faking expenses and restaurants receipts for over 115,000 Shekels. Among the various charges (and there are a few) he is charged with money laundering, theft, embezzlement, forgery of corporate documents and breech of trust.

Since he is an Knesset Member (OY VEY !!!!) and he was caught not only with his hand in the cookie jar but with the entire cookie jar, he has the next 30 days to ask for immunity.

All this happened this morning while Shula Zaken, head of Olmert’s Office (EX again..) was interrogated for six hours as to her involvement in a corruption investigation that involves… guessed it – Olmert himself. So he was investigated last week and she was there today (not cooperating by the way……) and then Hirshson “stole” the headlines today.

Now last week, another oldie but goodie, member of Knesset Avigdor Liberman called a press conference where he complains about the horrible way he’s being treated by the Police and what a terrible witch hunt is being going through – over the last 12 years there has been an ongoing investigation. Police claims that he is not forthcoming and is not cooperating with the investigation.

Finally we have the “old news” that Shlomo Benizri of SHAS was sentenced to 18 months in the big house for accepting bribes. He was deputy Minister of Health, Minister of Health and Minister of Labour. Very impressive…. Anyway he was caught taking bribes, attempting to destry evidence and interfering with an investigation and lots of good stuff.

So you see – as we approach Wednesday’s celebrations we will hopefully have a little less crap in the Knesset 🙂

Claims Conference Disgraceful Exploitation of the Holocaust

Claims Conference DocumentaryToday we mark the Holocaust Memorial Day. Last year, the entire country was shaken after watching the documentary film The Morals of Restitution (Musar Hashilumin) . The film, created by the socially-conscious journalists Orly Vilnai Federbush and Guy Meroz, revealed the shameful economic conditions of so many of the holocaust survivors who live in Israel. More than 80,000 Shoah survivors live in atrocious poverty without some of the most basic means such as food and medicine. One survivor told the cameras shockingly that she had to go back to Germany, a place of her persecution, due to Israel’s lack of financial support. The film raised a pointing finger at the Jewish institutions including the Israeli banks, JNF (Jewish National Fund) and the Claims Conference, an organization established for the primary purpose of transferring restitution funds from Germany, for withholding payments of survivors who are literally dying in the meantime.

How could this happen in Israel, a state built by and for Jews? This is the question the audience of this documentary is left with. There was a point where things seemed as they were about to change. People protested and the Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made a speech emphasizing the importance of the Holocaust survivors for this country while promising to distribute special funds. It all turned out to be a mere media spectacle – survivors were given a one-time allowance of a few dozen NIS and were left forgotten again.

A year has passed since. In a sequel broadcast last night the journalists returned to further investigate how and whether things have changed. They didn’t. Many of the survivors passed away while others continue in their daily suffering. The sequel shows how the Claims Conference organization has turned into a corrupt money making machine accumulating fortunes for its own benefits and agenda.

In light of this, one must wonder how these people live with themselves. More importantly, how does our society allows this to happen? It is about time that we not only remember but wake up from our apathy and take action to protect these people from death in disgrace. The only positive thing emerging from this issue is the courage of the creators to speak out which highlights the true purpose of journalism.

Good news for reservists

Good news for IDF reservists! Last Wednesday, the Knesset passed the reservists’ act in a massive yes vote. This new bill outlines the rules of mandatory reserve duties, by large improving the conditions for the reserve soldier called for duty. In addition to cutting off the length and frequency of duty calls, the reservists will also enjoy tax breaks and other benefits. Congratulations to the Israeli parliament – finally a positive vote in the Knesset that does not concern MK’s salary raise.

Indeed, Wednesday was not a boring day at the Knesset. The Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert was called by the opposition to make a speech that explained the government’s policy regarding reserve soldiers.

“The opposition’s job in every part of the world is to be an alternative to the ruling party still, I grew up in this house and I have never witnessed such an amorphous and purposeless hearing, which has nothing but to harm the Knesset and its status”,

said Olmert in a speech that lasted embarrassingly about a minute.

Olmert’s government does not seem to say or do much these days. Considering Olmert’s usual self-expression, including his infamous nuclear slip of the tongue, silence might just be the wisest thing for him after all.

Political Rogue’s Gallery 2007-2008

Israeli politicians appear to be more and more under investigation for a variety of offenses these days. While some activities fall under what might be considered as misdemeanors, others are outright criminal; and should any of the perpetrators be tried and convicted, they could not only be out of politics forever but could face periods of time in prison too.

Corrupt Israeli PoliticansMany of the pictured individuals are either government cabinet or former cabinet officials, including Shas Party MK Shlomo Benizri, who may wind up following his former party boss Aryeh Deri, who spent 2 years in the slammer for a number of criminal activities, including bribery, and misappropriation of government funds for his own purposes. Benizri himself was recently convicted for charges dealing with corruption. Another prominent member, Kadima Party member and present chairman of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Tzahi Hanegbi, has been under indictment for a number of offenses, such as bribery, fraud, and breach of trust. Some of these charges go back to when Hanegbi was Justice Minister under the Natanyahu government.

Avigdor Lieberman, Israel Beitanu Party chairman and former cabinet minister in Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s government, has been under suspicion for years on a number of offenses, including some questionable business interests connected to a travel company that his daughter presently runs. Another (former) cabinet minister, Avraham Hirchson, served as Finance Minister until it was discovered that he was outright involved in taking government funds to help his son who had gotten himself in trouble over large gambling debts. Hirchson was a close crony to P.M. Olmert, who is said to be responsible for Hirchson receiving the said cabinet post. If convicted, Hirshson could face a lengthily prison term, as well as a substantial fine.

But perhaps the most noted member of this political “rogues gallery” is none other than Prime Minister Olmert himself. The Prime Minister, with the aid of his legal advisors and even Attorney General Meny Mazuz, has been able to steer his way through avirtual maize of “legal challenges” ranging from some property he purchased in Jerusalem using inside information, to violation of public trust concerning what is now being referred as the “Bank Leumi Affair”. Olmert has let off the hook by Mazuz in this incidence but many people outside his own political party are still talking about this affair which was often on the news in 2007. Olmert is also alleged to be involved in granting approved industry status to a company his law partner, Uri Messer, was involved with, saving the company more than $11 million in taxes.

One guy who got left out of this photo clip is former Likud and Kadima M.K. Omri Sharon, who was convicted of misuse of party funds when his father, Arik Shahon was running for election as Prime Minister in 2000/01. Omri was convicted and sentenced to 7 months in prison, which he began serving in February, 2008.

There are of course other political notables who have been involved recently in questionable activities; but the ones included here are some of the most prominent. All in all, the year 2007 was a very “interesting” year in so far as political hanky panky goes.

Olmert Denies Ceasefire Talks with Hamas

Israel’s political confusion has become even more pronounced with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert denying that his government is conducting ceasefire negotiations with Hamas. Speaking from Speaking during a meeting with visiting Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanik Olmert said that not only were negotiations not taking place, but that Israeli military forces are still involved in operations in and near Gaza.

Hamas spokesmen, for their part, also deny that such negotiations are taking place, although it appears that they have scaled down their Qassam and Grad rocket attacks on Sderot and Ashkelon. Defense Minister Ehud Barak also said that that there was no ceasefire talks going on, and that the IDF is continuing military operations in the area. The scaling down of Hamas rocket attacks has resulted in the IDF scaling down its operations as well, according to Barak. These new changes have been going on several days now, and this is in spite of Thursday night’s terror attack in Jerusalem.

Despite this, however, many right winged Knesset members, including Likud M.K. Yuval Steinitz (pictured), agree that Hamas appears to have come out on top, from a political viewpoint, in recent fighting with IDF troops, despite a large number of Hamas militants and civilians being killed. “The real meaning of this new lull is that Hamas has won out over Israel and that this new ceasefire is a Hamas victory” Steinitz said in an interview on Galei Tzhal, the IDF radio station. Steinitz went on to say that he sees that Israeli leaders are accepting a Palestinian State in Gaza that is allied with Syria and Iran, and that the Hamas organization is nothing more than an Iranian outpost.

All of these happenings are occurring in the aftermath of the IDF military operations in northern Gaza which ended with more than 100 Gazans killed against three Israeli soldiers and one civilian. Despite the large number of Palestinians killed or wounded, a Hamas spokesman described Israel’s pull out as ” a great victory for Hamas’ Five Day War” with Israel.

Although no formal cease fire has been reached, the situation on Israel’s border with Gaza is much quieter than it has been in days. But judging from previous “cease fires” or hudnas as they are called in Arabic, these lulls do not last for long before the cycle of violence begins all over again. No headway either has also been made concerning the release of captured IDF soldier Gilad Schalit, who has now been a captive for more than 630 days.

In other related news, it has been divulged that more than 150 Hams militants are now receiving special commando training in Iran. These are probably only a small number of the thousands of Hamas members and other Gazans who have not yet returned to Gaza following the breach made by Hamas men in the security fence between Gaza and Egypt. Iran is presently considered to be Israel’s number one security threat by Israeli intelligence officials, and their assistance to Hamas and Hezbollah is well known.

Condi Tries to Put Humpty Together Again

While U.S. Senator Hillary was reveling in her March 4th Democratic Party primary victories, another American public servant, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, was back in the Middle East trying to mend fences between Israel and the Palestinians following the recent escalation of violence that has left 4 Israelis (including 3 soldiers) and at least 90 Palestinians killed in missile attacks and military actions during the past few weeks.

Rice in IsraelRice met with both Palestinian Authorities in Ramallah and Israeli leaders in Jerusalem to try to deal with a situation that is beginning to look more like the character in the Humpty Dumpty nursery rhyme, rather than an optimistic solution to an ongoing problem in which there just doesn’t seem to be a solution – at least as long as both Israel and the USA refuse to deal with the Hamas organization in Gaza.

The problem concerning Hamas, and it’s leaders Khaled Mashal ( who sits is Damascus) and former P.A. prime minister Ismail Haniyeh, has gone from bad to worse ever since Hamas won out over Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah organization in a bloody civil uprising in early 2006. Hamas has been held responsible for firing most of the Qassam and other rockets at Israeli towns and villages; and now more recently at the 120,000 population city of Ashkelon., only 10 kilometers from Gaza’s northern border with Israel.

During Rice’s meeting with Israeli officials, even Rice had to admit that the prospects for peace do not look very good; and despite her boss’s (President George Bush) good intentions, it appears doubtful that a satisfactory solution will be reached before Bush leaves office in January, 2009. During Rice’s meeting with both Israeli P.M. Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Olmert told Rice that Israeli reprisals against the Palestinians, as well as harsh economic sanctions will cease immediately is the Palestinians cease their rocket and other types of attacks against Israel. It was also said that although agreements were made to resume talks between the factions, no peace agreement can be reached “even in 100 years” unless the Palestinians renounce their aims for “armed struggle” which can only interpreted as the eventual destruction of Israel.

Whatever agreements can be made will not hold water without Hamas’s involvement, and this doesn’t look at all likely – at least in our lifetimes that is. Gaza is in such a sorry state that it is now being said by foreign aid officials who have been working there that the situation of the people is “worse than it was at the time of Israel’s occupation of it in 1967”. More than 80% of the population are not able to survive without aid assistance of food and other basic necessities; and there is a complete breakdown of sewage disposal and fresh water infrastructures.

Condi appears to have left again with nothing more than a hollow promise for continuation of talks between Jerusalem and Ramallah. It looks like this mess is just one of the problems that will be awaiting the new U.S. president when he or she takes office next January 20th.

Olmert’s New Israel Diaspora Plan

Olmert New Diaspora PlanIsraeli Prime Minster Ehud Olmert has announced a new plan to bring Israeli and Diaspora Jewish communities closer together. The plan, announced at a special meeting held in the P.M.’s office last Wednesday, involved the establishment of a special tack force to devote itself to helping to bridge the present gap between Jewish communities in the Diaspora, especially in America, and Jews living in Israel. Recent findings that young Jews living abroad are becoming alienated from their Israeli brethren have become more evident in the decline of Jewish visitors to Israel, as well as the numbers of Jews who come to settle in the Jewish State.

“U.S. Jewry is in a crises due to a decrease in Jewish education and identity which is resulting in increased intermarriage and decreasing support for pro-Israel organizations. This is being especially felt in the decrease of donations on behalf of Israel” said an official in the Prime Ministers Office.

Indeed, young American Jews who are under increasing financial pressures, seem to be more concerned with their own well being now days. American Jews in particular do not like having their religion forced upon them like it is in Israel where national policy dictates nearly everything from education to national holidays. Some progress has been made concerning bringing young American Jews to visit Israel, including the very successful Birthright Program; and immigration programs like Nefesh b’Nefesh are not only bringing North Americans, but British and French Olim as well on assisted settlement programs. But in regards to the sheer numbers of American Jews who still have never even visited Israel, these programs has only scratched the surface of these Diaspora communities.

In order to make these plans work, the task force is planning to stage more joint cultural and education projects between the two communities including the establishment of an on-line “Jewish University” that will give Diaspora students academic credits in Jewish Studies at Israeli universities and other academic institutions. The creation of new Jewish organizations are also planned to go beyond the activities of current ones such as the World Jewish Congress and World Zionist Organization.

“Until now, the Jews in the Diaspora invested in Israel; now it’s time for us to “invest” in assisting Jewish Culture abroad” the official said.

Still Won’t Resign

Will Not ResignOne of America’s most popular daytime talk show hosts, Dr. Phil McGraw, coined a very popular saying: “you either get it or you don’t”. And Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert still apparently doesn’t seem to get it as the Winograd Commission’s final report considers him largely responsible for the outcome of the 2006 war in Lebanon. Speaking at the recent Herzelia Security Conference, which took place at the Daniel Hotel in Herzelia Petuach, the Prime Minister said that although lessons can be learned from the 34 day war:

” I am not sorry about the critical decisions I made as prime minister – neither those related to the fighting in Lebanon, nor those related to other events.”

There you have it. This guy just doesn’t seem to be bothered by the fact that many reserve soldiers, including officers, are calling for him to step down, and parents of slain solders are camping out in front of the Knesset holding signs saying for him to go home.

Olmert has managed to wheel and deal himself into staying in power for nearly two years, much longer than many expected him to. Continuing to gloss over his past deeds, Olmert said the following in respect to reports that people close to him have been criticizing his manner in handling the conflict, and its aftermath:

“I would like to add, from the bottom of my heart – I appreciate and respect the determination and courage, the sacrifice and willingness of our fighters, both regular and reserve, soldiers and officers alike, company commanders and regiment commanders. And if anyone posed as my ‘confidant’ and said otherwise, he is not my confidant”.

Speaking of confidants, it is a wonder that he still has any, even in his own political party. U.S. President Bush asked government officials here to support Olmert during Bush’s recent Israel visit. But as many have said after the President’s two and a half day visit to Israel and the West Bank part of the Palestinian Authority, that nothing really was accomplished by the visit; and no sooner had Bush left the country than Gaza Palestinians began to bombard Israel’s southern regions with their Kassam rockets.

American real estate tycoon Trump, who plans to build a mega skyscraper near the Diamond Exchange in Ramat Gan, said the following in regards to Bush’s visit”: “He (Bush) had some great photo sessions and some nice luncheons, but nothing else was really accomplished”.

Trying make himself look successful, Olmert also stated that not “any political party or personal consideration” will deflect him from making an agreement with the Palestinian Authority. O.K, if that’s the case, what is he really doing in regards to a so-called “agreement”, especially when a third of Gaza’s residents are pouring into Egypt to find food (and other stuff like Katyusha rockets, perhaps?). Just who the hell is the Palestinian Authority anyway?

Mr. Olmert, I’m afraid you really don’t get it!

Will Bush’s Visit Save Olmert Politically?

Bush In IsraelU.S. President George Bush’s first official visit to Israel is only days away, but many political analysts are already speculating on whether the President’s two day visit will result an any improvements in the current state of relations between Israel and the Palestinians. Coming virtually at the same time as the outcome of the New Hampshire presidential primary, Bush’s visit will probably not have an influence on the political chances of any of the Republican candidates, including present front runner Mike Huckabee, who won the Iowa Caucuses over other hopefuls Mitt Romney, John McCain, and Rudolf Giuliani.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is also hopeful that the President’s visit will result in some kind of break-though in the current situation which not only has resulted in Palestinian fired rockets reaching the city of Ashkelon, but new acts of terror by members of the Palestinian Fatah organization that Olmert is trying to win over in an alliance against the Hamas controlled Gaza strip.

Bush, shown with both Olmert and Abbas at the recent Annapolis Summit is himself more or less in a “lame duck” political situation in which members of his own political party are trying to distance themselves from his foreign and domestic policies, including those running for public office. In addition to meeting with Israeli government personalities, Bush will also meet with P.A. President Mahmud Abbas and members of his government in a specially arranged meeting in Jericho. Hamas leader and “former” P.A. Prime Minister Ismail Haneyah will not be on the President’s agenda, for obvious reasons.

One thing for sure, however, is that the Bush visit will send a strong message to Iran concerning the President’s feelings about that country’s nuclear program, despite the recent NIE report that the Islamic Republic abandoned it’s nuclear weapons development program in 2003. The President’s visit will help reassure both the IDF and the Israeli government that President Bush still believes that Iran continues to pursue its goal to become a nuclear power.

The big question concerning this topic will be what will happen when Bush leaves office in January, 2009.

Bush will probably try to persuade Olmert to make some kind of concessions with Abbas, including the dismantling of some outpost and “fringe” settlements as a prelude to more serious disengagements that are being planned in the coming months as part of the agreements between Olmert and Abbas at the Middle East Summit in Annapolis Maryland. The only problem from that conference was that most, if not all, of the agreements appeared to have come only from Mr. Olmert and not from Mr. Abbas.

Outside of causing a nerve wracking traffic tie up in much of central Jerusalem during the President’s visit, the prospects of any real breakthroughs being made is a bit doubtful and all that will probably transpire will be a lot of media publicized hand shaking and dinner speeches. Bush will at least see for himself what he has only seen previously in video clips such as parts of the “security wall” in Jerusalem as well as the usual diplomatic sites such as the Yad Vashem Holocaust exhibit and museum and the Kotel or Western Wall in the Old City. Aside from a short visit to Jericho, the remainder of Bush’s visit will be either within the King David Hotel or at the Knesset, where the President is most likely scheduled to address members of Israel’s parliament.

Olmert, who recently has expressed his wishes that former and now comatose P.M. Ariel Sharon was able to assist in solving the country’s political and security problems, will not gain much from Bush’s visit, especially with the chances of a U.S. Democratic Party Presidential administration more possible than ever. What many people in Israel are currently wishing is that a new Israeli government administration will soon be elected to replace the one so ineptly administered by Mr. Olmert and his Kadima Party cronies. That hope is at least as strong as many Americans have regarding replacing the current Republican Party led one in Washington, led by the guy who will disembarking from Air Force One at Ben Gurion Airport this coming Wednesday.

2007 Survivor Of The Year

OlmertFor those who have been watching Israel’s version of the successful American reality series, The Survivors, the vote has come in as to who is the most successful ‘survivor’ in Israel for the year 2007. And the winner is none other that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Just as those in the T.V. series have to survive the greatest tests of their endurance and tenacity, Mr. Olmert has certainly done this and has so far been able to out flank both his critics as well as the commissions appointed to investigate his alleged wrong doings.

For example, Olmert has managed to prevent the Winogard Commission, which has been set up to examine and conclude who was mainly responsible for the mistakes made during the 2006 war in Lebanon. Despite the evidence presented against him so far, Olmert has not only managed to prevent being voted out of office by the Knesset, his country’s parliament, he has even been able to get a majority of Knesset members on his side and prevent any parliamentary no confidence votes from bringing down the government.

Regarding his personal financial conduct, which was under investigation by both the country’s Attorney General Menny Mazuz, as well as the Israel Police, neither were able to put together a case strong enough to cause the prime minister any real harm. These investigations also included the well televised “Bank Leumi scandal” in which Olmert was suspected in taking bribes in favor of projects sponsored by the country’s largest bank. And just like some of the more unpopular members of The Survivors teams, he has not been voted out of the tribe – not yet anyway.

As the year 2007 draws to a close, the Prime Minister is becoming more and more involved with trying to make peace deals with people who are not really “partners”; and this is especially true of Palestinian leaders such as Mahmoud Abbas, as well as foreign heads of state such as Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. In fact, the more Mr. Olmert tries, the more he doesn’t seem to be successful. The only bright spot in his survival efforts appears to be his wife, Aliza, who is appearing more and more on T.V. recently, possibly in an effort to gloss over his inadequacies. Aliza seems have a lot going for her, and may be his ultimate salvation in the coming year, 2008. There is an old saying that wives often act as a counter balance to their husband’s idiosyncrasies, and the soft spoken Aliza, a social worker by profession who is also an avid amateur photographer, has been seen involved in a number of projects dealing with disadvantaged people, especially children.

Whether of not this will help save her husband’s political career is not certain at this time, and as we get into the New Year, events may be just too much for even a clever maneuveror like Mr. Olmert. His own Kadima Party members who still appear to have some loyalty towards him my eventually decide to save their own futures; and like the teams on The Survivors, may decide to vote against their leader and force him to leave their political “island”.

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