Archive | Historical Perspective

Teddy Roosevelt: Brazen commander, friend of Jews

Posted on 27 October 2016 by admin

If I had to choose my favorite president in America’s history, it would have to be, for  many reasons, Theodore Roosevelt.
Henry Pringle’s biography of Roosevelt was the first presidential life story I read as a child. I became endeared to Teddy when I read of his severe childhood asthma attacks and how his father carried him to their horse carriage. They rode late at night through the downtown New York streets in an attempt to force the cool night air into his lungs.
That scene reminded me of when I, also as a  child, gasping for air in my first frightening asthma attack, was picked up by my father. I was hurriedly carried to a doctor’s office to receive the life-saving relief of an  epinephrine (adrenaline) shot, something which did not exist in Roosevelt’s time.
Encouraged by his father, Roosevelt took on physical exercises and activities which helped increase his lung capacity and body strength, eventually overcoming what could have been a life-long health problem.
I  also hold Roosevelt in great esteem for his love of country and strong support for the development of a powerful modern  Navy.
As Assistant Secretary of the Navy in 1897, with deteriorating relations with Spain over the future of Cuba, he foresaw a looming war on the horizon.
While his boss, the Navy Secretary, was on an extended vacation, TR took advantage of his absence to brazenly assume the position of Acting Secretary of the Navy, ordering additional supplies, fuel and firepower to  be sent to America’s Pacific Fleet.
In addition, he managed to transfer one  of the Navy’s most successful leaders, Commodore George Dewey, from a desk  job in Washington, D.C. to Commander of   America’s Asiatic Fleet near the Spanish controlled Philippines.
By the time war broke out with Spain in 1898, Commodore Perry was in place with a fully supplied fleet, attacking and destroying every enemy ship in Manila Bay.
In later years as President, Roosevelt wanted to  demonstrate to imperialist nations that  the United States had a powerful navy, capable of protecting its shipping lanes  anywhere in the world.
With hulls painted white, 16 new battleships and their tenders left in December 1907, for a successful fourteen-month circumnavigation of the globe. The experience had a positive  impact on the future of fleet operations and ship design, and provided excellent  experience for all involved. It definitely  impressed the rest of the world and helped prepare our nation for the war ahead.
Because of the enthusiastic support which Roosevelt provided the U.S. Navy throughout his career, the Navy League of the United States, in 1922, designated today, Oct. 27 his birthday, as Navy Day. If you are lucky enough to know a Navy veteran, wish him or her a “Happy Navy Day.”
Finally, let us look at Roosevelt and the Jews. In 1903, he sent his personal protest along with a public petition to the czar, objecting to the Kishinev pogroms, but the Russian despot completely ignored it.
Roosevelt was the first president to appoint a Jew, Oscar Straus, to a cabinet post (U.S. Secretary of Commerce and Labor).
After World War I, as the popular ex-president, he spoke out in favor of Jews being given control of Palestine.
You do not have to be Jewish to think highly of Roosevelt. Every legitimate ‘Top Ten  Presidents’ list I  have found, and rightfully  so, includes the name, Theodore Roosevelt.

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Military sadly deficient in Jewish chaplains

Posted on 13 October 2016 by admin

The original title of this column was “Happy Birthday U.S. Navy!,” because it was Oct. 13, 1775, that the new American government allotted money for the construction of two warships, thereby establishing the beginnings of the American Navy.
Naturally, I checked out our Navy’s current strength, finding that we have the most modern high-tech ships afloat with China and Russia close behind.
But, in checking on manpower, I found that our Navy and all other of our military (Army, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard) are all deficient in one aspect, not enough Jewish chaplains to serve our active-duty Jewish military and their families.
Specific numbers are not easy to get from the U.S. Defense Department, but the Jewish Welfare Board offers these estimates:
Total number of active duty Jewish personnel in all five branches, 10,000. Adding spouses and dependents, 25,000.
Number of full time active duty Rabbi chaplains: Army: 12, Air Force: 7 Navy, Marines and Coast Guard: 11, a total of 30 Jewish chaplains.
Even with part time reserve and National Guard chaplains, it’s an impossible task for 30 chaplains to serve 10,000 service-members and their families all over the United States and overseas.
In order to attract more rabbis into the chaplaincy, restrictions are being lifted and regulations are changing. Beards for Jewish chaplains are now allowed, opening the door for Orthodox rabbis. Scholarships for rabbinic students are being offered. Cantors now have a pathway to become chaplains.
Sure, it’s easier and probably more lucrative to serve a congregation, as a chaplain, you serve your country and fellow man, impact the lives of non-Jews and Jews, each an honor and a mitzvah.
Perhaps someone reading this will share our military’s need with a potential rabbi. The Jewish Welfare Board and the Aleph Institute are helpful sources of information.

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‘National Sorry Day’ better describes Columbus’ legacy on Native Americans

‘National Sorry Day’ better describes Columbus’ legacy on Native Americans

Posted on 29 September 2016 by admin

With Yom Kippur right around the corner, and Columbus Day as well, all Americans, not just Jews, should face the reality of our nation’s shameful history of the near-decimation of the Native Americans.
Christopher Columbus has historically been given credit for the wrong things and it’s time we take a reality check.
Based on earlier voyages by other explorers, Columbus already knew that the earth was round before he set sail.
Columbus’ objective was to find gold and other precious metals and claim territory for his benefactors.
Vikings and others had discovered America before Columbus.

Photo: Jerry Kasten Protesters demonstrate in front of Dallas-based Chief Oil & Gas.

Photo: Jerry Kasten
Protesters demonstrate in front of Dallas-based Chief Oil & Gas.

When Columbus landed in the Bahamas, met by the friendly and docile Taino Indians, his first thoughts were of how easily they could be subdued and enslaved, which is what he quickly accomplished.
Columbus, his men and other Europeans who followed, brought with them diseases which they had immunities to, but which eventually decimated the native population.
So, if you want to give Columbus his proper due, credit him with introducing slavery into the New World and making use of superior European weaponry to conquer, subdue, and enslave a native population.
Given the fact that Native Americans were residents of the Americas long before Columbus and other Europeans arrived on the scene, we should also acknowledge the more than 300-year destructive history of the Indian civilization by Americans and the English colonists before them.
Instead of having open discussions leading to mutually agreed-upon treaties, colonists formed militias, armed with their advanced European weaponry, forcing Native Americans away from their traditional hunting, fishing and agricultural lands.
Most treaties were forced on tribal leaders and all 400 treaties have been violated in one form or another. Indians were given what was then considered the poorest-quality land in some of the most desolated areas. In later years, discoveries of gold, oil or other resources on those same lands resulted in extensive treaty violations, and in some cases, forcible removals of Native Americans.
Problems continue. Recently, the American Indian Movement of Central Texas demonstrated at an oil pipeline company’s corporate headquarters in Dallas. They protested the building of a pipeline in the Dakotas, close to the Missouri River, endangering their water supply if a break in the line were to ever occur.
A federal judge recently ruled that construction on the northern pipeline must be halted, a rare but satisfying victory for Native Americans.
What can you and I do to help? First, stop glorifying Columbus and recognize the true place in history of our earliest Americans.
Many Texans are unaware of the fact that Texas has joined 16 other states in refusing to recognize Columbus Day as a national holiday, which is a step in the right direction.
While some states have substituted Indigenous Americans Day for Columbus Day, another possibility is suggested by what the Australians did to apologize for wrongs done to their Aboriginal people, calling a day of forgiveness each year, National Sorry Day.

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Teen’s desire for service led him to Yellowstone

Posted on 15 September 2016 by admin

Some of the most recent newspaper, magazine and online stories publicizing the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service have centered on the theme of “hidden gems” or “hidden treasures” visitors can find in many of the parks.
In most cases, these attractions are not really “hidden” so much as they are away from the road, not visible through the window of a car, and generally requiring a short walk away from the roadway. One “hidden gem” visitors can actually drive to in Yellowstone is so close to a major thermal area, Norris Geyser Basin, that most visitors pass it by in their haste to reach the next “major attraction.”
Just a few yards in from the main roadway is a rebuilt log building with “a lot of history.”
In 1991, it was re-opened to the public, known as The Museum of the National Park Ranger, the only museum in the nation devoted entirely to telling the story of the National Park Ranger.
For two weeks each summer in 2009 and 2010, as a volunteer curator in that museum, I tried to help visitors understand the importance of those earlier cabins when they were used by horse-mounted Park Rangers and before them, the Army Cavalry soldiers who patrolled the park from 1886 to 1918.
After 20-plus miles on the trail, checking for illegal fires, poachers and violations of park rules by visitors, a patrol cabin was a welcome sight. The rule however, was, “If you didn’t make it to the cabin by nightfall, you bedded down out under the stars, the rain, or the snow, whatever!”
Fast-forward to the present, when I recently discovered in the Jewish War Veterans archives a brief reference to one of those U.S. Army Cavalry soldiers stationed at Yellowstone Park.
Of course, I knew that Jews have always served in the defense of this country, even during colonial times. However, I was surprised at the thought of a Jewish soldier on horse patrol in Yellowstone and researched further.
According to the JWV’s archives, David Abelow, a New York Jewish teenager, joined the U.S. Army Cavalry in Texas in 1907 “at the age of 15.”
I don’t know what the minimum age was without parental consent at that time, but it is noted that he was “large for his age” and had told the enlistment officer that he “left his birth certificate at home in Brooklyn.” In any case, the ruse worked and Abelow was sworn into service.
Serving in the U.S. Cavalry, first at Yellowstone Park from 1907 to 1910, he later spent an additional three years on duty in the Philippines.
I wish I had known about Trooper Abelow when I had Ranger Museum duty years ago. I’m sure the visitors would have been as intrigued as I was to hear about this (Jewish) teenager who couldn’t wait to become a man.

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Koreans, Jews have symmetrical histories

Koreans, Jews have symmetrical histories

Posted on 01 September 2016 by admin

Editor’s note: This is the second report of Jerry Kasten’s recent trip to Korea.
Since returning from the Korean War Veterans tour in July, Deanna and I have been inspired to search for Jewish connections.
We’ve discovered that South Koreans believe that their modern history is similar in many ways to the history of the Jews.
Koreans endured years of oppression and slavery under the Japanese occupation, beginning in 1910 and ending in 1945, after World War II. In addition, millions of innocent Korean civilians were killed during the Korean War, beginning with the Communist invasion from the North in 1950. Both Israel and South Korea had declared their independence from foreign control in 1948, resulting in war for both nations and a continuing uneasy state of affairs.Talmud2
South Korea rebuilt itself as did Israel after the War of Independence. Now both countries are thriving democracies in a hostile non-democratic area.
The South Koreans look to the Jews as models of advanced education and achievement. They too place importance on education, pressuring children to excel in school and compete for scholarships, university education, and quality jobs.
Jews are seen as successful in many diverse fields exemplified by Nobel Prize awards and Israel’s advances in agriculture, science, and technology.
Korean educators believe that the single greatest contribution to the Jewish people’s success is their study of Talmud. What started as a class offering in a South Korean private school in 2000 has grown in such acceptance that the Talmud has become a required part of South Korean children’s public school primary education, since 2011. Obviously, at that age level, it probably is a simplified version of Jewish wisdom.
Even Korean adults have started studying the Talmud to the extent that it is a best seller, available at book stores and in vending machines. It is so highly thought of that it has become a sign of intelligence to have a copy of the Talmud on the bookshelf in a Korean home.
As we concluded our stay in South Korea, we noted the loving attitude Korean youth show to the elderly. We had enjoyed a formal ceremony of children bowing to their parents and at the farewell banquet, little girls presenting the vets with flowers and hugging each one. Indeed, it seems studying Talmud may have contributed to the character of this progressive and grateful nation.

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Surveying Korea, 60 years after military service

Posted on 18 August 2016 by admin

Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part story.
Who would have thought that less than one hour after my wife and I arrived in South Korea last month, the question of “How many Jews live in Korea” would come up?
We were on a bus of newly arrived Korean War Era Veterans, guests of the South Korean government, to commemorate the 63rd Anniversary of the armistice ending the Korean War.
On the 45-minute drive to our hotel in Seoul, a young Korean tour-guide began to provide basic information about her country, but we were busy admiring the rich-green forested areas, lush rice paddies, wide modern highways, industrial plants, high-rise apartment buildings and tall skyscrapers, none of which existed when I was in Korea.
“We have two major religions,” the guide related, “Buddhist, around 20 percent, Christian, 30 percent (made up of Catholic and Protestant) and the rest, mostly young people, have no religion.” So, I assumed, “no Jews,” other than some U.S. soldiers stationed there.
My interest peaked and I decided to look into the Jewish presence in South Korea. Here are my findings:
There is a general belief that the first Jews in Korea, estimated to number 150,000 during the course of the Korean War (1950-1953), were among the 1,845,000 American and British forces who came to South Korea’s aid after North Korea’s invasion.
I had arrived after the war, serving as an army photographer (1955-1956). I learned years later that a young rabbi, Chaim Potok, had served as an army chaplain in Korea during the same time period; however, we had never met.
In addition to the U.S. military presence, which would normally include a number of Jewish soldiers, there are a small number of Jewish civilians who work and live among Seoul’s 10 million population.
Since 2008, a Chabad House near the U.S. military’s Yongsan base has worked with the chaplain to provide for the relatively small Jewish community of 100 to 200.
At present, the Seoul military base is in the process of closing, moving to a much larger base under construction 40 miles to the south, destined to become “America’s largest military complex in Asia.”
As a result, Seoul’s Chabad House will take on a more important role as it becomes the sole central focus of Jewish life, culture, and religion in this lovely, vibrant, modern city that rose from the ashes of the Korean War.

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Woodrow Wilson: paradox in prejudice

Posted on 04 August 2016 by admin

Early last year, students at Dallas’ John B. Hood Middle School voted by a 60 percent majority to drop their school name because of Gen. John Hood’s Confederate support of slavery during the Civil War.
Two thoughts came to mind as I read and followed that story in the Dallas paper. The first was my praise and applause for the school administration to provide a lesson in democracy by allowing the students to discuss and vote on the issue.
My second thought had to do with another Dallas school’s name, Woodrow Wilson High School, in the Lakewood area. “Would Wilson’s students also want a name change if they knew about his prejudicial administration?”
On the plus side of evaluating Wilson’s Presidency, he is commonly enumerated in most of the lists of “top 10 U.S. presidents,” and has been honored both nationally and internationally in numerous ways and places.
Additionally, Wilson, a former history professor and Princeton University president, was the author of many books.
With all the accolades President Wilson received and deserves, there is one condemnation he also richly deserves. He was a racist toward African-Americans and, once becoming president of the United States, he transformed the federal bureaucracy into a “whites only” system.
Although Wilson’s parents were from the north, they had moved south, and his earliest memories were of hearing the news in South Carolina of Lincoln’s election and the start of the war.
Wilson’s father, a pro-slavery minister, referred to blacks as “ignorant and inferior.” His son’s writings after the war followed the father’s prejudicial beliefs.
Wilson supported the Black Codes, restrictions imposed by southern states after the Civil War, to “help” the ex-slaves whom he claimed needed the help of their former masters. He argued that Reconstruction, not slavery, was the cause of racial problems.
While president of Princeton in 1921, he blocked admittance of black students, suggesting that they apply to the Seminary, which was not part of the main university.
Undoing integration
Wilson blocked black students’ admission to Princeton even though blacks had graduated from Dartmouth and Rutgers many years earlier. This was not an “Ivy League” restriction.
When Wilson’s administration arrived in Washington, they found that unlike the rest of Washington, D.C., the offices of government were integrated by previous administrations. But not for long.
Under Wilson, blacks were ousted and job applicants had to submit photos to ensure “proper choice” of employees. All of Washington, D.C. had reverted back to segregation. He also refused to support the movement for black civil rights.
With regard to another minority, Jews, Wilson’s attitude was positive and beneficent. He supported Jewish minorities in Eastern Europe and urged approval of the Balfour Declaration and the British Mandate over Palestine. The president’s appointment of Louis Brandeis to the Supreme Court also showed his friendliness to Jews.
For all the good he did for Jews and the nation, Woodrow Wilson deserves credit. For all the good he could have done for blacks, but chose not to, shouldn’t he get “discredit” as well?

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Hate sadly significant part of nation’s history

Posted on 21 July 2016 by admin

On July Fourth, we proudly celebrated our nation’s birthday, a day set aside to take pride in our country, rejoicing in the freedoms, rights and opportunities we all enjoy as American citizens, no matter who we are and what our station in life may be.
Right?
Not so. There are groups of Americans who historically have been mistreated in the past and some continue to suffer in various degrees as a result of a legacy of hate. Native Americans, 200 years after losing their ancestral lands to disease, violence and the European and American land grabs, still suffer extreme poverty, alcoholism, family violence and hate crimes living on mostly barren reservation land.
Relocation programs in the 1960s attracted many younger Native Americans from reservations and into urban centers for training, jobs, and health care. Approximately 50,000 Native Americans now live in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, generally working at lower-paying jobs.
While living conditions off the reservation may be an improvement, most live at or near the poverty level and still experience discrimination and violence. According to the FBI, Native Americans have the second highest rate of race-based hate crimes.
Except for the Native Americans, no group of United States citizens has suffered more than have black Americans, who began life in America as slaves.
Among racial groups, blacks experience the most hate crimes and are more than five times as likely to be victims of hate crimes than any other racial group.
The Anti-Defamation League reported 941 anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S. in 2015. While this is a slight increase over 2014, there has been a general decline since the high of 1,554 in 2006.
Disturbing, however, is the fact that the number of violent assaults against Jews reached 56, up from 36 in 2014, and 90 incidents of anti-Semitism were reported from 60 college campuses, compared to 47 on 43 campuses in 2014.
Hate crimes against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender have been on the rise leading up to the recent tragic massacre in Orlando, Florida.
While hate crime figures often differ slightly from one agency to another, the fact that many hate crimes go unreported shows that the actual number of hate crimes is larger than statistics indicate. Also, these stats do not include the foul hatred expressed by many on the Internet.
What can we do to help make things right? Let’s not be afraid to bring these issues up for discussion: in our homes, in our schools, in our synagogues and temples.
Most importantly, we as individuals must speak up and confront the ignorance when we hear it, the injustice when we see it, and the lies when we read them.
Each of us is part of the solution.

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At height of Cold War, a July 4 Yellowstone tour — with Soviets

Posted on 07 July 2016 by admin

The summer of 1963 was the third season I was working as a park ranger in Yellowstone National Park, stationed at West Thumb Geyser Basin, at the northwest corner of Lake Yellowstone.
I was one of several ranger-naturalists whose job it was to help educate visitors about Yellowstone and especially about this colorful area.
One early morning after breakfast, I joined my ranger partners at the entrance to the geyser basin walk, overlooking the oozing claylike formations, commonly known as the “paint pots.”
There were no visitors yet, but surprisingly the chief ranger’s car pulled up. He informed us that there would be a special escorted tour of Soviet students who would arrive at West Thumb the next morning, Wednesday, to begin a tour of the park’s geologic features.
We were shocked to hear “Soviets” because we were supposed to be in a “Cold War,” which included neither of our citizens being allowed to visit the others’ country.
It had been less than a year since the Cuban Missile Crisis, when we had been at the brink of war with the Soviet Union.
The chief ranger explained that the U.S. State Department had approved this tour before relations had deteriorated and “they wanted to show good faith.”
Luckily, I was off the next day and I would not have to be around to have to deal with the pressure of having to perform for the Soviets.
On Wednesday, I had left the park and returned too late to check up on how things had worked out with the Russian group.
Thursday morning, I was shocked, “oy vey,” to find a yellow school bus waiting. The chief ranger explained that the group was running a day late.
The “students” were not high school kids, as I had imagined, but were actually graduate geology students. Supposedly, no one spoke English so I was told to speak to their leader, who was their interpreter.
The bus took us all a short way to where the tour normally ended. By going backward, we were trying to avoid any regular tourists from joining us. We would start at Abyss Pool (the deepest one in the park) and would end at the Paint Pots, where the bus was to wait for a quick departure.
The tour proceeded and what I found annoying was the manner in which the leader-interpreter treated the students. He was curt and gruff with them, always trying to get them to stay close together.
I began to think that he might be afraid of someone defecting, as he urged his charges to board the bus. Luckily, there had been no incidents with the regular tourists we met coming from the opposite direction.
All the students with the exception of one fellow had boarded the bus. He was next to me taking yet another photo of the bubbling, colorful paint pots. The leader was at the bus door yelling at him in Russian, “to hurry up!”
This student, while “taking a photo,” turned slightly toward me whispering in perfect English, “I wish more of my people could see this.” … Then off he went with the others.
I was shocked at what I had just heard. As the bus pulled away, I glanced at my watch. I noticed the date before I saw the time….It was July 4 …. It felt so good to be an American that Independence Day.

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Another round of fruitless Israeli-Palestinian negotiations?

Posted on 30 June 2016 by admin

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Rome on June 26 to discuss ways to revive the all-but-dead Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts.

After discussing details of the rapprochement between Israel and Turkey, Netanyahu told Kerry that he prefers a current Egyptian-led effort to revive negotiations, rather than the international approach being pushed by France.
In the current political season in the U.S., in Europe and 24/7 in Israel, one of the favorite issues raised by candidates trying to flaunt their “international” credentials is the so-called “Middle East peace process.”
It’s really a no-brainer politically, because the general assumption is that most people in Western democracies prefer peace to war, and believe (completely erroneously!) that the Israeli-Palestinian problem is the root cause of all regional conflicts.
Those who don’t understand the dynamics, naively believe that a “two-state” resolution is the magic bullet that will instantly stop all the conflicts. If only “they” could sit down and negotiate in good faith then everything else will work out …
However, after five wars, years of terrorist attacks, months of failed negotiations, numerous broken promises, repeated land concessions by Israel and plenty of blame to go around, there are two schools of thought on how to bring that about.
First some definitions: The political terms “left” and “right” used here are the Israeli definitions, and refer to ideological and political views on the best way to assure Israel’s security and long-term survival: “Right” is more conservative (hawkish), while “Left” is more liberal (dovish).
In both cases I’m talking about normative Israelis and Americans, who support Israel and the Zionist dream and understand the need for an eventual resolution to the conflict, but have different opinions as to how to make it happen. Note: I’m not talking about the extreme, sometimes violent fringes of both camps.
On the “right” — mainly secular and religious conservatives who feel that Israel should maintain a tough, noncompromising negotiating posture leading to perpetual Israeli sovereignty over most of the areas of Judea and Samaria, while establishing a less-than-fully sovereign Palestinian nation-state that includes the Gaza Strip, is demilitarized and formally recognizes the Jewish State of Israel.
On the “left” — secular and traditional liberals who prefer compromise-driven negotiations that would essentially return most of the West Bank to the PLO with Israel maintaining permanent security control over the Jordan Valley and other small areas crucial to Israel’s ongoing and evolving security needs. Israel will also maintain most of the established Israeli communities (settlements) that are within the four “Consensus Blocs,” in exchange for agreed land swaps of equal area. Here, too, the ultimate goal is a demilitarized Palestinian nation-state that recognizes Israel as the historical and current sovereign Jewish homeland.
Israelis tend to vacillate between the camps, with most not fully committed to either. Many will lean one way or the other at any given time, based on either perceived threats, like war or terrorism, on the one hand … or real movement toward peace on the other.
The government of the day has a major influence on national leaning. But since the government is elected by the voters, we have an interesting chicken-or-egg question … or do we?
The fact that in recent elections Olmert, Sharon and Netanyahu were able to cobble together right-of-center coalitions has less to do with general sentiments among Israeli voters, who are basically centrist, and more to do with the fact that the traditional leftist parties keep breaking up and reinventing themselves with no coherent or unified platform or legacy leadership.
On the other hand, the Likud party, with few changes, has anchored the right wing of Israeli politics since 1973.
Today, Netanyahu heads a solid coalition of Likud and like-minded coalition partners. Any proposals that Secretary of State Kerry, and/or the Egyptians, will come up with this week will be negotiated from Israel’s “right-of-center” philosophy regarding security and boundaries.
That fact, combined with the current Palestinian leadership vacuum and ongoing rejectionist statements, make me feel pretty safe in predicting that this will just be another round of fruitless negotiations.
Agree or disagree — that’s my opinion.
Lt. Col. (IDF res) Gil Elan is president and CEO of the Southwest Jewish Congress, and a Middle East analyst. Email: gil@swjc.org
Upcoming briefings and SWJC events are listed at: www.swjc.org
DISCLAIMER: Opinions are the writer’s, and do not represent SWJC directors, officers or members.

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