Archive for September, 2020

THE ABRAHAM ACCORDS

Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain just signed the “Abraham Accords” establishing full diplomatic recognition between the Jewish State and two Persian Gulf nations. President Trump can wear this particular feather in his cap. But as with all agreements, questions arise.

Establishing embassies, exchanging ambassadors and doing business deals are good. Yet Israel, the UAE and Bahrain have participated in under-the-table relationships for years, pre-dating the Trump administration. And this is not a peace agreement. Israel and the two Gulf states never fought a war. Still, the Abraham Agreements hopefully will eliminate any financial support from the UAE and Bahrain—or its citizens—for terrorism waged against Israel and the West.

Watching the event, a few other thoughts came to mind. For one, President Trump mentioned “a common enemy.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called out Iran by name. I noted that Bibi stood to Trump’s immediate right, the position of honor.

Trump mentioned other Arab nations soon coming on board. Speculation includes Oman, Kuwait, Morocco and Sudan. As to Saudi Arabia, its aged King Salman insists on a Palestinian state being part of an agreement. (More in a moment.) But his reign will soon end. Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman may appease his father now but likely will enter the accords when he becomes king.

Note that these potential signees to agreements with Israel are Sunni Muslim nations like the UAE and Bahrain, although Bahrain has a minority Sunni royal class and a Shiite majority. These countries have lined up against Shiite Iran in a battle—cold and hot—for Gulf dominance. Iran also remains hostile to Israel. An Israeli-Sunni collaboration—again, going on sub rosa for years—will put increasing pressure on Tehran.

Unfortunately, it may not end the threat of regional war and perhaps lead to one.

Iran’s response remains to be seen but may have been foreshadowed during the ceremony when a lone rocket was fired from Gaza towards Ashdod, Israel. What next? Harsher Iranian harassment of Gulf shipping? Fast-boat attacks on U.S. naval vessels? Iranian proxies—Hezbollah and Hamas—staging terrorist attacks on Israel? The UAE and Bahrain? The West?

Meanwhile, the Palestinians, who’ve passed on several chances to achieve independence, seem the losers. Neither Trump nor Netanyahu mentioned them, although UAE minister of foreign affairs Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Abdulatif bin Rashid Al Zayani, Bahrain’s foreign minister, called for a two-state solution. Sheikh Abdullah hailed a Palestinian state as the foundation of regional peace. That’s unlikely while Trump and Netanyahu remain in office. And they signed the agreements.

So what will the Palestinians do now? And how will Jordan’s huge and restive Palestinian population respond?

A last interesting tidbit. Sheikh Abdullah stressed the UAE’s scientific achievements—a Martian probe and an astronaut sent to the International Space Station. The Sheikh promotes science and its advancement through ties with Israel. His White House host scorns science.

On the whole, Israelis will sense a touch more peace in their lives even as the country struggles with the COVID pandemic and a new national lockdown. All three nations will engage in healthy commercial and cultural opportunities.

Here at home, we should welcome the Abraham Accords. Perhaps they’ll stimulate a culturally and politically divided U.S. to develop our own American Accords.

For all of you celebrating Rosh Hashanah—the Jewish New Year (5781) tonight—Shana Tovah. May this be a good year—certainly better than last. And to everyone: health and peace!

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CHOSHEK

This past Wednesday, Northern California experienced something resembling the ninth plague with which God struck the Egyptians when Pharaoh refused to free the Israelites. Choshek—darkness—enveloped us. It also issued major warnings.

Exodus 10:22-23 relates, “Moses held out his arm toward the sky and thick darkness descended upon all the land of Egypt for three days. People could not see one another . . .” The Israelites were spared. Two days ago, no one was.

Daytime darkness resulted from thick fog covered by heavy smoke from fires raging throughout California and the West. An orange sky—welcome to Mars—cast little physical light. But choshek might illuminate our thinking.

Two issues come to mind.

First, Western fires have grown harder to fight because the region has grown much dryer and hotter. Blindness to climate change won’t cut it. We need more awareness and action from Washington, which has the big bucks. We also need better forest management by federal and state officials. Prescribed burns and, in some cases, letting forests burn after lightning strikes or human malevolence/stupidity can eliminate fuel that would ignite bigger conflagrations in the future.

Further, the cost to taxpayers and stress on firefighters working under brutal conditions continually increase as Cal Fire seeks to protect communities in remote high-risk areas. I don’t blame the victims for loving beautiful, serene forests. But public support may no longer be sustainable for people who live isolated in those forests and won’t or can’t (re)build homes according to fire-resistant standards. Their insurance premiums are likely to skyrocket—if policies are available.

Building smart isn’t cheap. Not everyone has the assets. But it’s doable. Case in point:

My friend Dan recently built a luxury house in Lake County. An outstanding builder-developer, he situated the house away from others. He specified concrete/stucco walls, a metal roof and fire-resistant windows. The floors are concrete-slab with a stone-tile finish—not wood. The house includes other safety details plus a major water supply and fire hydrant on site. This reflects Dan’s sense of personal responsibility.

Second, the nation is experiencing a darkness of the soul, which many Americans refuse to acknowledge. Wednesday morning, a peek into Bob Woodward’s new book Rage (out September 15) documented Donald Trump’s refusal to tell the American people that in early February, he knew the coronavirus was far deadlier than the flu and presented a major public health problem. Trump didn’t want to cause “panic.” Interviewed after the book’s revelations,  he defended his position.

Really? Would you fail to tell Americans a hurricane was coming?

Had Trump been forthright, Americans could have begun isolating and wearing masks far earlier than mid-March. Many who believed Trump’s public assertions about COVID-19 being a hoax and a Democratic plot might have complied. Tens of thousands of lives—a hundred thousand? More?—might have been saved.

The Jewish New Year (5781)—Rosh Hashanah—begins in one week. Hopefully, the choshek we’ve just experienced will prompt Jews everywhere to further search our souls regarding personal and communal responsibilities and opportunities—and all Americans to consider fact and truth to be our friends, not enemies.

May we find a way to see or—light—by foregoing falsehoods and conspiracy theories, and listening to and respecting each other.

May the memories of the innocent killed on September 11, 2001, including all the first responders and courageous civilians who struggled to save them and others—and those who succumbed later be for a blessing. May the survivors heal. And may we learn.

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“THE BIG BLUE BOX HEIST”

I was in the office playing solitaire—real cards—and checking email when the beautiful babe showed up. Big eyes. Long dark hair. Legs up to there. I glanced at the lucky guy with her. “What kind of dog is Gorgeous?”

“Mixed,” he said. “Great genes.” I nodded at the lucky bastard. “And you are—?” I asked. “Citizen,” he answered. “John Q. Citizen.” I trashed an email from my bookie. “What brings you here, John Q.?”

“They say Sam Spadinsky is the best private eye in town. And aren’t you—” I grinned. “Sam Spade was my grandfather. Married late—but right. Grandma Ida made killer matzah balls.” He stared. “Name got changed after my great-grandfather Moishe Spadinsky went through Ellis Island.”

“As to my problem, this could take some time,” John Q. said. “No rush,” I said. “You walked in, you punched the clock.” He stroked the top of Gorgeous’ head. She purred. A dog? “I’m looking for answers,” he said. “Okay,” I said. “Give with the questions.”

“The OakTown caper,” he said. “Valuable big blue boxes heisted.” I placed a red ten on a black jack. “No mystery. Men in blue suits. Work for the Orange Man.”

“It’s not who,” said John Q. “It’s why.” I rolled my eyes. “Election’s coming up.” He glanced at Gorgeous. “But people from both parties vote by mail,” he said. “To make a case in the court of public opinion, I need the real motive.”

Gorgeous yipped her support. She sounded like my ex—who, to be fair, didn’t appreciate my snoring. “It’s all about keeping the wrong people from casting ballots,” I said. “Wrong people?” John Q. asked. “Why shouldn’t everyone be able to vote?”

I took a flask of Scotch from my desk drawer along with a book. The flask was for show. The book was the real deal. “Goes way back. It’s all here. These Truths. A history of America by a gal name Jill Lepore. I’ll read you three passages about the 19th century.”

“Page 234: Abel Upshur, President John Tyler’s secretary of state, on slavery: ‘However poor, or ignorant or miserable he may be, he [a white man] has yet the consoling consciousness that there is a still lower condition to which he can never be reduced.’

“Page 256: George Fitzhugh, this American social theorist from Virginia—‘some [men] were born with saddles on their backs, and others booted and spurred to ride them,—and the riding does them good.’

And page 269: Chief Justice Roger Taney on the 1857 Dred Scott Case argues that Congress has no power to limit slavery in the states because the guys who wrote the Constitution considered people of African descent ‘beings of an inferior order . . .’”

“I had no idea!” said John Q. “It seems beliefs about keeping some people from voting is deeply rooted in our national history.” I raised an eyebrow. “Misbeliefs.” Gorgeous barked her agreement. “How much do I owe you?” he asked. I shook my head. “This one’s on me.”

After John Q. left with Gorgeous, I ran the table on my solitaire game. I felt good. I’d given John Q. the cards he needed. Then I emailed my bookie for the odds on how well he’d play them.

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