Yossi Klein Halevi

Family Feud

Jerusalem, Israel   Are we in the early stages of an American-Israeli crisis? Or are the growing and public disagreements between the Obama administration and the Netanyahu government over settlements and Jerusalem merely arguments "within the family," as President Obama insisted in his recent meeting with American Jewish leaders?   According to one poll, only six percent of Israelis consider Obama a friend. That perception of hostility is new. Israelis welcomed Barack Obama when he visited here in July 2008 and many responded enthusiastically to his election.

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I’m not supposed to be here. This vast training base near the Gaza border where thousands of reservists are preparing for battle is off-limits to the press. Still, everyone in Israel knows someone, and my travelling companion knows a senior army commander who’s willing to break the rules. “Just say you’re my friends,” says the commander, who picks us up in his car near the gate. The commander, whom I’ll call Shmulik, is eager to slip us in. He wants us to meet his men, to tell the world the truth about Israel’s soldiers. Tomorrow morning, he says, they’re crossing into Gaza.

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Jerusalem, Israel Gavriel and Rivkie Holtzberg, the young Israeli couple who ran the Chabad House in Mumbai and were murdered there by jihadists, died bound and helpless, like those Jewish martyrs disparaged for their quietism by the Zionist ethos. Ultra-Orthodox Jews, the Holtzbergs never served in the Israeli army--yet when they were buried on Tuesday, Israeli society mourned as though they were fallen soldiers. When their coffins arrived at Ben-Gurion Airport, they were draped in the national flag.

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Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert announced today that he will resign his post after his party elects a new leader in September. We asked TNR contributing editor Yossi Klein Halevi for his take from Jerusalem:    Is it really time for eulogies? Is the abyss known as the "Olmert era" closing? Ehud Olmert has been eulogized so often that, even now, after announcing his intention to resign as Israeli prime minister when the Kadima party holds primaries for a new leader in mid-September, some Israelis don't quite believe it.

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Dear Senator Obama, Welcome to Israel. When you arrive here on July 22, you will encounter a people intrigued by your candidacy and, given the current crisis of Israeli leadership, envious of your capacity to inspire. Issues that have worried some Americans about your background have scarcely been noted here. The whispering campaign labeling you a Muslim wasn't taken seriously by mainstream Israelis. Nor are we fazed by your middle name: Half of Israel's Jewish population has origins in Muslim cultures.

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Jerusalem--Forget the envelopes stuffed with dollars being passed to Ehud Olmert by American businessman Morris Talansky. Forget the favors Olmert solicited for Talansky's business interests. Forget that 70 percent of the public thinks he's lying when he insists he took nothing for himself and that the cash was intended only for his election campaigns. Forget the half-dozen other inquiries into Olmert's business dealings that have made him the most investigated prime minister in Israel's history.

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Immediately after the massacre of eight students in a yeshiva library in Jerusalem last week, speculation began within the Israeli security establishment and the media about who had dispatched the lone murderer. Was it Hamas? Hezbollah? Perhaps a new, unknown organization claiming to act on behalf of the "liberation" of the Galilee? In fact, the speculation was pointless.

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The good news about Ehud Olmert is that he is not a willful murderer of Israeli soldiers.

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"Olmert, we forgive you," read an unsigned pre-Yom Kippur ad, placed in the newspaper Maariv by the amorphous movement to oust Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. "We forgive you for the first defeat in war since the founding of the state of Israel. We forgive you for the penetration of corruption into government. We forgive you for the confused leadership. We forgive you because the job is simply too big for you." Israelis have seldom been kind to their prime ministers, even the most beloved.

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`Turn right after the central bus station," says Yaffa Smolensky, a new immigrant from Phoenix, Arizona, giving me phone directions to her home. "Then look for the staircase going up the hill--if it's still there." Yaffa and her husband, Moish have counted four katyushas whizzing over their home. In the first three days of the war, Safed was one of the hardest-hit towns in the Galilee, with several dozen katyushas fired, leaving two dead and many wounded. But the Smolenskys don't intend to seek refuge farther south, as many of the town's 27,000 residents have done.

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