Tag Archives: Israel

Goofy mug shot offers warm memory

Every now and then I get asked about this picture.

It appears on my Facebook profile. I haven’t changed it since I posted it around 2010. A member of my family has told me that in her view “It’s the best picture ever posted in the history of Facebook.” She has ordered me to never change it.

I appreciate her comment and I’ve told her so … many times. I’m not sure whether I’ll keep it forever. I do intend to keep it well past the foreseeable future, though.

But here’s the actual reason why I like displaying it: The picture reminds me daily of one of the most glorious experiences of my working life.

It occurred in May-June 2009. I was selected to lead a Rotary International team to Israel. The program once was known as Group Study Exchange, which enabled our Rotary district to assemble a team of young professionals to interact with other professionals from another Rotary district. In 2009, our district interacted with a district in Israel.

I received the high honor of leading that team. I helped select four of them from our West Texas district. We met for several weeks preparing for the four-week tour of Israel. We departed in early May 2009 and spent the next month touring that country from top to bottom — from the Lebanese border to Eilat at the southern tip of the country — along with another team from The Netherlands; we forged friendships along the way with our Israeli hosts and with members of the Dutch team. Indeed, just a year ago my wife and I caught up with two Dutch team members on a trip we took to The Netherlands and to Germany.

Oh, the picture? It was taken at the Dead Sea. We drove through the Judean Desert to this remarkable body of water on the Israeli border with Jordan. It sits more than 1,000 below sea level. Its salinity is many times greater than the ocean. Swimmers’ buoyancy is beyond description.

We slathered ourselves in this Dead Sea mud. From the waist up we covered ourselves in it. Our Israeli friends told us the mud contained some sort of “restorative value” contained in its mineral content. The idea is to let it dry. Then you wash it off with fresh water.

It’s supposed to make you look and feel younger. I remember washing it off and asking our team members, “Do I look younger?” Many of them laughed in my face. For what it’s worth, I felt younger … and that’s all that mattered.

The picture reminds me of that glorious adventure and the enduring friendships I made with the young people I accompanied across the ocean and with those we met along the way.

That is why I don’t intend to change this picture.

Mourning the loss of a dedicated servant

I am a sad fellow tonight.

A few hours ago I received word of the death of a man who played a significant role in granting me the honor of participating in a life-changing event.

Ted Holder is gone. I will miss him. I also will forever honor his memory and will thank him for the rest of my life for the part he played in changing my life.

Ted was a member of the Levelland, Texas, Rotary Club. In late 2008, he was serving on a West Texas Rotary District committee assigned to select a Rotary member to lead a team of young professionals to Israel. The journey would be taken under the auspices of Rotary International’s Group Study Exchange.

The GSE team would comprise four non-Rotarians. They would be “led” by a Rotary member. The group would interact for four weeks with professionals in the host Rotary district. The 2009 Rotary GSE host district for our team would be located in Israel.

But first things first.

Our Rotary district needed a team leader. I was one of three Rotary members who applied for the honor to select and then accompany this team to the Holy Land.

We gathered in Lubbock to interview with the Rotary district committee. Ted was one of the committee members.

We made our pitch, all sitting around the same table at the same time. I gave it my best shot. After a lengthy interview, we all dispersed. I drove home to Amarillo.

Later that day, I got a call from the committee chairman, who informed me I had been selected to lead the Rotary GSE team. I was stunned. I choked back tears.

It would be quite a while later that I heard from a member of the committee about what Ted had said about my presentation. You see, Ted was a police officer; he served several years as Levelland chief of police. As you might guess, he didn’t much like media types. I was a media type at the time of my interview; I was serving as editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News.

One of the committee members confided to me that Ted had told the panel that he “think much of the media, but I sure liked John’s presentation. He gets my vote.” The individual who told me this seemed to suggest that Ted’s endorsement of my pitch to the committee was decisive in the committee selecting me.

Well, the rest is pretty much history. I have shared much of that marvelous experience with you already on his blog. What most of you didn’t know is much about how that experience came to pass.

Ted Holder helped changed my life by granting me the high honor of representing Rotary District 5730 on a journey for the ages. My GSE teammates, I am quite certain, agree with that.

I am happy to report that the last time I saw Ted, about a year ago at a Rotary meeting, I took a moment to thank him — yet again — for the honor he granted me.

We have a lost a good man.

Sanity presents itself in Trump White House

Donald Trump pledged to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Then the president thought better of it. He has signed a six-month extension to keep the embassy where it’s been since the founding of Israel in 1948, in Tel Aviv, a relatively safe distance from where terrorists and other sworn enemies of the United States and Israel commit their acts of violence.

http://thehill.com/policy/international/335850-trump-keeps-us-embassy-in-tel-aviv?rnd=1496325457

The Palestinians want East Jerusalem to become capital of an independent state, when or if that occurs. The Israelis claim all of Jerusalem as their own holy place.

“We know that peace is possible if we put aside the pain and disagreements of the past and commit together to finally resolving this crisis,” Trump said in a speech in Jerusalem. “I am personally committed to helping Israelis and Palestinians achieve a peace agreement.”

The idea is to broker a peace deal that determines the fate of the holy city, which has been the goal of U.S. presidents of both political parties all along.

Donald Trump has seen the reality of the situation and has backed off his overheated campaign pledge and has decided the status quo isn’t such a bad idea.

Good call, Mr. President.

More like a stand-up double, maybe, Mr. President

The president of the United States believes he “hit a home run” on his first trip abroad as head of state.

I believe I will disagree with Donald J. Trump on that one.

“But we have been gone for close to nine days. This will be nine days. And I think we hit a home run no matter where we are,” Trump said in Italy as he prepared to return home — and into the political maelstrom that awaits.

Let’s review:

* He started in Saudi Arabia and delivered an acceptable speech to a room full of kings, presidents and potentates about the threat of international terrorism. It’s interesting that he would make such a speech in a country that has done next to nothing to curb its breeding of terrorists. Hey, wasn’t Osama bin Laden a Saudi native?

* Trump ventured to Israel, where was met by government officials who were steamed that he revealed classified secrets to Russian visitors earlier that had come from Israeli intelligence officials. Lord knows what Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu likely told him in private.

* Then he went to the Vatican and met with Pope Francis, who he had criticized while campaigning for the presidency because the Holy Father disagreed with some public policy statements the candidate had made.

* Trump then ventured to Brussels, where he scolded NATO allies because some of them aren’t paying enough for the defense of Europe against Russian threats and those threats presented by terrorists. The reactions of the heads of state and government who heard the lecture couldn’t have been more instructive; they couldn’t believe the president would dress them down in such a public manner.

http://thehill.com/homenews/administration/335416-trump-at-conclusion-of-first-foreign-trip-i-think-we-hit-a-home-run

Along the way, the president was met with concern, a bit of anger over past statements. By my way of reasoning, he didn’t do much to assuage the concerns of world leaders who are concerned about the absence of any public service experience in his background.

Home run, Mr. President? Hardly. I’d say you hit — maybe — a stand-up double.

U.S.-Israeli friendship set for big test

Donald J. Trump is likely going to find out just how strong — or fragile — is the friendship and alliance between the United States and Israel.

The president has concluded a successful visit to Saudi Arabia. He will fly to Israel. My trick knee tells me the reception he gets will be publicly joyful and perhaps privately a good bit chillier.

You see, Trump made a mistake back home, in the White House. He was visiting with two Russian dignitaries when he blurted out something of great interest to his Russian guests: it involved some classified information regarding the ongoing fight against the Islamic State.

The information, though, had been obtained by U.S. intelligence authorities from another source. That source, dadgummit anyway, happened to be Israel.

The president was boasting to the Russians about the “great intel” he gets. Then out it came. He blabbed when he shouldn’t have.

National security adviser H.R. McMaster later issued a sort of non-denial denial, in which he said the president didn’t reveal any tactical or operational secrets to the Russians. Big bleeping deal! They’re smart and sophisticated enough to cobble together pieces of information and develop their own strategies based on what they hear.

Reports have been circulating since then that the Israelis’ spies working within Iran might be in danger, given that the Russians and the Islamic Republic of Iran are close allies. The Israelis have deep-cover agents working throughout the Middle East, scouring their sources for intelligence regarding the sworn enemy of civilized nations around the world. That would be ISIS.

Just how angry are the Israelis? How ticked off is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu? Publicly, he hasn’t much. It well might be a different matter when the two men meet in private.

I think we ought to look for words like “frank” and “candid” when U.S. and Israeli flacks describe the closed-door meetings between Trump and Netanyahu. If either description surfaces, my hunch is that Netanyahu will have given the U.S. president a major-league tongue lashing.

Awaiting a joyful reunion

I am in a reminiscing frame of mind this evening … so I believe I will share a memory with you.

Eight years ago this week, some friends and I embarked on a four-week journey through Israel. We were part of a Rotary International Group Study Exchange team. I had the honor of leading that team, which comprised myself and four young professionals who would get to share their work experiences with colleagues in Israel.

We all formed lasting friendships with each other, as well as with members of a Rotary team from The Netherlands that joined us on that Holy Land excursion.

We got to see that marvelous country while living in host families’ homes. They were part of a Rotary district that took part in the exchange with our West Texas Rotary district. The essence of the trip was to expose us to life in Israel as seen through those who call that country home.

Not only did we make lasting friendships among our team members, we made friendships with our hosts.

Here’s the really cool news: Very soon, my wife and I are going to hook up with one of those host families. A couple with whom I stayed in Israel is traveling to the United States to attend a Rotary International Conference in Atlanta. Before that, though, they’re going to Nashville, Tenn., for a little sightseeing before heading deeper into Dixie.

My wife hasn’t yet had the pleasure of meeting Alon and Sari, with whom I stayed in Lehavim, a town near Be’er Sheva, which is on the edge of the Judean Desert in Israel. I am absolutely certain she will fall in love with them as I did during our time together.

Indeed, we not too long ago reconnected with a couple of my fellow Dutch exchange members while on vacation in Europe. That, too, was a marvelous reunion.

Our plan this time is simple. We’ll load up our fifth wheel RV, hook it up to the rear of our pickup and get on down the road eastward toward Nashville. I’ll get to reconnect with people I met in their homeland and they in turn will get to get a taste of Americana.

Oh, how I love it when friendships become strong enough to last over lengthy distances and over spans of time.

Where have you gone, Ivanka and Jared?

It turns out that the president of the United States reportedly is angry that two of his “key advisers” were absent during the run-up to the historic non-vote on a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Donald J. Trump is none too happy about it at that!

The advisers? Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner.

Where were they? They were on a ski vacation. They were absent from the negotiation that took place between Daddy POTUS and his new best friend, House Speaker Paul Ryan, and those stubborn House of Representatives conservatives who torpedoed the legislation.

Here is the Big Question: What on Earth could either of these individuals have done to persuade balky congressmen and women to change their votes? Must anyone remind the president that Ivanka and Jared are political novices, as is the president of the United States himself?

There. I just did remind him. Not that he’ll even see this gentle rhetorical jab, let alone take it to heart.

Ivanka has just acquired a West Wing office, where she’ll work as a sort of unofficial adviser with no specific job description; nor will she draw a federal salary. Kushner already is the president’s point man on U.S.-Israel relations and reportedly plans to play a key role in searching for a comprehensive peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Are either of them skilled political operatives? Are they experts on health care, on the ACA or on the failed bill to replace it, the American Health Care Act? Do they even have any relationships with congressional naysayers? Umm. Nope.

What could they have done to affect the outcome? Maybe it’s just me, but my hunch is that it would have been not a damn thing!

So, they took a trip to the mountains to ski and enjoy each other’s company.

Dad didn’t need their “help” in scuttling this bill. He and the speaker did a fine job of it all by themselves.

Oh! And that’s a good thing.

Hey, what about Bannon and the NSC?

It’s almost impossible to keep up with all the stories that pass through the light of intense publicity only to disappear into the darkness … as it relates to Donald John Trump’s administration.

Remember the story about Steve Bannon, the former Breitbart.com executive, alleged white nationalist, political adviser becoming a member of the principals committee on the National Security Council?

Bannon is still on the NSC. He’s still getting the regular briefings, sitting in a chair that should be filled by the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman and the director of national intelligence. Trump demoted those two military and intelligence leaders in favor of partisan political animals such as Bannon.

He’s a political hack who serves on one of the most ostensibly non-political bodies in our massive federal government.

Why is this guy still there? Why is the new national security adviser, Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster sitting or standing still for this travesty?

Bannon doesn’t belong on the principals committee. He now serves as chief political adviser for the president. He fulfills an entirely different role, vastly separate from anything that the National Security Council does. The NSC’s role is to provide the president with keen, sharp and non-political analysis of national security threats. The national security adviser essentially is the chief administrative official of the NSC. From all that I’ve read and heard about Lt. Gen. McMaster, he appears to be a scholar with a superb military mind.

Bannon status as political hack in chief ought to disqualify him from such his posting as a member of the principals committee.

Yet this story stays hidden in the background.

What kind of advice does Bannon give the president when, say, a Middle East nation moves on another one? What kind of advice does he offer when North Korea lobs a missile into Seoul, South Korea? Or when Hamas starts firing ordnance from Gaza into neighborhoods in southern Israel?

Bannon offers no national security credibility. There he is, though. He’s perched among the other “principals” offering advice to the president of the United States.

This guy frightens the crap out of me.

Trump: Who needs a ‘two-state solution’?

Donald J. Trump has performed yet another amazing diplomatic deed.

While visiting today with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump managed to pull back from the United States’ traditional support for a “two-state solution” in the search for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

Trump now all but indicated he’d support a “one-state solution” that doesn’t allow a Palestinian state that could live peacefully with Israel.

Ugghhh!

I’ve long sought to give Netanyahu support in his fight against terrorists who keep bringing violence to Israel. I believe the Israelis deserve to protect themselves using any means necessary to defeat the forces of evil that seek to destroy their nation.

However, U.S. presidents of both political parties have been correct for decades in seeking a peace agreement that sets up an independent Palestinian state that would function alongside Israel.

I understand fully the difficulty facing Israel and the Palestinians in achieving a full-fledged peace. Terrorist groups operating in Gaza, which is run by the Palestinians, keep launching rockets and other ordnance against Israel. West Bank operatives keep bringing havoc as well.

However, to deny the Palestinians an opportunity to have their own state is an utterly insane strategy. It is counterproductive in the extreme. It would inflame the terrorists and it would result in continued violence, death, mayhem and heartache.

How do the two sides reach a “two-state accord”? I have no idea. Neither do the principals. However, they must continue the effort.

For the president of the United States — as the premier broker in seeking a lasting peace agreement — to forgo the search for such an agreement is irresponsible to a maximum degree.

Barack-Bibi feud ratchets up seriously

Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanhayu have been anything but BFFs ever since they became leaders of the United States and Israel, respectively.

President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu have had a final falling out that seems a bit difficult to understand. I want to share my own perspective on what I believe lies at the core of antipathy.

Obama reportedly instructed the U.S. United Nations delegation to abstain from a resolution condemning Israel over its construction of settlements in what often is called “occupied territory” that Israel took from Palestinians who call that land their own.

The abstention has enraged Netanyahu, who I believe has a point.

It is this: During the entire existence of the Israeli state, the nation has gone to war against its neighbors. None of the conflicts has been of Israel’s choosing. It has responded to attacks from its Arab neighboring nations: in 1956, 1967 and 1973. While the Israeli armed forces weren’t being mobilized for battlefield combat, they have been summoned time and again to put down insurrections in places like Gaza and the Golan Heights.

The Israelis feel a direct threat from their neighbors every day. Yes, they have peace treaties with Jordan and Egypt; Syria, of course, presents an existential threat with the presence of Islamic State fighters doing battle with government forces that answer to a dictator who’s also a sworn enemy of Israel.

The Islamic Republic of Iran has vowed to exterminate Israel; the Hamas terrorists who run the government in Gaza also have vowed to destroy Israel. Hezbollah runs wild in Lebanon along the northern border of Israel.

Is there any reason to doubt why the Israelis view their situation with a great deal more alarm than any other state leader can fully appreciate? I’ve been able to peer into Gaza from just outside its border; I’ve been allowed to see damage in Israeli cities such as Sderot by rockets launched from Gaza; I’ve seen the heavily secured border fences along the Israel-Lebanon border; I’ve had the pleasure of obtaining passage through the heavily guarded wall separating Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

Thus, in my view the Israelis have ample reason to feel a sense of betrayal by their allies in Washington who over many years have used their U.N. Security Council veto power to quash these resolutions.

The Israelis have never provoked armed conflict with their neighbors, but they certainly have finished it.

Thus, our most reliable Middle East ally is asking itself: Will the United States of America stand with us if the shooting ever starts again? The question, if it’s being asked, is not an unreasonable one.