To Read: According to David Rothkopf, Obama's advisors are far too confident about- and therefore far too focused on- their empty symbolism and photo ops:
The president is seen too often by those close to him as such a powerful symbol that his mere appearance or the presentation of his views or support in the form of a speech is considered to be an adequate response to many a problem or need... On the domestic front, this has led to a repeated phenomenon of the president framing an issue in an address -- say, health care or gun control -- but then stepping back and leaving it to others to actually make things happen. While this has seemingly been at least somewhat redressed recently with his outreach to congressional leaders on the budget, the approach seems to be driving Obama's current trip to the Middle East.
Perhaps the thinking is that getting on a plane and flying off to meet regional leaders is enough. Perhaps the fear was that U.S.-Israel relations had sagged so badly that the appearance of fence-mending alone was adequate. But whatever the case, as the president sets off for the region, expectations surrounding the trip are focused on photo ops and carefully worded statements and a soupçon of theater. This is all airy enough to be a good soufflé recipe perhaps, but nothing like meaningful foreign policy.
Quote: “President (Barack) Obama has made it clear that the United States does not stand in the way of other countries that have made a decision to provide arms, whether it's France or Britain or others”, Secretary of State John Kerry about European involvement in Syria.
Number: 31, the percentage of Americans who have abandoned a news outlet because it no longer provides the news and info they were accustomed to.
To Read: Our esteemed Israel Factor panelist Alon Pinkas reminds Obama (and us) that Israel's government is not one which will strive for peace:
Unlike the NCAA brackets, the Israeli government doesn't offer any potential for riveting upsets, breathtaking surprises, pretty Cinderellas or last-second clutch performances.
What Obama will see is what he will get in the near future: A right-wing government with unprecedented power and influence in the hands of settlers and their supporters.
A collection of ministers from Likud and "The Jewish Home" who are all on record as opposing the two-state model, a settlement-building freeze, the "Clinton Parameters" of 2000-2001 and the Olmert-Abbas understandings of 2008 as terms of reference for any kind of negotiations. Not for nothing did a settler leader characterize the new government as nothing short of "a wet dream" for the settler movement. Who knew that some people define "wet dreams" that way?
Quote: "And I think it will be easier to run against Bibi next time. Much easier", former Israeli PM, Ehud Olmert, interviewed by The New Republic.
Number: 55, the percentage of Israelis who would support an attack on Iran's nuclear installations if sanctions will not work and the US and Europe will not intervene.
The Middle East
Headline: Syrian planes bomb Lebanon border area
To Read: Michael Singh believes the Obama visit is about far more than US-Israel relations:
President Obama’s trip to Israel and Jordan this week is about neither Israel nor Jordan. But it also isn’t quite about Iran, as some have asserted, or the Arab uprisings. His trip will be about the United States and the role we see for ourselves in the Middle East. Our allies, to a one, want more American leadership in the region and greater clarity regarding U.S. policy on vital issues; in an increasingly fractious region, it is the one talking point they all share. Their message reflects a troubling irony: A president whose foreign policy slogan was “engagement” in 2008 will, if he does not change course in his second term, leave a legacy of U.S. disengagement from the Middle East.
Quote: “Israstine” King Abdullah's one word answer to a question about what would happen of the two state solution does not work.
Number: 50, the number of people killed by bombs on the 10th anniversary of the war in Iraq.
The Jewish World
To Read: In a chapter from his final manuscript before his recent death, Jewish philosopher and legal scholar Ronald Dworkin examines the religious wonder of atheists and the core a-religious values of theists:
I am not arguing, against the science of the traditional Abrahamic religions, that there is no personal god who made the heavens and loves its creatures. I claim only that such a god’s existence cannot in itself make a difference to the truth of any religious values. If a god exists, perhaps he can send people to Heaven or Hell. But he cannot of his own will create right answers to moral questions or instill the universe with a glory it would not otherwise have. A god’s existence or character can only figure in the defense of such values as a fact that makes some different, independent background value judgment pertinent; it can only figure, that is, as a minor premise. Of course, a belief in a god can shape a person’s life dramatically. Whether and how it does this depends on the character of the supposed god and the depth of commitment to that god. An obvious and crude case: someone who believes he will go to Hell if he displeases a god will very likely lead a different life from someone who does not have any such belief. But whether what displeases a god is morally wrong is not up to that god.
Quote: “They call me the Japanese sheitel macher”, Japanese Jewish-orthodox-wig-specialist Atsuko Tanaka, talking about her trade.
Number: 5, the number of Knesset members who attended a protest reform wedding outside the Knesset compound.