Washington Greets Israel on Its Birthday as Birthright Targets Baby Boomers

Obama and Clinton issue statements on Israel's 64th Independence Day as Israel's UN envoy sings 'When I'm 64' by the Beatles; new Birthright-style trip for 50-60 year-olds aims to expose more Jewish adults to Israel; Paul Krugman goes under fire for critical remarks on Israeli government.

U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued greetings on Thursday in honor of Israel's Independence Day.

In his statement, Obama said that the U.S.-Israel relationship is "unique relationship founded on an unbreakable commitment to Israels security, and anchored by our common interests and deeply held values."

Prosor - Shahar Ezran - 26/4/12
Shahar Ezran

Clinton, in her statement called Israel "a beacon of hope and an inspiring example", and said that the U.S. commitment to Israel's security is the "cornerstone of our foreign policy in the Middle East" and promised to stand with Israel as changes "continue to sweep across the region."

'When I'm 64'

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, meanwhile, issued a video greeting, promising the people of Israel to complete the fence at the southern border and acquire more Iron Dome batteries to protect Israelis from Gaza fire, ending his message with an animated cat singing the Israeli song "Hineh ma tov" ("Oh, how good, how pleasant it is for brothers to live together in harmony").

On the usually hostile UN grounds, the Israeli Ambassador Ron Prosor threw a party for hundreds of diplomats with Israeli music and wine - and even sang The Beatles hit "When I am 64."

The celebrations, however, didn't make UN chief Ban Ki-moon ignore Israel's legalization of three settlement outposts. He noted in a statement that he is "deeply troubled" by it, and so were the U.S. Department of State officials, who mentioned they are "seeking clarifications" from Israel.

At the same Department of State, the spokeswoman had a hard time answering the reporters' questions about Turkish officials' remarks that Israel is not welcome at the NATO conference in Chicago. Asked several times whether the U.S. wants Israel to participate, the answer was "no decisions have been made. There have been NATO summits where no partners were invited. Every summit is done on a case-by-case basis, and we haven't made a decision about who's going to be invited yet."

On Capitol Hill, Israel's situation looked much better this week, with plenty of warm 64th Independence Day greetings from Congress members. And on Thursday, the Subcommittee on Strategic Forces of the Armed Services Committee began the mark up process of the National Defense Authorization Act that includes a section on Iron Dome funding.

Birthright for Baby Boomers

Within the U.S. Jewish community, there were many celebrations - many still to be held over the weekend - and some new projects and some soul-searching.

UJA - The Jewish Federation of New-York have decided to deal with the fact that only about every fifth U.S. Jew has visited or plans to visit Israel, and decided to emulate the success of Taglit Birthright trips - with organizing similar tours for the baby boomers generation.

This Sunday, the pilot group of 34 Birthright Israel for Boomers, aged 50-60 years old, who reportedly never visited Israel before, will land in Israel and will follow the route well-familiar to the 200,000 young Jews from 52 countries who already did it in the last decade: Jerusalem, Masada, the Dead Sea, Eilat, Tel Aviv, the Golan Heights, rafting in the Jordan River, sailing on the Sea of Galilee, visiting the IDF bases and meeting with Israeli officials.

"Birthright Israel for Boomers" Chairman Michael Lax explained that for many U.S. Jews it's just not their top priority. Hence they invented the motto: "When was the last time in your life that you did something for the first time?"

Some of the group participants explained they were concerned about the security situation - but their kids, who took part in the Taglit Birthright trip, managed to convince them.

Paul Krugman and The Crisis of Zionism

Of course, Israeli celebrations won't be complete without some controversy. Leading economist and Nobel laureate Paul Krugman added to the already heated debate on the relationship between Israel and the U.S. Jewish community with a succinct blog post, calling Peter Beinarts The Crisis of Zionism a "brave book" and admitting that he, "like many liberal American Jews", "avoids thinking about where Israel is going" and defining the current Israeli government policies as a "gradual, long-run form of national suicide".

Why has he kept silent on the issue before now? The answer: "I have other battles to fight, and to say anything to that effect is to bring yourself under intense attack from organized groups that try to make any criticism of Israeli policies tantamount to anti-Semitism."

As he well predicted, he was immediately criticized for his post.

But the same questions were raised in an array of articles in the "Huffington Post," written by liberal Jews, and dedicated to questions surrounding the meaning of "liberal Zionism."

I wonder what Netanyahu's animated cat has to say about it.