Sunday, July 31, 2011

On the threshold of greatness (V): the singular first questions

If we are to start a conversation about how Israel can step across the threshold of greatness—and become her destiny-- perhaps we should not begin with action recommendations; perhaps we should begin with some questions.

The backround:  the Torah is the lifeblood of the Jewish people.  It contains the essential code through which our Jewishness is expressed and transmitted generation to generation.  This code is  our spiritual DNA.  Just as our biological DNA tells us we are human, so, too, our Torah DNA tells us we are Jewish; without Torah, we are not Jewish. You might want to remember that. You might not like the Torah. You might be afraid of it.  You might prefer Jewish-without-Torah. But history has been clear: without Torah, we lose our spiritual identity. Ultimately, without Torah, we always lose our ‘Jewish’.

For our purposes here, DNA has three forms and functions.  Our human DNA determines what type of individual we become—male or female, tall or short.  Our spiritual DNA determines what religion we become—the nature of our spirituality.  Our national DNA determines what kind of nation we become.     
In general, DNA is the basic building block of life. It stores the instructions necessary for biological life to develop. Our Torah performs the same function for our soul, and our religious identification performs the same function for our nationhood. But unlike biological DNA, which is automatic and ‘not conscious’, our spiritual DNA and our nationhood DNA  actuate only through conscious decision-making: we have to choose it and we have to act on it—it’s a case of, use it or lose it.

The problem is, Torah (our spiritual DNA) and Jewish identification (our national DNA) take effort. They require commitment. It is not easy. Many believe that Torah and Jewish identification are not important. But that may not be true. In fact, Torah and ‘Jewishness’ are not simply the key to our personal or communal spiritual life—which they certainly are—they are also the key to Israel’s place in the Middle East. Torah and Jewish identity are key to our national future.  They affect the chemistry of the entire Middle East because they are connected to a real issue-- Arab refusal to accept Israel as a Jewish State.
For several months now, we have seen an increasing numbers of references to this refusal. The Arab will not even discuss the matter; he simply refuses to acknowledge our Jewishness. He will not say the words, ‘Israel is a Jewish State.’  We scoff at this refusal. We take insult at it--but I wonder, isn’t the Arab correct?

It is a singular question. In fact, it is the first question we need to ask if we are to move forward, towards our national destiny.
Since making aliyah, I see a lot of Jews  (obviously). I believe that, based on my observations, I can often see who among us looks ‘Jewish’ and who does not.  I have also seen many Arabs among us. I have watched them. I have interacted with them.  I have stood in line and watched as they speak to and work with all kinds of Israelis.  I see what they see: Jews who are religious and Jews who are not religious; Jews who appear to know about Judaism and Jews who do not. I have concluded that Arabs recognize us: they understand who looks “Jewish” and who looks “not Jewish”. 

So when Israeli politicians or TV commentators who do not look or act “Jewish” say they want the Arab to call us the ‘Jewish’ State, I can understand how the Arab would say, ‘Why? You don’t look Jewish or act Jewish. Why should I call you something you obviously are not?’
It’s a fair question.

Maybe our Arab neighbors are telling us something about ourselves. Maybe if we were “Jewish”,  the world would be more willing to agree with us that these denials are laughable.
Our Torah teaches us how to deal with this problem. Our Torah  inspires because it operates on multiple levels.  It multi-tasks--successfully.  It is not only the key to our personal spiritual life. It is the catalyst that energizes the connection between our spiritual identity and our national identity. Biological DNA affects fish, flies and humans; our spiritual DNA affects both our spirituality and the very land we stand on. It affects who we are and shapes how we relate to the land. If you read the Torah you will see how ‘Israel’ and ‘Torah’ go hand-in-hand.  If the Torah did not exist, there would not be close to six million Jews in Israel today.  We are here for a reason and that reason is our Torah. Jews come here because this is our Homeland; and remember, this is not our Homeland because of the Holocaust, which ended 66 years ago; it is our Homeland because of a 3,300 year-old document we call our Torah. When we live on this land we know that the Torah exists. Indeed, our future depends on the link between Torah and land because it is part of the Promise: we need the land to fulfil our national and spiritual destiny.  Like the traditional American song about  ‘love and marriage’, we cannot have one without the other—Torah and land.

 The Left calls us to reject our Jewishness. They call for us to reject our Torah. But to those who seek to renew Zion—to build a new-Zion to replace post-Zion—we keep this Land only when we understand Heritage and Homeland, Torah and Israel, our spiritual and national DNA. Haven’t you noticed? The more completely a politician removes himself or herself from our religion, the more eagerly they seek to give away our land—and the quicker they are to give away our land, the easier it becomes for the Arab to separate the Jew from this land.
It’s that simple. Like it or not, Judaism is the glue that keeps us on this land and it is the rejection of Judaism that will unglue us from this land. This is the mission of the Left: unglue Judaism. It is their ultimate goal—unglue Judaism so Israel can be free! But they are wrong for when you unglue Judaism, you lose the land; and when you lose your land you will lose your freedom. The next time you see a call for a two-state solution ask yourself two questions: (1) Are you Jewish?  (2) If yes, do you really want your future national destiny to be determined by someone who rejects Judaism?  Let’s be honest here: you cannot have it both ways. You cannot claim to defend Israel by throwing away Judaism, and you cannot claim to defend Judaism while you give away land that our Torah says does not belong to you—it belongs to G-d.  Judaism and the land: they always go together. Break the link and you destroy it all.

The Arab knows this. His message to us is clear: if Jews ignore the link between Torah and Land, so will he. If Jews ignore our Jewishness, so will he. If we ignore our spiritual and national DNA, so will he.

The Arab smiles because he knows the truth: the more we reject our DNA, the closer he comes to getting our land.  Torah and land; they cannot be separated.

If we wish to step across the threshold to greatness—and discover triumph in today’s negative headlines-- perhaps we might begin with three questions:
- if we do not act ‘Jewish’, why should the Arab call us Jewish?

- If we reject Judaism, do we have any historic right to this land?
- Finally, if we throw away our spiritual DNA, will Jews really have a future on this land?

You may not like Torah. You might be afraid of it. But the truth is, Torah is the secret to our survival. It is the source of our strength. It is why you can still say you are ‘Jewish’. It is also the answer to  Arab denial—but only if you have the courage to act. You see, if you change how you act you will change what you hear—and when you do that, you will be the one who brings us to our singular destiny.

Monday, July 25, 2011

On the threshold of greatness (IV): renewing Zion

For more than a hundred years, Jews have had a dream called ‘Zion’. It has been a dream to create a national homeland for the Jewish people in the land of Israel. But this modern dream has a flaw. It is not the original Zion.  It is a secular Zion. It is not organically whole. It is not authentic. It is imperfect.
Today, we see those imperfections. Indeed, the call has already been sounded to move ‘beyond’ Zion, to replace this flawed Zion with a new dream –a post-Zion dream. Those who trumpet this call seek an Israel emptied of Judaism, to create a State that will be both free and new. But the ideology of this new post-Zion is not new. In the Jewish Tanach, we see repeatedly how Jewish kings of the past have sought this same dejudaizing dream; and their results have always been the same—disaster for the Jewish people.

The dream of the new post-Zionist is no different than the dream of the old rebellions—and yet the modern dreamer expects a different result.  The new dreamer is adamant: our only chance to remain free is to drop all that is Jewish; our only chance for a true peace is to dejudaize Israel.  The new dreamer believes this fervently. But the flaw of his dream is revealed by an unexpected source--Corporate America, where managers report what they have learned in the harsh cauldron that is business in America:  the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over while always expecting a different result. And, Corporate America reminds us, insanity is not the key to survival or success.
The post-Zionist dream is wrong. This dream would not yield different results. Life—and history-- do not work that way.  Post-Zionists are the new rebellious kings of Tanach: their dream would bring a nightmare to the Jewish people.

The dream of the original Zion is eternal.  Newer is not better.  Yes, the modern secular Zionist dream has served the Jewish people -- to this point-- for it has been primarily through the effort of the modern secular Zionist that we have our modern Jewish State. But because that dream is flawed, it is a dream that can weaken and die. The post-Zionist is right. If we are to remain successful, something has to change.
But change does not mean we replace Zion. We need to renew Zion. In American sports, if you want to win the Big Prize (the World Series, the Super Bowl, the National Championship), you do not change who you are when the competition increases:  you continue forward by relying on your known strengths—or, as the saying goes, you “go with what brung you here”: you play the way you have always played; you do not change what is your hallmark game-plan.

What has kept Jews Jewish these last 2000 years of exile has not just been the dream of Zion—though, certainly, that is a part of our story; what has allowed us to survive as Jews has been our commitment to our Heritage. That is our strength. That is the key to our success. Without that commitment, there would be no Jews to dream of Zion. But if we are to go forward from this point—to win the ‘Big Prize’-- we cannot rely on our Heritage.  You cannot have a wedding with just the groom.  We need to develop our commitment to our Homeland just as we must remain committed to our Heritage—we must, in other words, prepare both the groom and the bride. We do not alter our game plan by dropping either the bride or the groom or both: we “go with what brung us here”--our strength, which focuses not only on our Heritage but also on an authentic Zion.
We step into our future by reconnecting with our past.

What we dream today is not to replace Zionism or to move beyond it. Our dream is to renew Zionism. Our dream is to promote a spiritual renewal; and we start that renewal by removing the defect of secular idolatry from the dream. We begin. We renew. We strengthen.
This renewal will be a ‘Tikun’ in the classic religious sense, where Tikun does not mean serving the poor in Africa (important as that is), but rather turning to our own heart in order to correct those dimensions within us that distort our commitment to our Heritage. That Tikun must also apply to the land. We must renew, rebuild and re-strengthen our commitment to the land. We renew, we ‘repair’, so that our wedding includes both bride and groom.

Zionism is not a replacement of our Heritage. Zionism must instead be a true Yishuv—a true return both to our Heritage and our Homeland.  To define Zionism as a substitute for our Heritage is the same as telling a man you will make him whole by cutting off his right arm; and to tell a man that he has only a Heritage is like telling him he has only a body, no soul. In fact, our Heritage lives only for Zion’s purpose; for Zion starts with the Davidic Kingdom, when David first unified Israel and then his son Solomon built and dedicated the Temple, which is the heart, the soul and the full spiritual expression of our national and religious reality.
That is our Zion—the ultimate union of our national and religious essence into one unique place, in one unique land.

It is no coincidence that some modern archaeologists deny the existence of the Davidic dynasty and its unified national kingdom. They are shrewd.  They understand our religion. They understand what we forget: by telling the story of the Davidic dynasty, the Bible ennables the story of a powerful, unified Jewish Nation which controlled and protected an entire people under one king, one G-d and one religion—a perfection of reality. If David and Solomon never lived, they become nothing more than fictional characters. When the Bible is nothing more than fiction, you deny the existence of Zion; and when you deny Zion, you can then deny the G-d of Israel  (who is so intimately tied to David and Solomon), and you can also deny the (national) story of Israel itself.
With a single denial, the Bible becomes fiction and the whole story of the Jewish ‘people’ collapses. The history of the Jews then becomes a  story of disjointed tribes who have promoted the fiction of a unified, national kingdom so that today they can make a claim of ownership to land that was never under their power.

But the G-d of Israel has a plan, and today modern archaeologists just now begin to discover tangible evidence of David, Solomon, and the Unified Monarchy.
The G-d of Israel is showing us that Zion lives.

 Zion is our story. It is our Homeland and our Heritage, bride and groom celebrating our national and religious story of unification and worship. It is the secret of our survival. It is the source of our power. It is the story we must retell not only to combat the nations and peoples who would deny us; it is a story we must retell so that we remember it ourselves and embrace it; for this is how we will renew our dream of Zion. This is how we will give ourselves the courage (and the desire) to step over the threshold to greatness. 

Sunday, July 17, 2011

On the threshold of greatness (III): a singular Jewish nation--without America?

 Today, it is easy to call Israel an outcast. She seems alone and rejected.  She alone stands accused of being responsible for the failure to achieve peace between Arab and Jew in the Middle East. The President of the United States practically said as much in a March 2011 meeting at the White House with leaders of major American Jewish organizations—and these American Jewish leaders have subsequently signed on to the Obama proposal for Israel to pull back to pre-1967 borders before peace negotiations with the Arab begin-- so that ‘there can be peace’.

The leadership of America’s Jewish community laments Israel’s refusal to deal with a terrorist organization—Hamas. These leaders call for Israel to surrender land.  They want Israel to yield to Obama. They fear for Israel’s safety. They see Israel’s destruction if she does not comply.
But the pain and anguish everyone sees is not a hint of a destruction to come; rather, it is the  harbinger of birth. America’s Jewish (secular) leadership does not understand the reality of Israel: she does not stand on the threshold of destruction; she stands on the threshold of greatness. The sounds we hear are not the sounds of the mourning; they are the sounds of the birthing room. The final result of the Arab onslaught against the Jewish nation will not be Israel’s destruction. It will be Israel’s ennoblement.

The leadership of the American Jewish community has taken a stand—to promote the Obama call for pre-1967 borders for the future of Israel. But this leadership decision represents not only a disconnect from the majority of Israel’s citizens, it is a disconnect also from the majority of America’s Jews. Polls repeatedly show this. With this decision, the leadership of the American Jewish community has put itself onto an iceberg—and then shoved off, cutting itself off from those who have fed and supported it.
If this leadership wishes to survive, it should announce immediately that the Obama proposal is a betrayal of the Jewish nation. It should publicly reject J Street. It should reject every call for a two-state solution so long as Hamas clings to terror, calls for the destruction of Israel , and so long as Arab media and mosque demonize the Jew, call for the killing of Jews and honor Jew-killers.

To do otherwise is to ignore American Jewish sentiment and betray Israel.
But there is another American Jewish leadership that must now also step up for Israel: the religious leadership. If both the secular and religious leadership of the American Jewish community are to have any role in the birthing room of the new Israel to come, they must both show up.

Until now, the religious leadership in America has been ‘delicate’ about its support of Israel. It has remained (for the most part) silent about modern Israel because modern Israel does not meet their refined criteria for approval. But with Israel now in the birthing room, with the pang and cry of birth echoing in our ears, the time for delicacy and refinement are passed.  The religious leadership of America must put down its objections and pick up the Israel flag. They do not need to reject their objections. But they must put those objections aside to declare their unity with and connection to their people. To do otherwise is (potentially) to render themselves irrelevant.
The quality of Torah in Israel grows, deepens and matures daily. Today, it may be possible that, if American Jewry did not exist, Israel’s national and religious life would nevertheless stand—and thrive.

American Jewish leadership—both secular and religious—run the risk of cutting themselves off from Am Yisroel, the Jewish nation.  We are not quite there yet; but are we getting close?
Our struggle for national survival has reached a new stage. Ours is no longer the struggle of the 1940s or 1950s. We are about to step over the threshold of greatness.   Our future ennoblement is before us.

The din of hate that surround us are the cries that accompany our new birth. If American Jewish leadership refuses to break bread with Israel now, they risk everything. In the secular community, more than 50% of our Jewish youth leave our religion; perhaps millions who call themselves ‘Jewish’ may not be halachically Jewish; most in America who call themselves Jewish have little or no understanding of their Jewish heritage—and all of this begs the question: how Jewish is their view of the Jewish State? How credible is their voice?
In the religious community, leadership seems to stand aloof. They know full well what is their heritage, but their apparent ideology of galut—exile—(see Rabbi  Dr Yehoshua Kemelman, Diaspora is Jewry’s graveyard, Urim Publications, 2009, p. 10) turns them cold to Israel.

The leadership of American Jewry—both secular and religious—appear to offer little that is positive for Israel. They seem to find little time to support Israel’s future even as 60,000 Jews a year walk away from America’s Jewish community (ibid, p 9). As Rabbi  Kemelman points out  (ibid, p10), Israel will survive without America’s children; but will American Jewry survive without Israel?
Israel will survive. Israel will step across the threshold to greatness.


Thursday, July 14, 2011

On the threshold of greatness (II): the singular people

The Torah story of Bilaam is about a non-Jewish prophet who is hired by a non-Jewish  king to curse the Jews.  This story may be more than 3,300 years old, but it could also be a modern story. Our  tradition teaches that Bilaam was a great prophet, perhaps comparable to the Jewish Moses.  He agrees to curse the Jews, but he cannot do so; the words he produces are blessings.
Writing about this story, Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz asks a question: the Jews are so perfect they get only blessings? Jewish history is the story of Jewish sin and punishment. If anything, the Jews appear extraordinarily imperfect. Why is Bilaam unable to curse them?

The answer, Rabbi Schwartz suggests, lies in what Bilaam says during his (failed) attempts to curse. To understand what Rabbi Schwartz is about to explain, let me tell you about my world. I come from an Orthodox Jewish community where parents would, by American standards, be called, ‘strict’. These parents are not shy about scolding or ‘adjusting’ their children—in private. In public, even those children who are constantly a challenge are praised. If a child terrorizes you by spilling grape juice into your lap—because he can—and you go over to his mother to vent your anger—well, you had better be prepared to duck because there is no anger like the anger of a mother whose child has just been ‘attacked’.
The mother will not curse the child. Why not? Is she blind? No, she is not blind.  She will see the child’s imperfections but she will not recite them to you. Yes, she will speak to her child and make ‘adjustments’; but she reacts as she does because she understands the delicate relationship a parent has with a child, and she knows that she must both adjust the child—and protect it (even as she punishes).

Parenting is not just about punishment. It is a balancing act, where you have to make sure each child knows what is right, gets the corrections and punishments he needs—and understands that your love will always be there; because his (and her) future depends most of all on how you show your love, not just your strap.

So it is with G-d and the Jews. The Jews may not be perfect, but Bilaam fails:  he cannot curse because G-d will not curse… Israel is a nation that dwells alone and is not reckoned among the nations… G-d has blessed them. G-d sees no iniquity in Yaacov and saw no perversity in Israel. G-d is with [Israel] and the friendship of the King is with [them].
As Rabbi Schwartz points out, the commentary of Rashi on these words is interesting:  Bilaam does not say that G-d declares that the Jews have no iniquity or perversity or sin. Rather, G-d simply does not acknowledge it. He refuses to speak of it just as the mother, in public, refuses to speak ill of her child.

The child is special. Israel is special. In addition, Israel has the friendship of the King. Throughout our Tanach, we see how the King does indeed scold, warn and yes, punish the Jews; but that punishment is not meted out because the Jews are evil or rejected by G-d. Rather, it is because the King’s standards are high, the King sees the Jews’  potential, and He  wants to make sure they  grow to that promise.
For example, in my own world, I have seen some of those terroristic children grow up. They no longer spill grape juice in your lap. Some of them have become leaders. Some are brilliant scholars. A couple are brilliant scholars who have become charismatic leaders. These former child terrorists have grown to greatness because of the parenting they received and because of the love and ‘corrections’ they received from ‘kings’ –important teachers, mentors and leaders—along the way.

The same is true for Israel, with the qualification that the parent, the ‘kings’ and the teachers are all the same—G-d.
Our Tanach tells us repeatedly that G-d has chosen the Jewish people. He sees our potential for greatness—and when we ‘grow up’, we will see that, too. Until then, he will protect us, scold us, and punish us when we deserve because He knows of our greatness to come. Yes, the King’s standards are high—but only because He wants the best for his chosen.

This is an important message for us today, because the Zionism that has so inspired us for over a hundred years has a flaw.  Zionism’s founding concept is that we should become (through a national homeland) just ‘like everybody else’. But as the story of Bilaam teaches us, our greatness does not come from our being ‘like everybody else’. As Bilaam himself says,  ‘G-d does not curse..[This] is a nation that dwells apart and is not reckoned among the nations [emphasis mine].’
Our greatness comes specifically and explicitly from being different, not from being the same. A dream that only gets us to be ‘like everyone else’ does not take us to greatness; it takes us to ‘average’  which, if you think about it, is what the phrase ‘everybody else’ really means.

A  story recently appeared in American sports news about a 14-year old (American)high school football player whose skill allows him to play at a high competitive level against college players (in summer leagues). His potential is enormous, but not because he aspires to be ‘like everybody else’.  His behaviour is not ‘like every other 14-year old’: on weekends (he is a wide receiver, which means his job on the football field is to catch a ball thrown to him), he does not do what other 14 year olds do. Instead, he practices, catching up to 1,500 throws a weekend.
He will be great because he is different-- and he works at it!

This different-ness, coupled with ‘working at it’ is the secret of the greatness to come for the Jewish nation. G-d set us apart. He taught us how to reach for greatness. Many ‘work at it’. Now, the rest of us  must make a decision: do we fritter away our weekends with leisure, or do we ‘catch 1,500 throws’? How we answer this question will determine if we will be ‘like everyone else’, or if we will be great.
That 14-year old knows his answer: he wants to be great.

We know from our heritage that greatness is in us. It has been programed into us and then refined across countless generations for more than 3,300 years. We are a singular people. No other people have such a distinct focus, and no other nation has a 3,300-year continuous history with a continuous, growing religion. Strangely, horrifically, the only modern analogy I can think of is Hitler’s Third Reich, which was a concept that shaped and unified a nation around a singular ideal which was intended to last 1,000 years. But the Nazi ideal was evil. Its foundation sanctioned murder and was responsible not only for the killing of six million Jews, but also for another 50 million people.
Our singular ideal is different. Yes, some say we are no different from those Nazis. But we know that is a lie. Our singular ideal focuses on life, not death. It focuses on building, not destroying. It has set us apart for more than 3,300 years.  It is the reason we have survived, this singularity. It is the reason we are hated. It is also what will make us great. Indeed, when you have this kind of potential, why would you want to be like ‘everyone else’?

 Many Jews tell us, ‘You have to be like everybody else.’ But if you have ever been a teenager, you may understand that social peer pressure does not typically lead to greatness. In his own way, that 14 year old non –Jewish American football player knows this. He understands that, to be great, he must be different;  he must believe; and he must work.
In Israel today, we are reaching a critical mass of Jews who also know this—about their heritage and their land. These Jews, your brethren, know they are a people set apart. They believe-- and they work. As a people, they stand before the nations of the world with a distinct and unique belief. They are singular. They are strong. They are hated--—and today both because of that hate and in spite of it, they stand at the threshold of greatness.

 Where do you stand?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

On the threshold of greatness (I): the singular ideal

The nation of Israel lives. She is not an inanimate object. She has a communal, human spirit—complex, contradictory and subject to all the joy and pain of the human experience. Her national soul is a multi-faceted diamond.  It reflects our conflicting aspirations and our hopes—and pulses with an inner war that wages continuously (see An Angel Among Men, Simcha Raz, Kol Mevaser Publications, 2003, p 11). Our mission as a nation is not to fight these inner battles until someone wins—or until they tear us apart; our mission is to take the best of these warring fragments and build with them. We must take and build. As we build, we will find a gift--a singular all-inclusive unifying concept, a national ideal whose depth and strength will make us great.

Already, we stand at that threshold.
Despite our current problems—and despite the negative headlines that bombard us daily-- Israel is ready. Our economy is one of the strongest in the developed world. Our currency strengthens as other currencies weaken. Our research and development is among the best in the world. Our number of patents per capita is among the best in the world.

Israel leads the world in business start-ups per capita. The importance of this statistic cannot be overstated because a nation’s total wealth depends on the small –business sector. Freeze, limit or destroy that sector and your national economy can stagnate and fall; empower that sector and your nation’s wealth potential has almost no limit.

Israel is number one in the world in per capita business start-ups.
Our military strength and our democratic institutions are in place and strong. Our freedoms are established.

Recent oil/gas discoveries make Israel, potentially, the world’s number one or two energy country.
For more than 100 years, Zionism was driven by the desire to ‘be like everyone else’. But we must now re-invent that dream because we have begun to separate ourselves from ‘everyone else’.

Look at Europe: the PIGS—Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain—have economies that are on the verge of collapse. Moreover, saving the PIGS could weaken and threaten the survivability of the entire European Union.

The European experiment with multiculturalism threatens to destroy the social fabric of Europe.

In America, economic fear spreads like an unchecked virus. The value of the dollar cannot stop dropping. China—which controls an enormous portion of US debt—threatens to destabilize our debt structure. The IMF is already thinking out loud about dropping the dollar as the international currency of choice—an action that could cut down the American economy at the knees. Long-term unemployment is now reported to be greater than that of the Great Depression. Gas-pump prices are at historic highs—and going higher. Food shortages and high food prices are predicted.
One prominent political pundit has already said that he could see civil unrest in the US coming soon.

The Arab Spring has become a season of fire and destruction.
Israel has seen none of this. Why should we desire to be like everyone else?

They falter and fail. We, however, can see greatness before us.
But we have a problem: in order to step across that threshold and assume that mantle, we have to change. To use a really bad metaphor, you cannot become a celebrity while you dress like a fashion mistake; to be recognized as great, you have to be great.

We are close—but we lack the key ingredient.
Almost two hundred and fifty years ago, a new idea was born. This singular idea became the force that unified a people and made that people great.

This idea was called ‘American Freedom’. Not everyone believed it. Not everyone wanted it. Not everyone accepted it. But enough people bought into it that a critical mass was formed—and the American idea of Freedom drove and energized a nation to greatness.
That was 1776.

Today is 2011.
Today, there is an irreconcilable difference between the worlds of 1776 and 2011. What worked for America then does not appear to work for America  now. America falters. She may have begun to unravel. The fabric of her founding ideal frays. She is no longer the go-to model for greatness.

Look at Israel. What do you see?  Our nation is like the human soul, driven by inner struggle and conflicting aspirations. But this is not simply bad news about us; it is also the good news. This struggle, these aspirations are the key to our greatness. We are willing to struggle. We yearn. We dream.
Israel stands at the threshold of greatness. But time is short. We may only have one opportunity. We must act: if we do not advance we will fall behind.

To borrow from Yoram Hazony (The Jewish State, Basic Books, 2001), if we are to become great we must commit to a singular, unifying ideal that can energize our national soul. We need an ideal not just for today or next year (greatness is not a flavour-of-the-decade thing); we need an ideal that can be preserved from one generation to the next, an ideal profound enough to withstand the results of application across many times and places. This ideal must be vibrant enough to become a living tradition that can take root in the mind---and stick, from generation to generation.
Israel may stand on the threshold of greatness but without this key ingredient—the unifying ideal--we will not advance. We will fall.

If the multiculturalism of Europe and the Americanism of the US and the communism of Russia are faltering—and if the fascism of Hitler and the Totalitarianism of Stalin have failed-- where do we  find this singular ideal?
Do you know of such an ideal? Can you name an ideal that can actually grow and strengthen from generation to generation, instead of weakening over time?

For almost two hundred and fifty years, we have tried communism, socialism, fascism, totalitarianism, anarchy, chaos, monarchy, Americanism and governing by committee.  Everything man’s mind can create, we have tried.
All of these ideas have worked—for a time.

There is one idea we have not tried. It is so powerful, it frightens grown men. It frightens men because man cannot control it; and when you are a control-freak—when you believe that all power lies only in the hand of man—then the one thing that frightens you most is giving up control.
Do you know what this singular ideal is? It is an ideal that man, who so obsessively seeks control, rejects.

Dare you speak of it? Israel’s media won’t. Israel’s academics won’t. Most of Israel’s political leaders won‘t.
Do you know what this ideal is? The signs of it are everywhere but not everyone will believe it. Not everyone will want it. Not everyone will accept it. But within Israel today we are close to a critical mass, a population ready now to step across that threshold. They know the unifying ideal. They live it.

It is Torat Hashem—the Jewish heritage.
Our leaders and trendsetters will not speak of it. They reject. They refuse. They are afraid.

Dare you speak of it?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Why shouldn't Arab refugees get the 'Right to Return'?

It is being reported in Israel news (Arutz Sheva, July 6, 2011) that, on Friday, July 8, between 500-600 pro-Palestinian activists plan to fly into Israel’s Ben Gurion airport. Their goal is to reach Jerusalem, the Galilee, the Negev and Palestinian-controlled cities, to join Palestinian protest marches. During the marches and accompanying protests, they will claim the Arab ‘Right of Return’.
In addition, in a  recent online Commentary magazine essay that had appeared just a few days earlier, (,  writer Evelyn Gordon relates how Taysir Nasrallah, who is both a senior member of Palestine Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party, and the current director-general of the Nablus governor’s office for the PA, spoke recently about a youth community center in the Balata refugee camp near Nablus. Nasrallah had just given a tour of the community center to a Haaretz (Israel newspaper) reporter, and his words to that reporter give meaning to the goals of the ‘fly-in’ protesters: all of modern Israel is the ‘Palestine’ that the PA promises will be returned to the Arab refugee. To quote Nasrallah:  “We give the kids courses [at the community center] on the right of return, and teach them that the Israelis stole their lands.”

These two realities-- that Arabs today still live in refugee camps 63 years after a war they started, and still teach an Arab ‘Right of Return’ in this manner-- both remind me of a woman I once discovered. You might be interested in her story:  
In the mid-1970s, a journalist named Joan Peters began doing research for a book about Arabs who had become refugees after the 1948 Arab-Israel War. These Arab refugees were stuck, seemingly trapped in horrid ‘camps’.  Her intent was to write about their suffering and deprivation.

Although she began with the idea that she would explore the human rights of Arab refugees, she ended up with something very different—and what she created has left footprints down through the years, footprints we can still see today, footprints we would do well to remember as we face ongoing calls to surrender land and to negotiate the Arab demand to ‘return’ to Israel. Indeed, if you read her book today, you can learn not only something about the birth of modern Israel, but about the historians of the academic Left—and the world’s humanitarians-- as well.
What you learn will not be pretty or complementary. Nevertheless, this is a story you must not forget.

Her book is called, From Time Immemorial (JKAP Publications, USA, 1984). When it was first published in 1984, the Left hated it and savaged it in order to discredit her. Today, however, tells a different story about her work.
But we’ll come back to this later. Right now, we’re still at the beginning.

 As she did her research, she began to ask questions about how these refugees became refugees, and she learned that Arabs weren’t the only unfortunates who had left their homes during and following that 1948 conflict.  From everyone she had talked to, she had assumed that the Arab refugees from Israel  “were the ‘Middle East refugees (emphasis hers),’ but that was not true.  “I was startled,” she writes, that “whole Jewish populations from numerous Arab countries had been forced to flee as refugees.”
Did you know that Jews also became refugees at that same time?

Does the academic Left—or the world’s humanitarians-- tell us about that?
 Joan Peters does. This woman,  the journalist who is not an historian—and who may also, by the way, never  win a Pulitzer Prize for her writing skills—tells a story that I would  call stylistically flawed but riveting. She discovers, for example, that, as those Jews were displaced,  “the total  (emphasis hers) number of Arabs who reportedly left Israel is almost exactly equalled by the number of Jews” who left Arab countries.

Yes, she claims that the number of Jewish refugees almost equals the number of Arab refugees.
How often have you heard the academic Left or the world’s humanitarians tell us about the sorrows of the displaced Jews?

The issue of refugees was not simply an ‘Arab’ problem. It was a mutually disagreeable issue that affected both peoples.
 While her research techniques may not meet the standards of academic historians, and even though she has been viciously criticized, her cited references for her statements have never been refuted, and her descriptions stand:  after the 1948 War, while Israel ignored the propaganda value of asserting the experience of the Jewish War-of-Independence refugee, the Arabs waited, apparently anxious about the Jewish refugee story. They were concerned about the consequences to them, were Jews to start making ‘refugee’ announcements:  if the Jews began talking about how they were solving their own ‘refugee problem’, the Arab’s total refusal to reintegrate their own refugees could back-fire on them. The Arabs wrote about this, discussed it and, apparently, worried about it.

The Jews never raised the issue. All the Jewish refugees were absorbed into Israel; for the Jews, it was a non-issue.
Can you see why Hard-Left historians would savage her work in 1984 -86, when the book reviews were written?  Her story, left unchallenged, could shatter the Arab narrative.
Think about what the existence of an equal number of Jewish refugees could do to the Arab cause. Each group could equally claim ‘deprivation’, not just the Arab. Each group could point at their dislocated brethren and call out, ‘look at what you did to me.’  Ms Peters refers to Arab essays as early as 1966 focusing on this problem, warning that the existence of hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees who had fled Arab lands and who were now absorbed into Israel, could trump the Arab refugee propaganda card. How could the Arab cry out for ‘special treatment’ when the Jews had been just as displaced—and yet only the Jewish displaced had reintegrated?  By comparison, the Arabs (i.e., the Arab League) could look like ruthless  abusers of their own people.

Still, we must remember that Ms Peters has her critics. Specifically, her work been called, ludicrous, preposterous, ignorant, polemical, filled with wild exaggerations,  rubbish—and those are the nicer things her critics have said; and yet, when we look at her words from the point of view of  the 21st century—some 27 years later—we can  see exactly  how ludicrous she sounds:
 …”the objective of the Arab world’s propaganda strategy has been one-sided Arab ‘repatriation’, a ‘return’ in the name of self-determination of those Arab refugees who have been perceived as the Palestinian people…In the foundation for those claims, one cornerstone is the popular perception  that the Arabs are the only hapless refugees who were uprooted in 1948.”

Yes, the Arab was horribly dislocated by the 1948 war; and yes, they now demand one-way justice.
Gosh. That sounds fair, doesn’t it?

The Left says it is. So do the world’s humanitarians.
So what’s the issue here? Why would the Arabs refuse to repatriate their own people?  Ms. Peters quotes a  University of Chicago population expert , who had been a former US Census Director and who had represented the US on the UN Population Commission from 1947 to 1951, whom she had  interviewed in 1978, saying that, “the exchange of population between out-migrant Arab and out-migrant Jews is real—precedents have been established. As far as the unprecedented refusal by the Arabs to accept Arab refugees—some quarters call this a deliberate means of destroying Israel.”

Destroy Israel?  Really?
The scholarly, academic and professional historian of the Left has never seriously considered that the Arab refugee problem could be part of a deliberate plan to destroy Israel. A University of Chicago population expert saw it, but the professional historians of the Left simply bought into the Arab narrative hook, line and sinker; so did the world’s humanitarians.

That’s objective and scholarly and humane, isn’t it?
But the truth is, the 1948 War created large numbers of refugees—just as happens in every war. Those refugees represented an extensive “exchange of minorities between the Arabs and the Jews.”  This was not a one-way street.

To put this issue into perspective, according to Peters, during the years 1933-1950, perhaps 79-100  million people were displaced by war and its consequences. By 1984, however—her date of publication-- most were no longer refugees, “because the resettlement and integration of those refugee transfers by the host country has been considered by the world community to be the normal and humanitarian course of action.”
So why wouldn’t  the Arab nations behave like everybody else, and behave in a way that is both normal and humanitarian?

Because, she suggests, they had a long-term plan to use humans (suffering Arabs) to destroy the ‘Zionist entity’.
How ludicrous and absurd do those words sound today?

She makes two more statement which, so far as I can tell, have never been substantively refuted—and which we might want to remember:
First, “there has been no successful mass repatriation by any refugee group except after a military victory.”

Second, “in instances of refugee exchanges there is no historical, moral, or other basis for one-way repatriation.”
These two statements suggest some questions: who’s the oppressor of the Arab refugee, the Jew or the Arab? Why does the Left deny that the Arabs are possibly the only ‘family’ to refuse repatriation, when something like 79 – 100 million other displaced people reintegrated? For the Left—and the humanitarian-- what compelling justification is there for a historically unique one-way repatriation, for a people who ended up displaced explicitly because of a war their own people started and lost?

If there is a moral lesson here, it is not that the world owes the Arab a one-way  repatriation. Rather, the lesson is this: don’t start a war of aggression because if you do and you lose, you have no moral ground to stand on; and throughout history, there have no exceptions to this.
This shocks a person who calls himself  ‘professional historian’?

In the end, history is about telling the truth; and it seems to me that the work and words of Joan Peters do a far better job of revealing truth than the work of the professional historians of the Left.
And the world’s humanitarians? It seems they walked away from truth a long time ago.

So if those ‘fly-in’ protesters show up and tell the world they come to fight for the Arab ‘right of return’, allow me to suggest one way to respond: the Jews didn’t steal anything;  there is simply no historical or moral case for a one-way repatriation, especially when you start a war of aggression and lose; indeed, if the Arab is so concerned about where he lives in 2011, his elders should not have been so quick to declare war in 1948.