Sunday, August 28, 2011

On the threshold of greatness: Jews, G-d, the Middle East--and Larry Derfner's essay

When Jews founded the modern State of Israel in 1948, they did not put G-d’s name into our Declaration of Independence. They put Herzl’s name in.  G-d made no appearance. Perhaps the Jews of 1948 believed G-d was not a Socialist.

Today, we are a modern democratic state. We are sixty-three years old. We have a strong army, an even stronger economy, and a widespread belief that, if Socialism is not dead in Israel, it should be.  Still, no major politician (Netanyahu, Barak, Peres, Livni) mentions G-d’s name in public. Perhaps they believe G-d had become a Socialist.

A few weeks ago, the Israel Government announced that G-d’s name would be removed from the Israel Defense Force (IDF) funeral service for fallen IDF soldiers.  Weeks later,  eight Israelis (including IDF soldiers) were murdered by Arab terrorists on the road to Eilat. Within hours,  rockets from Gaza began to  fall onto Southern Israel.  Israelis were in an uproar. The Cabinet met in a special midnight, Saturday-night meeting. Announcements were made. Government leaders spoke.  No major politician mentioned G-d.

While all of this was unfolding, American TV personality Glenn Beck was in Israel to host a rally he was calling, “Restoring Courage”.  He invited lots of Christians. They came. They talked about G-d.

Some Israelis questioned this. What was Beck really doing here?  No one seemed to know.  Did Beck have the right to come here and talk about G-d like that? No one seemed to know.

I am not sure where all of this is going to end. But it sure looks suspicious to me. We have recently read the week’s Torah portion called Eikev (you can read it for yourself; it’s Deuteronomy 7:12- 11:25) that some say contains the central, most explicit documentation of the relationship between G-d, the Jews and the land of Israel—and with this almost contractual  rendering on our mind, the only religious reaction we have to attacks against Jews and the land of Israel is…silence?

 Sunday, August 21, 2011—the day after we had read this Torah portion-- turned out to be a busy day for those who claim that the Middle East caters to the insane: Turkey announced that it was going to suspend or reduce diplomatic relations with Israel as a punishment for the consequences of an illegal and deadly 2010 Flotilla incident that was sponsored by, you guessed it, Turkey.  At the same time, Egyptian demonstrators attacked the Israel Embassy in Cairo and burned the Israel flag. More rockets hit Israel from Gaza.  By noon, local time Sunday, the Israel Air Force (IAF) had retaliated twice with pin-point attacks—and because of that Jordan immediately condemned Israel for its military ‘escalation’.  The Arab league met. They condemned the IAF air strikes on Gaza. They said nothing about Gaza firing rockets into civilian Israel in the first place.  A UN Committee called the Bureau of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People published a report calling on UN member states to compel Israel to halt all ‘settlement’ construction because construction undermines peace.  On a day that Israel was under attack-- with Jews being killed-- a UN committee announces that construction undermines peace? Mahmoud Abbas, head of the Palestinian Authority (PA), signed on Sunday an agreement with Lebanon to open a PA ‘embassy’ there (in Lebanon) and announced that he could not wait for the Lebanese flag to fly over Jerusalem. Hezbollah, which essentially rules Lebanon, issued a statement that all of Israel, from the [Mediterranean] Sea to the [Jordan] River was sacred and belonged to the Arabs. Late in the afternoon, Israel news outlets reported that Hamas, which controls Gaza (and which was responsible for shelling Israel in the first place), had called on the United Nations to stop Israeli military attacks on Gaza. Terror alerts were issued for the cities of Jerusalem and Maale Adumim.  By late Sunday afternoon, still more rockets fell into Israel. Meanwhile, American news outlets ran no story about the Gaza rocket attacks or about Abbas’s or Hezbollah’s statements. Nothing.  But they did have a lot to say about Kim Kardashian’s celebrity wedding and a $40 million fortune-telling scam—you know, important stuff.  

Okay, so the Middle East isn’t the only place that caters to the insane.

Meanwhile, back in Israel, G-d was waiting. No one mentioned His name in public. Except the Christians.

By Tuesday, August 23, 2011, Muslims in our locale decided to speak out, to add to our understanding of the week’s events. They had read about the attacks against Jews and Israel—and they had read about Glenn Beck. They appeared now to have two plans:  the first was from an Arab Member of the Israeli Knesset (MK)-- Christian Zionists in the world conspire to Judaize Jerusalem, the Arab MK said. Therefore, Jerusalem must be liberated:  Arabs must rise up for Jihad [Holy War], to free Jerusalem. The second plan came on the same Tuesday from Egypt, from a cleric of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood [said by President Obama’s team to be a secularized organization]: any Egyptian citizen who encounters a ‘Zionist’, he declared, should kill that Zionist.

Curiously, these two ideas did not seem to clarify anything. They were ignored.

Glenn Beck, meanwhile, began to receive increased media attention: he was attacked ( Haaretz and Arutz Sheva) and then defended ( Arutz Sheva and Jerusalem Post).

By the end of the day (Tuesday), the score seemed to be Glenn Beck, two; his opponents, three.

Everyone waited for Wednesday, when the Beck show was to move to Jerusalem.

Meanwhile, G-d also waited. No one mentioned His name in public. Except the Christians.

By the way, I am not making up any of this. Every item mentioned in this essay took place between August 21 - August 27, 2011.

Late Thursday, August 25, word spread online that a Jerusalem Post Leftist columnist, Larry Derfner, had written an eye-opening essay on a site entitled, Israel Reconsidered (it looks like a Derfner-only site); the essay was titled, ‘The awful, necessary truth about Palestinian terror,’ posted a few days earlier, August 21, 2011. There, Derfner wrote that the Palestinians who had ambushed and killed eight Israelis last week—including perhaps five civilians on their way to vacation-- in a terrorist attack, ‘were justified to attack.’  More explicitly, Derfner stated that the Palestinians have “the right to resist” the so-called Israeli ‘occupation’—“to use violence against Israelis, even to kill Israelis.”  To many readers (in the ‘comments’ section), the Jewish Leftist Derfner was declaring that Palestinians have the right [his words, his context] to kill Jews for their political goals. The next day, Friday,  Caroline Glick (Jerusalem Post, August 26, 2011, ‘Column One: Glenn Beck’s revealing visit’) wrote that “The Israeli left habitually embraces self-proclaimed friends” of Israel who  declare their friendship and then immediately  “proceed to denounce Israel’s policies and to deny its basic rights. …The Israel Left habitually embraces”  such self-proclaimed friends, and encourages  “such friends to harm Israel in the name of helping it.”  But embracing  those who are actually hostile to us— a long-term, traditional Left staple—seemed by late Friday afternoon to be a far cry from Derfner’s new approach: forget about embracing so-called friends;  let’s just tell our enemies that they  have the right to kill Jews.

Suddenly, a confirmed Jewish Leftist was revealing the truth: ’justice’  justifies murder for ‘peace’.

There’s more, of course, but you get the picture. In fact, part of this picture is a fascinating apology that Derfner posted on his site very late Friday. The apology is both clear and unclear, making the apology extremely suspect. He backs off from saying that the Palestinians have both the right to kill Jews and the justification to do so—but then he says the ‘occupation’ provokes those acts. What’s the problem here?  In common usage,  ‘provoked’  is directly  related to ‘justified’.  An example of this would be: if an assault is provoked, a potential victim is justified to repel force with force. So Derfner, after apologizing for saying that the Palestinians are justified in killing Israelis, essentially confirms that the Palestinians are indeed justified to kill Israelis.

His apology is not an apology. In my opinion, he got hammered for what he had written, and he was now trying to control whatever firestorm he had started.  He does not disavow his conclusion; actually, he justifies it.

His error, it seems, might be that he had the gall (or innocent thoughtlessness) to state what everyone knows is the obvious end-point for Leftist anti-Israel ideology: the Arab is justified to kill Jews and has the right to do so to achieve his ‘freedom’. The bad news is that Derfner’s legitimization of murder hung out there on the internet for six full days (he says he has now deleted the essay from his site).  The good news is, he actually stated the truth—Leftist ideology leads to justifying murder.

He may have removed the offending essay from the web, but he will not be the last to make that statement. In fact, since he has removed the essay, we will see if others will come to his defense and either repeat his conclusion or support his right to say it.

Where does all of this end? G-d knows.

Actually, we also know, because we are the Jewish people. If you want to know what is going on with this insanity called the Middle East (and the Israel Left), read your Torah texts. Start with the portion we have recently finished (it starts at Deuteronomy 7:12), and then read each of the portions for the final six weeks of the Jewish calendar year, including the ‘additional’ weekly readings called the ’haftorah’. Seek appropriate commentaries for these readings, especially for the metaphor and poetry you will encounter.

As you read, forget Glenn Beck. Forget the Christians. Forget the Israel Left.  Forget the Muslims. Forget Kim Kardashian. 

As you read, think not only about the words and the ideas you see, but also about Jewish history: compare the words you read to the history of the Jewish people.

Once you’ve done that, think again about today’s Middle East. Marvel at how man-made ‘justice’  and morality can evolve to a legitimization of murder.  Consider how anti-G-d and anti-Semitic Leftists seek ‘world peace’ by demonizing Jews (see Jenny Tonge in England and the Flotilla groupies from Europe).   Compare the  ‘justice’ that the man-made Left would create for Israel with what our G-d in our Torah defines as justice, morality and caring for humans. Compare the selfish and cruel remedies for what ails us presented by the Left, with the remedies for our times that we see in G-d’s Torah ( see Gold from the Land of Israel, ed  Rabbi Chanan Morrison, Urim Publications, 2006, p.347). Compare the Muslim and Leftist curses of Israel, to G-d’s promise that the Jewish nation will ultimately receive the full cup of G-d’s Blessing (ibid,  p.351).

 From your readings, your reflection and your observations of current events, you might be surprised to discover a threshold—or the hint of a threshold—beyond which lives, not a  Jew-free, peaceful  ‘Palestine’, but rather  a singular, unique Jewish nation fulfilling a singular, unique Destiny. Once you discover that threshold—or the hint of it—then you can ask yourself, ‘what should I do with my life?’ Should I seek the justice of a Left that would kill Jews for peace, or should I seek the justice of the G-d of our nation? Spend the next six weeks reading.  Six weeks from now will be a good time to ask these questions because in six weeks the Jewish nation will be observing the days between its Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur—a time for reflection, discovery and commitment.

Perhaps those days will become your time to reflect—and to discover the truth about G-d and the Jewish nation.

Perhaps then, you will not be afraid to mention G-d’s name in public.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

On the threshold of greatness: when the Jewish nation becomes dirty and repulsive

Part II: where illegitimacy began, where it ends

When the political culture of the West joins the religion-based culture of Middle East Islam to attack Israel, the resulting condemnations signal how complete is the West’s moral collapse. It is not a coincidence that the West’s refusal to stand up for a Westernized but Jewish sovereign state’s right to exist appears simultaneously with the rising influence of the International political Left. This modern Left, with deep roots in Marxism, Humanism and Hellenism is perfectly comfortable with a global demonization of Israel and all matters Jewish. The Left’s Humanist-Hellenist ideology seeks to replace G-d with man, the  minority with majority, and ‘justice’ with a man-made morality. The Humanist Left feeds itself on a globalist world-uniting vision that is based in part on a Hellenist faith that it is man (and only man) who can best shape the universe.

From our point of view, the Hellenist influence on the West’s moral collapse begins with arrogance and ends with denigrating the Jew: Hellenists considered themselves more intellectually sophisticated than others and, by comparison, aristocratic, while the rest of the world was barbaric (ibid, p. 205); only they were civilized and only they had the answers.  They were—as today’s Left—intolerant, cruel and full of contempt for those who were ‘other’.  In addition, their attitudes toward Jews was to remove the Jew from the ‘nations’ of the world, by isolating the Jew as unsocial, impious and hostile  (Hecataeus, 300 BCE, in Judeophobia: attitudes toward the Jews in the ancient world, Peter Schafer, Harvard University Press paperback, pp. 15-16, and 23); indeed, the Jews’ insularity and supposed hostility to ‘foreigners’ was explicitly associated with their strange and perhaps ‘improper’ belief in a non- human god who had no physical form (ibid, 17 and 22-23). Less politely (Manetheo,  app 250 BCE, ibid, p. 18), Jews were portrayed  as cruel. Worse, Jews were said to create laws to assure that the world’s ‘normal’ gods were not worshipped. Jewish law, in this view, was exclusionary to the point that Jews required their women to have intercourse only with those within their own confederacy (ibid, p.18)—something which, apparently, bothered non-Jewish observers.  By the time first century BCE Hellenists wrote, Jews are portrayed as having adopted a hatred of humankind as their permanent tradition (Diodorus, ibid, p. 23). Later (Tacitus, early second century CE), Jews become ‘hateful to the gods’, practicing customs  (the Sabbath, fasts, abstinence from pork) that were abominable ( ibid 31-2); some at that time spoke of Judaism with disgust (32).  Curiously, Jews again seem particularly offensive because they abstain from intercourse with foreign women while among themselves, it is suggested, nothing lustful is unlawful (p. 33), a criticism that surely says more about the accuser than the accusee. Ultimately, the fact that Jews did not make images of their god meant that they were in fact godless (ibid, 36).  You can see where this is going: the creation of anti-Semitism, a focused, unified attitude where the Jew becomes both hostile and repulsive, blasphemous, godless and hypocritical—foreign, untrustworthy, suspicious.  The Jew, in other words, becomes the one who obstructs amity and trust.

 In the modern world, Nazi Germany refined this anti-Semitism; they built upon ancient and accepted attitudes to create a uniquely horrific Jewish ‘solution’—the complete removal of Jews from the world’s population map.  Today, as the Arab seeks to remove Israel from the Middle East map, the politically Left Humanist speaks of the power of human capability above all else, and is disdainful of G-d.  To the Humanist, compassion and sympathy towards others is not paramount, the minority must yield to the majority, and peace in the Middle East comes only when the Jew yields to the Muslim.

It may seem odd to some, but a morality without G-d always ends as immorality. When the Left (the Humanist’s natural home), joining with Arab media and Mosque, seem to inherit the Nazi and Hellenist views of the Jewish people, we see what happens when morality becomes immoral: anti-Semitism becomes a world-view. The Left and the Arab refuse to stand for what is Right, and prefer to stand with Wrong.  Their morality is, let us condemn the Jewish Israel and reward Arab terrorists. One can see this in the Arab use of Nazi anti-Jewish propaganda, and in the Left’s support for the modern version of the big lie (the Arab claim of a Palestinian people forcibly ejected from their ancestral homes by murdering Jews in 1948, who now cry for the justice they deserve), in order to demonize an Israel they identify as a cruel, repulsive and arrogantly abusive minority.  British Leftist  Jenny Tonge sums it up well when she suggests (Jerusalem Post,  November 14, 2010) that the very existence of Israel creates terrorism-- the inference being that the political pursuit of a Humanistic world peace would be much enhanced with the terror-creating, obstructionist Israel removed from the world map.  Peace—the ultimate moral goal—is possible only when Jews have been removed. The Arab and the Hellenist Left appear to have formed a symbiotic partnership, where, working together for ‘peace’, the one would disdain and demonize as the other would destroy and/or kill.  To be moral once meant to seek a kind of cleansing purity. These haters of the Jewish people have a long and sneering (and by now) blood-stained legacy. Their immoral embrace of falsehood has become their humanist morality.
 In their own way, some Christians back away from this immorality. It is too extreme. Christians may have their own ideas about Jews, but this unholy alliance goes too far: the Left and the Arab pursue their modern anti-Israel, anti-G-d agenda with a fervor that seems too intense—indeed, altogether too, well, religious. For some Christians, the Arab-Left hatred suggests a religion of Evil; suddenly, perhaps surprisingly, the Jew must be defended because once the Jew is destroyed, they will be next; and if they wait until the Jew is destroyed, it will be too late; the enemy, this Evil,  will have become too powerful.

We must not be distracted by events or individuals.  The G-d of Israel remains the Living G-d of the Jewish nation, who has promised both punishment and Redemption for his Chosen.  We might wish to note this Christian battle against Evil, but we should read our own Tanach and remember what our G-d has said to us. In comments on the poetic lines that follow the words, “They called me dirty and repulsive, worse than all my peers,” Rabbi Soloveitchik tells us, “In effect, G-d says to the Jewish people, ‘I will bring you back to the land of Israel…and restore you to your former glory, for one reason—not because you are deserving, but because My name has been desecrated”(ibid, 200).

The Jewish people may not be deserving—there is, unfortunately, some evidence of this; but there is also evidence that Left-leaning politicians of the world actively desecrate both the name of Israel and the name of G-d in order to promote a Humanist, majority-focused and man-made  ‘justice’ that has nothing to do with G-dliness or Holiness.  Right now, the nations of the world (and the political Left) seem to work too fervently and too diligently to isolate us as a repulsive, cruel and vile nation.  But the Jewish tradition is clear: more than a 1,000 years ago, we were reminded that the enemies of Israel are the enemies of G-d.   You may have to re-read parts of this essay (or do some additional reading) in order to think it through, but this association holds true. To hate Israel is to hate G-d.  The Christians may see something else in today’s events—deeds and words that strike at the heart of their own religion-- but our truth is found and then repeated throughout history: G-d and Israel are as one; to hate the one is, in fact and deed, to hate the other. To desecrate the one is to desecrate the other. Remember that as you watch September 2011 at the UN and note how eagerly do the nations work against Israel, how gladly do they support wrong over right and desecration over Deity.

Do not tremble if you see sneering hate. Do not worry if the media shows us nations seeking to foist a Humanist  ‘justice’ upon us. Do not fear if the Jewish nation becomes dirty and repulsive, worse than all her peers at the United Nations, for the G-d of Israel watches. As September unfolds, we would be wise to read our Tanach and remember what our G-d has told us.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

On the threshold of greatness:when the Jewish nation becomes dirty and repulsive

Part I: upon becoming illegitimate

In the Tisha B’av poetry called Kinot, there appears a line that translates as, “They called me dirty and repulsive, worse than all my peers.” The dating of this line is uncertain, but all seem to agree that it would have been written no later than the eleventh century, some 1,000 years ago, or as early as the second century, perhaps some 1,750 years ago. It draws our attention not to the physical destruction of the Holy Temple (the subject of the poetry), but to hostility of the nations towards Israel (see discussion by Rav Joseph Soloveitchik, The Koren Mesorat Harav Kinot, the Lookstein edition, ed Simon Posner, OU press, Koren publishers, 2010, p. 200).  This reference to the disdain and contempt of the nations is meant here to refer to the political and social aftermath of the destruction of both the First Temple (586 BCE) and the Second Temple (70 CE); but it is also relevant today, as Israel is demeaned and demonized by both Western and Muslim countries.

 At the United Nations, for example, where we should expect to see respect for a sovereign nation’s rights, Israel is condemned even as some of the world’s most brutal national killers (think of Communist North Korea) are essentially ignored.  Too often, when Arab dictators kill thousands of their own people in brutal internal repressions aimed solely at maintaining a brutal regime, they receive—at best-- only formal verbal objection from the nations of the world. But when Israel seeks to defend itself from 8,000 rockets fired into her sovereign territory from an avowed enemy, Gaza (2009), the UN rises up almost in unison—against Israel.  The UN not only fails to protect a sovereign member (see the very beginning of the UN Charter), it attacks, condemns and investigates Israel (recall the Goldstone Report), seeming always to conclude that Israel is surely to be considered an international rogue. This disdain for both Israel’s safety and its sovereign rights is a clear expression of contempt for the right of the Jewish nation to exist.  Israel has no right to defend herself against attack? The UN’s contempt towards Israel desecrates the rights of a sovereign nation. It falsely calls Israel worse than her peers, dirty and repulsive, when North Korea, Syria and events in Somalia and Darfur demonstrate that such a label is blatantly and obviously untrue.  In addition, when a Synod of the Catholic Church publishes a document(accepted by the Vatican without comment) that states unequivocally that the Jews are no longer the Chosen, singular People of G-d, the desecration of G-d’s name  gets added to the contempt heaped upon Israel.  Particularly since the 2009 Gaza incursion, the nations of the world have made a clear statement: they not only reject Israel’s right to defend herself, but they reject as well the word and the Promise of the G-d of Israel.  Rabbi J. Soloveitchik anticipated this reality—perhaps understanding it better than we—when he wrote, “the enemies of Israel want not only to kill the Jews, but also to deny the…chosenness that G-d imparted to the Jewish people (ibid, 201).

In an extraordinary article (International Analysts Network, August 6, 2011) Mark Silberberg writes that

 “The lies perpetrated by otherwise respectable international religious, educational, humanitarian and political bodies against the only democracy in the Middle East are most notable in the double standards that are applied to Israel as opposed to states that have slaughtered their own peoples  for decades with absolute immunity from international censure. In an excellent article published in the Jewish World Review, Jonathan Rosenblum notes that the UN General Assembly passes more resolutions against Israel annually than against all of the rest of the nations of the world combined [my emphasis].

Israel is repulsive, worse than all other nations, even as million are slaughtered, raped and starved in aggressive Muslim-African and Muslim-Muslim conflict. Only Israel is condemned—for defending herself. Indeed, as all of this unfolds at the UN, Arab Mosques of the Middle East call for death to the Jews, and the Waqf of Jerusalem supervises the illegal removal of more than 15,000 tons of debris from the Temple Mount before announcing that there is no evidence of Jewish life on the Temple Mount. As this goes on, the nations of the world remain cynically and sneeringly silent. If they do speak, it is to claim, as Caroline Glick shows (Our world: Norway’s Jewish problem, Jerusalem Post, August 8, 2011), that Israel somehow deserves to be denigrated and attacked because it is a vile ‘occupier’; and they then define ‘occupation’ as, “Since 1948 the state of Israel has occupied Palestinian land.”

Israel’s very existence, in other words, is illegitimate. 

Sunday, August 21, 2011

An open letter to Glenn Beck


 You have come to Israel to hold a rally, “Restoring Courage”, on Wednesday, August 24, 2011. I believe you plan to hold this rally at the Southern Wall excavations, the Davidson Center, Jerusalem, though of course I understand that the final venue could be different. You have invited, among many, the Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Israel, several prominent Jewish and Christian clergy, and both politicians and diplomats from around the world.  You have asked Americans to join you, to show the world that, despite the cost of travel and lodging, they are willing to stand with Israel.

Mr. Beck, you have revealed on your now-cancelled American TV program that you must spend more than a million dollars a year on personal security. Clearly, you understand the cost to defend Israel. Your willingness to pay such a price to be steadfast is stunning.  Considering the hatred that we (and now you) face, your continued defense of our beleaguered country represents for many Jews an act of courage that few are willing to take. Indeed, many here believe that your TV program was cancelled precisely because you chose not only to stand up for Israel, but also because you counter-attacked those whom you believe support the demonization of Israel and/or the destruction of the Jewish people. For many Jews, you appear to be a true Gentile hero. I think it proper to say, ‘thank you’, for the courage you have shown.

But now, Mr Beck, you face a challenge. As you await your moment to stand—perhaps before thousands-- in Israel’s lime-light, you have already asked American Jews to join with their Christian friends to talk about Israel and to stand together for Israel; you have asked that synagogues and churches should interface, to solidify behind Israel;  you have spoken as a Christian to your Israeli friends, recalling the words of the Biblical Ruth, ‘Your G-d is my G-d’; you have declared your commitment to your deity on American TV; and, after all of this, you have  identified this rally as ‘non-denominational’. Your challenge, Mr Beck, is to confront the contradictions of Christian-Jewish relations.

You see, Mr Beck, many believe that some Christians see friendship with Jews as a means to missionize Jews. Even today, as you prepare to stand up for Courage, some Jews in Israel are talking about a certain Jewish citizen of Hebron who had recently spoken in support of a ‘Christian friend’, who had come to Israel to work side-by-side with Jewish families. But it turns out that the ‘Christian friend’ might see his friendship with Jews as a way to missionize them-- something, apparently, he may have discussed on his website but not revealed to his friend in Hebron.

For us, Mr. Beck, it does not matter if this current Hebron story is true or not, because history teaches us that the Christian hand of friendship too often means something other than pure friendship. So as you prepare to speak in Israel, please note that we do appreciate the hand that you hold out to us. Today, before you have spoken publicly, we accept your hand.  We accept your love and we celebrate your courage on our behalf. But do not become a pseudo- ‘Christian friend’. Do not disappoint us. Instead, respect our religion. Be mindful of the history of those Christians who have held out their hand—with less than honest intent. Be sensitive. Do not invoke your deity’s name before our public. Ask other Christian speakers to share your sensitivity.  By all means, call for Christians to support Israel. But do not ask Jews to hold hands with their Christians friends, for the history of such hand-holding has proven painful to the Jewish people.  By all means, tell Christians they must fight evil and stand up for good—but do not ask Jews to join their Christian neighbors to pray together. Such prayer has led to unhappy outcomes for a Jewish community.

Christian-Jewish history has brought pain to us, Mr. Beck. As our friend, do not bring more pain.

Some Christians demonize Israel.  Some believe that Israel is not simply an ‘occupier’ of Palestinian land, but that we have been occupiers since our modern State’s creation—1948-- which means that our very existence is vile and repulsive to them. Mr. Beck, you have stood against these Christians. Your courage and your words have inspired both Christian and Jew.  Now, on August 24,  you are scheduled to ascend a unique bully-pulpit. How will you use that platform? You have the opportunity to speak to all, including Christians, about Israel, G-d, courage—and the survival of Western ideals. You will be challenged not only to find the proper words, but also to speak with proper respect—because from this unique place the world will see if you are one who understands the lessons of Christian-Jewish history.

Be careful, Mr Beck. Use your moment in this spotlight wisely. Be sensitive. Honor the soil upon which you stand. Honor your friends. Do not disappoint us.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

If Abbas goes to the UN for unilateral statehood

During July 2011—and now again in August—news reports in Israel have been telling us that Mahmoud Abbas, head of the Palestinian Authority (PA), is fully committed to seeking statehood through  the United Nations—or, maybe not.  In the meantime, Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, after telling US President Obama that Israel will never negotiate a  peace with the PA based on a pre-condition of  pre-1967 borders,  now says he will begin with exactly that pre-condition—or, maybe not.  On one level, all of this illustrates regional diplomacy at its Middle East ‘best’;  but on another level,  it reveals a truth about how Israel reacts to Arab vacillation and pressure.

Today, we will look at that truth and explore what that truth teaches us about Israel’s options.

First, the backround:  Israelis today seem to talk about two things. Polls show that we are divided over the creation of a new Arab ‘Palestine’; and second, we are concerned about Arab hatred towards Jews and Israel. As a result, our national reaction to the yes-no dance of regional diplomacy we read about is perfectly natural:  we freeze.

The biological response to a threat is to stop, just as a deer freezes when caught by the glare of your car’s headlights on a dark road. So, too, this has been our national response to the threat of a Mahmoud Abbas celebrating a victory by holding up a plaster map showing a new Arab Palestine in place of our Israel—something he has already done. It is important to recognize that this ‘freeze’ response is normal because if we believe that it is abnormal, we will begin to make our decisions based on an error; and when you are threatened and under pressure, the last thing you want to do is to make decisions based on an erroneous assumption. You may not get a second chance.  That first mistake—thinking that freezing is bad—could be the last mistake we make because it could lead us to act impulsively, and impulse decisions made under pressure do not usually create a positive outcome. In the current diplomatic situation we are staring at, bad decision-making could be disastrous.

The natural response mechanism to a threat is simple. You freeze, and then you go to some variation of ‘flight and fight’. If you want to see this in action, the next time you see two of Israel’s ubiquitous street cats facing off, watch how they behave. They spend a lot of time (noisily) freezing, then—mostly—they flee. Their worst-case scenario is, they fight. That deer caught on the road in your headlights also freezes, but unlike those street cats, it does not stay frozen long. It has to make a decision. Its options are limited: stand its ground and confront your 1200-kilo car approaching  at perhaps 80 kph; attack your car; or jump off the road. It has less than 3 seconds to make its decision; then, its options collapse to zero. You hit the deer.

The same is true for us. Under threat, we are caught ‘in the headlights’, frozen. Like that deer, we hesitate. Like that deer, our options are limited: we can attack by annexing the West Bank and Golan; we can say, ‘no’ (or remain passive) and wait to confront the consequences of a UN vote for a new state; or, we can surrender immediately and sign whatever Abbas puts in front of us. There are other options, of course, but our choices are definitely limited.

Unfortunately, our nation is, ultimately, not like that deer in the headlights. The option of jumping off to the side is not open to us. There is no place to jump. Israelis know this—and that is why, perhaps, we remain frozen: the best choice is closed. There is no safe haven. Since whatever decision we make seems likely to lead to something unpleasant, we remain frozen.

But even if we lack a safe haven, there is still good news for us: we do have options.  Our problem has never been a lack of options. Our problem is, we do not like the options we have. We want different options.

This is not a thought-process that leads to success. Instead, it is a thought-process every parent of a 4-year old has seen. Did you ever see a 4-year old decide he does not want to get dressed on the morning that you are rushed and under pressure?  What does a smart parent do in this situation? You change the subject, and you talk about choices: ‘look, do you want the red socks this morning, or the blue?’


This works—except on that one morning when your child decides he does not like the options!

You know what happens next, right? Your personal family version of World War III.

Well, our nation is exactly like that child: red socks, blue socks; sign Abbas’ paper, wait for the UN: neither one of us likes the options.

Today, we learn several lessons from all of this:

1.       It is normal to freeze when threatened. Don’t worry about it.

2.        Like that deer on the highway, if you stay frozen too long, you lose.

3.       Like your refusenik child, Israel does not have the luxury of saying, ‘no.’ The political cost will be too high. Besides, it’s too early for Israel to do that.

4.       In conflict, it is not good when someone else tells you what your options are.

5.       In conflict, when faced with bad options, change the options.

6.       A winner always controls the choices. A loser does not.

7.       Finally, always choose the option that gives you the most second choices.

Here is what these lessons teach us.

First, Israel should be proactive at the UN and in the public arena. Remaining silent in the face of an Arab political attack at the UN is a form of turning the other cheek; and as Jews know from history, the Jew who turns the other cheek gets slapped twice. We cannot afford that. To wait is to lose.  The deer that hesitates gets hit by the car. Israel has to declare repeatedly and often—privately and/or in public-- that any unilateral action by Abbas is a complete and absolute abrogation of all UN agreements ever undertaken between Arab and Jew.  It has been agreed repeatedly that all decisions in the Arab-Israel conflict are to be resolved by mutual consent—this has been the mantra since 1948, and it is the foundation of the beloved (but horrible) Oslo Accords. This understanding has been the one reality both Arab and Jew have always agreed to. But now, if Abbas unilaterally abrogates this understanding, he is not only setting back future negotiations, he is also rejecting 63 years of agreements, and destroying forever the (horrible) Oslo Accords that everyone loves.  If Abbas does this, Israel can no longer trust anything he says. Abbas is, in essence, slamming the door.  He therefore—no matter what he says—must now accept full and sole responsibility for breaking all peace-building agreements that have been previously made. Israel should warn that the PA misleads when it declares—as it did this past week—that a unilaterally declared state will aid peace negotiations. It will not. Instead, it will destroy 63 years of working (sometimes painfully)  towards consensus.  Abbas has a choice, Israel must say, and every choice has a consequence:  if Abbas acts to break every historical agreement made between Arab and Jew, then Israel will not remain silent. At the very moment that the first country name is called out at the UN, to begin that final vote for ‘recommending’ a  Palestine state—a General Assembly vote that follows a Security Council veto is not legally binding, which means that Abbas is throwing everything away for a piece of paper-- Israel will annex the entire West Bank and Golan area, and create by fiat two Arab cantons. These cantons will be built like their Swiss paradigms. Each of these two cantons will be subject to Israel sovereign rule, but will otherwise be independent, just like their Swiss counterparts. Each canton will have its own police force, government, and courts. Each canton will be responsible for its own health care, public education, welfare, economies and tax collection. There will be no more than two such Arab cantons, and each canton will have one elected seat in the Israel Knesset. Each canton will negotiate with Israel its own agreements, subject to mutual acceptance.  Arabs who live in the West Bank and Golan but outside canton boundaries will be members of the closest canton, but subject to IDF rules, since they will be living on Jewish land as undocumented aliens.   Such residents, however, will have representation through the officials elected by their canton and receive from their assigned canton all benefits canton residents are entitled to.

If anyone complains about this, and calls Israel apartheid, then Israel’s response should be immediate and firm: if Switzerland is not an apartheid state, then Israel is not an apartheid state. It does not matter that Switzerland and Israel do not use the canton structure in the same way— Switzerland does not live with Israel’s political realities. This arrangement is better than the pre-vote status quo.  If UN nations want Israel to look favourably upon a Palestinian state, they would do well to back off accusing Israel with emotionally charged accusations which contribute nothing constructive to the dialogue. Such accusations do not show goodwill.  Israel wishes to conform to UN ideals, but Israel firmly asserts that it is against the most basic of UN ideals to demand that a sovereign member state give up land to a terrorist organization (Hamas-Fatah) dedicated to destroying that sovereign state.  For Israel to cede land under these circumstances is absolutely contrary to paragraph one of Article one, Chapter one—the very beginning-- of the UN Charter; and the UN has no right to abrogate its founding document in order to act with prejudice against a member state.

There’s more to this, of course, but this is a starting point. Such an action at this time could give Israel more options after a UN vote, not less. More important, it makes Israel an actor in this play, not a passive observer. In this drama, the passive one will be the victim. Of that, there is no question. Only actors will have a chance to win. Therefore, Israel must act—and she must do so now, before September.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Netanyahu's decision: he will gamble with the family jewels

Just five weeks ago, Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to be facing two bad diplomatic choices: yield to US pressure to accept pre-1967 borders as a starting point for ‘peace’ negotiations with the Palestinian Authority (PA), or say no to this proposal—and face a threat that a displeased US President might refuse to veto an upcoming PA statehood initiative in the UN, thereby leaving Israel naked and exposed. 
In a sense, he appeared damned if did and damned if he didn’t.
But as of August 3, 2011, we see that Mr Netanyahu has created for himself a third choice:  he has told the US that he will accept the pre-1967 borders as a negotiation starting point but he also requires concessions from the PA—they must accept Israel as a Jewish state, and they must accept that the final result of negotiations will be two states for two peoples.

It’s a high-risk strategy. It could backfire, for if Abbas accepts these conditions, Netanyahu’s government could fall, leaving Israel in turmoil at the very moment it needs to stand united and strong. But, paradoxically, it might also be his best option, for two reasons: first, national leaders do not change stripes at times of high stress. Instead, they fall back on known paradigms, known behaviour patterns: Netanyahu has always sought to appease the US, and he will do so now; he will not change his comfort zone just as he faces what could be his greatest challenge.
The second reason he will not change his behaviour could be more important: he may not be the same Prime Minister we saw before his May trip to the US. There is reason to believe that he has found his (Likud) compass even as he gambles with the family jewels.  Indeed, he may be gambling precisely because he has found his compass.

To understand this possibility, recall the events of February and March, 2011.  When the US cast its first UN veto ever (for Israel) in February—to kill the ‘settlements are illegal’ resolution—it is my opinion that the US President became extraordinarily angry. He showed that anger to a number of American Jewish leaders in a March White House meeting—an anger which was reported to have stunned some of those present—and I believe that he also treated our Prime Minister, privately, to an equally extraordinary tongue-lashing that was so severe, so uniquely hostile and so brutal that Mr Netanyahu was left not just stunned, but frightened.
We saw it.  Look at Mr Netanyahu’s decisions, statements and actions in early March, 2011—right after interactions with Mr Obama and Mrs. Clinton: he presided over a meeting to destroy selected West Bank outposts;  after Jewish homes at Gilad Farm were destroyed, he spoke with uncharacteristically harsh criticism of Jewish ‘nationalists’; he successfully pressured Likud MKs to vote against a Knesset effort to remove Ehud Barak’s control over Judea and Samaria (so that settlement construction decisions would be taken away from Barak); and he saw to it that  Jewish building plans for East Jerusalem were (at least momentarily) cancelled.  All of this happened in the same ten-day period in early March, and together indicate that he was reacting to the President’s anger in a manner that suggested that, if aggressively bullied, he would indeed acquiesce to US pressure.

People sometime say that  ‘adversity builds character’, but that is not true: adversity does not build character; it reveals character—and I believe that, in the three months following  that US veto, Mr Netanyahu struggled to find his ‘character’:  would he remain frightened and bullied, and cave in to a hostile United States, or  would he fight back (as a true Likud-nik)? 
At first, he hesitated. He revealed nothing. During the first two weeks of March, there were public moments when he seemed cowed. Then, nine weeks later, his ‘character’ crisis peaked: after being told by Washington that there would be no new ground broken during his May 2011 visit, the PM was informed—as he reportedly boarded his plane-- that US President Obama was about to ambush him with an unscheduled speech at the US State Department, to announce a plan to tell Israel to go back to pre-1967 borders before negotiations with the PA even began.

Our PM had been bullied in February and March; now, in May, he was being ambushed.
Suddenly, this insult— the bullying capped by the ambush—became more than just another diplomatic problem for Mr. Netanyahu. It was something much more personal. It was an absolute test of character, the type of test that might happen only once or twice in a man’s lifetime, and his response could strip him naked in public as he faced the prospect of being forced to reveal his most private, intimate inner self while on foreign soil, on someone else’s turf.

Who was he--Pillsbury doughboy or the Leader of a proud but beleaguered Jewish people?  He had to decide; he could hesitate no longer. When his plane landed in Washington no one could predict how he would respond to this challenge; but then, when he spoke to Obama in the Oval Office, we saw his decision: at that moment, in that august Office, in front of the most powerful man in the world, on another man’s territory, Mr Netanyahu revealed his character: he is not the Pillsbury doughboy. He is not someone you can permanently frighten or bully. In fact, he is a fighter.
At that moment, in front of rolling cameras, he fought back. And we cheered.

Mr Obama, however, did not cheer; and he did not take ‘no’ for an answer. By July, he restated his determination: Israel must start negotiations  accepting pre-1967 borders.
My bet is, we saw the real Netanyahu in Washington this past May. Yes, he looks like the Pillsbury doughboy. Yes, he will appease a hostile American President.  He will give you what you want—exactly as he is doing now with Mr. Obama’s demands. But beneath that fa├žade is a tough Israeli politician—a fighter who, perhaps for reasons known only to himself, is reluctant to show his fists.

With his most recent announcement---that he will accept pre-1967 borders—Mr Netanyahu also reveals himself to be a man who will gamble with our most precious inheritance—our land. He will gamble everything and, gambling, present to the world his Pillsbury doughboy facade. He offers major concessions to the PA. Painfully, he says he will make difficult concessions for peace. But he also requires something from the PA. His concessions will not be one-sided. He wants something in return; and he gambles with his concessions because he calculates that the PA will break. The PA will, he believes, reject his concessions.  He believes that his gamble is a good one because  he truly believes that the PA can not, will not and will never publicly accept Israel as a Jewish state; I think he believes that the PA will break because of this singular point, and Israel will therefore win this gamble. He also believes in this gamble because through it, Israel can show the world it is willing to make ‘painful’ choices for peace at the same time it proves to the world that it is the Arab who refuses to negotiate.
His gamble is, he can offer our land because the PA will refuse the offer. They will never accept Israel as a Jewish state.  They will spit on peace—in public.

 In addition, we already know that Israeli officials have been visiting UN member states to tell the Israel story, and I think this is the second part of his strategy: while the ‘gamble’ gets played out in public, Israel will look for friends within the UN community –and within the US Congress--to help it do an ‘end-around’, so that if US and/or UN leadership gives Israel the cold shoulder, she can call on her friends to steer a course in her favour.
His gamble is, Israel’s new friends will rally around her because she has finally done exactly what they want—offer land. Therefore, he can now say to them, ’I give to you; now you give to me.’

Of course, if Mr. Netanyahu is wrong, he could lose everything. If he is right, his win could look miraculous because he will literally snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
The key here is what Benjamin Netanyahu believes.   Yes, he believes in himself and he believes in Israel. I am sure that he believes he can do this. But in the weeks ahead, he will face an epic battle against Pharaoh-like pressure from a US President who approaches Israel with a hardened anger and an iron will.

 If Mr Netanyahu aims to withstand that pressure, if he is to have any chance to win his gamble, he would be wise to think about what, deep down, he truly believes.
 Mr Netanyahu, do you own a kippa (yarmulka) and a siddur (prayer book)?