Sunday, October 28, 2012

Israel elections and media responsibility

 Note: you may want to return to this essay later in the week; I may revise it--as  I revised last week's essay.

Second Note: Revised November 1, 2012

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has scheduled national elections for January, 2013. In case you have forgotten, Israel’s national elections bring a season of competition—to see who can create the ‘Biggest Whopper’.

Apparently, Israelis love ‘whoppers’.

Almost the instant we saw Netanyahu’s announcement, whopper competition began: Netanyahu, it was reported, promised to surrender to Syrian President Assad all of the Golan, down to the Kinneret;  Defense Minister Ehud Barak was reported to have betrayed Netanyahu; and former Prime Minister--and scandal defendant--Ehud Olmert  gave us one of the biggest ‘whoppers’ of the new season:  it was not Abbas who killed the 2009 Olmert give-away peace plan, but the demonized political Right.

After just two days of news, Israel was abuzz.  

No doubt about it: big whoppers sell.

The beginning of this election season brought us something new—a big whopper from an outsider.  Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas (who appears to be in his seventh year of a four-year term) gave us this:  former PM Olmert was sooooo close to peace; but the ‘bad’ Israelis scuttled it.  For perhaps the first time ever, Mr Abbas seemed to be taking a serious interest in Israel. His whopper even appeared to suggest that if we elected Olmert to another term as Prime Minister, peace would be ours.

Israel’s media reported all of this, mostly without comment. Why? Is the media telling us that we should choose our national leadership based on who creates or supports the biggest whopper;  or, does media competition require that news professionals ply their trade with a ready-fire-aim philosophy? Or do we get such reporting simply because the media has decided that Israelis prefer excitement over truth?

It certainly looks that way.

But if excitement attracts our attention, there is a suggestion in the air that political titillation has lost its lustre.  Israelis may want something better. 

We see a hint of this desire for something better from the media--from the media itself. Even as the news industry here showcases its big whoppers, it appears to do so without conviction. As we see misrepresentation and political outrage tumble across our line of vision, such stories don’t last. They have no shelf-life. The news cycle for outrage and other forms of the ‘Big Whopper’  simply isn’t what it used to be. Remember ‘women on buses’ or Haredi ‘discrimination’ against women in the army? What happened to those stories?

They disappeared.

In Israel, media whoppers flop. Whatever the motivation for their publication, the impact of such quick news cycles for misrepresentations is to create an indifference to misrepresentation. Haven’t you noticed? When an outrageous headline grabs our attention, an odd thing happens: our excitement doesn’t last. We have become so well trained by past experience to expect such stories to flame out, our immediate reaction is like a campfire spark—it jumps and then evaporates. In fact, the faster a story evaporates, the more convinced we are that it wasn’t true in the first place: if it were true, it wouldn’t die so abruptly.

The loser in all of this could be the media. Yes, Big Whoppers excite, no question; but the more often political titillation flashes and disappears, the more convinced we become that the excitement was faked. The actual result (reader distrust) destroys the story’s original intent (read our news! We tell the truth!).

Israelis may never grow tired of looking at lies. But they may grow very tired of the media that promotes those lies. The media might bring to this new national election season a sense of glee at the titillation it can create. But the reading public seems increasingly jaded—not just at politicians, but the media as well.

That’s a shame. Our democracy needs an honest media. A dishonest media can destroy our democracy; and there’s no doubt about Israel’s media: it is not honest.

Want proof? Watch the news. Then ask the public how they see that news being presented.

Does Mahmoud Abbas really speak honestly about Israel? Should Olmert’s public declarations really be printed without an immediate ‘fact-check’?

For the media, reader perception becomes public reality. The messenger (media) becomes the message (another lie). The media might enjoy showcasing a national event as a dirty fight. But the public sees not only the dirty fight, but prejudiced news professionals joining that fight--instead of reporting objectively about it.

The media could pay a price for such behaviour. For example, the newspaper, Haaretz,  suffers. Could its troubles be related—partly or wholly-- to this issue?

National elections are important. The media has a responsibility to inform—and, when it comes to Big Whoppers, to tell us the truth. The meal our media so joyously prepares with its current editorial behaviour may not be a gourmet feast; it could be poisonous stew.

Ask Haaretz.



Thursday, October 25, 2012

Iran: Are you paying attention?

This essay was originally posted on Sunday, October 21, 2012. This is a re-write.

There is an evil axis operating in the Middle East. It kills at will. Thousands die. Thousands more become homeless. Hundreds of thousands fear for their lives. Entire cities become rubble.

It is a vision of the future for the West, written in Syrian blood by an evil axis—and no one cares.

Of course that’s not true. Many care. Many follow Middle East news. They see injustice. They see brutality. They are not insensitive.  They understand lawlessness when they see it.

That’s why they identify Israel as lawless: she builds apartments in her capital city.

Lawless Jews build in Israel. An evil axis kills in Syria.

The West declares that Israel’s building is the major obstacle to Regional peace. Jews who build are challenged. An evil axis that kills is not.  An evil  plunges Syria into fiery hell; and to confront this, the West steps up to its moral high ground and accuses Israel of disturbing the peace.

Thank G-d for the West: how could there be peace without its voice?

There is no peace. There will be no peace—not when evil kills at will.

If you are not paying attention, the news stories you read next year could be about war, not peace. If the West continues to focus on Israel-as-evil, the real evil will continue to kill in Syria. It will not stop there.

There can be no peace when evil kills at will.

How many have been murdered and tortured in Syria during the last 19 months—tens of thousands. How many children have been tortured and killed? Does anyone know?

Does anyone care?

Israel-as-evil must be stopped. Have you heard? She builds apartments in her capital city!

Most agree that a nuclear Iran is a threat. But they seem also to agree that Israel is the greater threat. She seems a greater threat because the West believes that Iran only threatens Israel; but Israel threatens the world. How? The world—through the United Nations--dedicates itself to humanitarianism and world peace. They want a new world order.  So does the Catholic Church. So do Muslims

Are you paying attention?

Catholics, Muslims and the UN may not fully agree on how that new world order should look, but they all agree on this: Israel is their greatest threat. Haven’t you heard? Israel does not want peace. She is also the opposite of the humanitarian nation; indeed, she is apartheid itself. She is repulsive. She is, in other words, the embodiment of evil.  She has been condemned at the UN more often than all others nation in the world, combined. Such is the fate of an evil nation.

The world wants its peace. It obsesses over Israel. But Israel is irrelevant:  there will never be peace when evil kills at will.

Are you paying attention? Iran has been supporting Hizbullah in Lebanon and Bashar Assad in Syria. There are reports that elite Iranian troops protect Syrian President Assad—and participate in fighting against Syrian anti-government rebels. Syria under Assad is important to Iran because Iran needs Syria in order to transfer weapons westward to Hizbullah. Look at a map. If Hizbullah in Lebanon is an Iranian surrogate, you’ll see how a complaint Syria helps Iran.

Syrian opposition forces have complained that Hizbullah fires rockets at them from Lebanon. They have been quoted as complaining that these rockets are supposed to be used against Israel. But they are now been used against them. 

The rockets came from Iran.

Iran creates an evil axis with Hizbullah in Lebanon and Assad in Syria. Right now, the integrity of that evil axis is threatened by rebel forces fighting to overthrow Assad. That fighting is not just local politics; it is the bloody hand of  evil trying to survive a serious challenge from rebellious (Syrian) opposition against the pro-Iranian Assad. If Iran is to fulfil its dream of Regional domination, it needs partners. It needs a compliant Syria, a committed Hizbullah—and a willing Iraq. Iran meddles in all three. Look again at a map. View Iran, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq as a single entity under singular –Iranian-- influence.  Should Iran build such an axis, It could become a nuclear power with  fearsome influence and a vast geography, potentially as powerful in its Region as Russia once was in the North with its Iron Curtain ‘allies’.

There will be no peace with such an axis. It kills, unchallenged.

Events in Syria suggest that Iran will do anything to preserve its influence. Preserving that influence might be as important to Iran as its drive for nuclear weapons. With nuclear weapons and a powerful axis, Iran could threaten more than just Israel. If you’re not Muslim, she could threaten you.

There will be no peace. This evil kills at will.

Forget Israel. Your focus should be Iran.

Why aren’t you paying attention?



Sunday, October 14, 2012

Deny Zion, deny G-d?

From the moment the Jewish people entered the land of Israel as a unified nation some 3,300 years ago, our success on this land has depended upon our loyalty to G-d. That loyalty expresses itself through our commitment to our Torah, a precious gift of life-instruction given by G-d to His Chosen people. Our Torah is the holy glue, if you will, that keeps the nation of Israel connected to the land of Israel.

There’s more to this, of course. But the basic concept begins with a simple premise: Torah without land is a wife forced to separate from her beloved; land without Torah is a ruined marriage; Torah in the Land is the greatest Power marriage in History.

Today, our loyalty to G-d is not what it should be. Some deny Torah. Some deny land. Some deny both. Our loyalty seems flawed. Many believe that G-d will indeed return the Jewish people to Israel--but only when all accept Torah; and right now, we aren’t close to accomplishing that. But if that’s true, why do so many return now to the land without Torah—and why has G-d so persistently protected us from our modern enemies if our loyalty is so flawed?

Look at history. If you talk to Israelis who have fought in our War of Independence or our Six-Day war, many will tell you that there is no logical reason we should have won those wars.  We were outnumbered. We were outgunned. We were surrounded. Talk to those veterans. Some will tell you, ‘G-d was there with us. We felt Him. We won because of Him.’

Could our passion for the Land be the catalyst for such miracles? Could Land be the key to our Redemption?

There is a story that, during one harsh tank battle in one of our wars, the enemy clearly had the upper hand. Every Jewish soldier on that battlefield knew that the battle was lost and that, within perhaps an hour, Arab tanks would break through the Jewish line and have an unobstructed run to Tel Aviv. Then, inexplicably, the Arab tanks pulled back, retreating. That retreat saved Israel. After the war, the Arab tank commander was reportedly interviewed. When asked why he had retreated when, in fact, he was so obviously close to victory, he is said to have replied, ‘We saw Angels on the Israeli side. My men became frightened. I do not fight Angels.’

This is just one of several stories of Angels protecting Jews in Israel’s modern wars. Jews in our modern battles have—on an individual basis-- always spoken of inexplicable occurrences.  They have spoken of miracles.

Who would reject these miracles? Who would deny G-d on those battlefields?

Why would G-d protect us?

More than 3,300 years ago, we crossed the Jordan River because of G-d’s miracles. More than 64 years ago, we gained our independence because of G-d’s miracles. More than 45 years ago we regained our holy city Jerusalem—because of G-d.

Ask the soldiers who fought. They’ll tell you. There were miracles.

Who would deny this?

Who would deny G-d?

Why would G-d protect us?

When Joshua led Israel into our Israel, he brought more than Torah into the land. He brought G-d’s Light with him. That Light activates through Torah and Land. Look it up: it’s in the Fifth Book of Moses and in the Book of Yeshaiyahu.

Torah alone and land alone do not count. One without the other has always left us unfulfilled. The Jewish people may have been sustained because of Jewish dedication to Torah; but now, with a reborn Israel, something is different: G-d’s presence is felt on the Land. Why?

Today, the darkness of a nuclear holocaust threatens the Jewish state. Israel seems powerless to stop Iran and Iran practically celebrates its destruction of the Jews. How can Israel survive?  

 Through Torah, G-d hears us. Through Land, G-d sees us. Through Torah and Land, G-d saves us. Those who deny Torah, like those who deny Land, obstruct G-d’s Hand. Does their denial deny our safety?  Can their denial deny our Future?  G-d has worked miracles in Israel; do those who deny that negate the power of those miracles?

Zion is the spiritual Center of the world.  G-d rests in Zion. This may be why Muslims and Christians turn to Jerusalem: they understand the Presence of G-d; they yearn to control it.

Through Zion, we will see G-d’s Glory. Torah and Land activate and focus that Glory. Without Zion, Torah is a torch without a switch. Without Torah, Zion is dark.

But these two, Torah and Zion, are not equal; for if Torah is G-d’s gift, His Land is His treasure.

Torah becomes real only in Zion.

Torah activates only because of Zion.

Would you deny Zion?

Would you deny G-d?



Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Jewish Redemption: a religious disconnect?

What’s the first thing the G-d of Israel (HaShem) said when He spoke to our forefather Abraham for the very first time?

He said, ‘Make aliyah!’

Those weren’t His exact words. But when you look at the text of the Torah, you see that HaShem tells ‘Avram’ to leave his land, the place of his birth, and travel to a place which HaShem says He will identify. That place is Israel. HaShem says, in essence, ‘Go to Israel!’

That’s aliyah.

Then, later, when HaShem first spoke to Isaac, our second forefather, what did He say (after introducing Himself)? He spoke of Israel. He taught Isaac that the land of Israel was special. 

Then, later, when HaShem spoke for the first time to Jacob, His first words (after introducing Himself) were, ‘this land’, meaning Israel.

This land—Israel—must be important to the G-d of Israel. Why else would it be the first thing He spoke about when He interacted with each of our Jewish forefathers?

When HaShem first spoke to Moses (after introducing Himself), He declared that He would rescue His people from their Egyptian slavery. He then added what He would do after that rescue.

Did He say he would rescue and then give the Torah? No.

Would He rescue and teach what Faith means? No.

Would He rescue and show how to live a G-dly life carefully and precisely defined by halacha? No.

The G-d of Israel said nothing about faith, Torah or religious deed. He had something else in mind: He would rescue the Jewish people from slavery and then take them to a land flowing with milk and honey. He would take the Jews to Israel.

HaShem’s first focus was Israel, not faith or deed.

From that point, the story of our history unfolds. From His very first words to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses, HaShem connected what was most fundamental—the land and the Jewish people.

By contrast, many religious Jews today appear to have drawn a line in the proverbial sand to protect a fundamental separation. They separate what G-d suggests is inseparable--Jews and the land. They embrace faith with fervour. They reject Israel with fervour. They appear to replace land with faith.

It is said that, when the second Temple was destroyed—and Jews exiled-- we recognized that our world had been destroyed. The only thing we had left was the four cubits of halacha (Jewish law) that defined our personal space. Our national identification was gone. Our land was gone. Only personal faith remained.

This is how it was for almost 2,000 years. After the Roman Emperor Hadrian ploughed under the Temple, Israel was neither home nor land. It was desolation itself, just as our Tanach (our Jewish Bible) had predicted.

Surviving Jews had nothing except faith and religious performance—their halacha. For almost 2,000 years, Judaism survived because of that faith and halacha.

Then, modern Israel appeared. This fact was a game-changer. It was also a test: do Jews accept this new reality as a step toward an ultimate Redemption, or do Jews reject it as a red-herring, a kind of religious misdirection play that has nothing to do with Redemption?

Some religious Jews seem to have declared that modern Israel has nothing to do with our Redemption. Why? Because, they say, our Tanach says clearly that the Jewish people will repent and then G-d will return them to their land. The Redemption chronology, in other words, is repent, return to land, Redemption.

Anyone with a nose on his face knows that the Jewish people have not repented. Read Haaretz: it’s all there in black and white.

Without repentance, there is no Return to land.

If you are raised in or near a religious environment, this is what you learn. You even see it every year in the weekly Torah portion called Ki Tavo: repent first, then G-d will return you to the land. If our lack of repentance is a black and white reality in Hareetz, the requirement to repent before our return to Israel is also a black-and-white reality in our Torah.

It couldn’t be any simpler, right?


If you are raised in or near a religious environment, one thing you learn about the texts of your religion is this: things are not always what they appear to be. Take this question of repent first-then-return to land. If you argue that this is indeed the paradigm for Redemption, then you may have a problem. It isn’t the only Redemption paradigm. There is a second paradigm in Tanach, in the Book of Yechezkheil. In this alternate Redemption model, the starting point for Redemption is reversed: return to land first, then repentance, then Redemption.

How curious. The religious, who well know all about different opinions on a single subject, see both Redemption models. But some reject one and embrace the other.