Monday, November 10, 2014

Benjamin Netanyahu’s akeidah: a lesson in extortion

On November 8, 2014, Jews around the world read the weekly Torah Portion, Vayeira (B’Reisheet 18:1-22:24). In that Portion, we read about the akeidah, the binding of Isaac.

The akeidah begins with the words, “And it happened after these things that G-d tested Abraham” (ArtScroll translation, ibid, 22:1). The test was, would Abraham agree to take his son Isaac to ‘Har HaMoriah’ (Mount Moriah) and sacrifice him there.

This story may well be the most well-known of the Tanach. For those who see it for the first time, it’s extraordinary. For those who read it anew each year at this time, it remains extraordinary.

Many Jews read it in its entirety every day as part of their morning prayers. All of us read it every year as part of our liturgy for Rosh HaShannah, when we begin a New Year.

Our Sages have discussed this test in detail. For example, Rashi (1040-1105) explains (B’Reisheet 22:2) that we learn  from  Divrei HaYamim 2, 3:1 (Chronicles) that Mount Moriah is the Temple Mount. The Ramban (1194-1270) is more emphatic. He says that that same source identifies Mount Moriah explicitly as the Temple Mount.

Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim Luntschitz (1550-1619), meanwhile, says that the Temple Mount is where the marriage between G-d and the Jewish people was complete (Klei Yakar, Bereishis, Vol 1, Menucha Publishers, Brooklyn, NY, 2013, p. 262).

Abraham passed his test on what was destined to become The Temple Mount. His obedience completed the marriage between G-d and Israel.  

Through his test, Abraham demonstrated at least two realities which could never be denied. First, he trusted G-d. Even as G-d appeared to order him to kill his own son, he showed that his trust in G-d was complete.

Second, he demonstrated his commitment to G-d. Through his test, he proved that his loyalty and allegiance to G-d had no limit.

As a reward for such behaviour, he received G-d’s blessings.

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces his own akeidah, his own test. He faces this test on Mount Moriah—the Temple Mount. His test is on the very same spot as Abraham’s test.

Netanyahu’s test is similar to that of Abraham—but very different. It’s similar because it’s about commitment. It’s about loyalty. It’s about obedience.

But it’s different. The one who directly tests Netanyahu isn’t the Creator of the world. It’s the most powerful man in the world—the President of the United States. It’s also different because the reward for passing his test won’t be positive blessings. It’ll be more tests.

At the United Nations (UN), Israel has only one ally who has used its veto power to protect Israel.  That veto-endowed ally is the United States (US). In a UN environment that is openly hostile to Israel, that veto-protection is important. For some, it guarantees Israel’s existence (“Obama threatens Netanyahu with US veto”, Middle East Monitor, November 3, 2014).

But now, as Arabs who would destroy Israel rise up violently in riot, incitement and murder against Jews, the US suggests that its UN veto-protection may evaporate  (“US veto at Security Council may no longer be a given,” Times of Israel, November 4, 2014).

This is a threat to withhold protection. Without the protection of the US veto, Israel could be sanctioned, criminalized or otherwise ‘excommunicated’ from the family of Man. It suggests extortion—providing protection in exchange for some kind of compliance.

Benjamin Netanyahu is being pressured. He’s being tested. The US wants Netanyahu to do its will. The US tests Netanyahu’s obedience with the Temple Mount (“US Told Israel Temple Mount ’Must Be Opened to Muslims’”, Jewish Express, October 31, 2014). In a practical sense, the US is, essentially, demanding that Muslims be allowed to reign supreme on the Temple Mount. With its veto threat, the US appears to push Netanyahu to do Mr Obama’s will. It is an exercise in raw power.

The test is, is Netanyahu obedient enough to comply?

Right now, he’s obedient enough to ban Jewish worship on the Mount (“PM: Temple Mount is our holiest site, but we won’t allow Jewish prayer there”, Times of Israel, November 2, 2014).  He’s also obedient enough to make a public promise to Jordan’s King that Jews won’t be allowed to worship on the Mount (“Netanyahu Promises Abdullah: No Jewish Prayer on Temple Mount”, Arutz Sheva, November 6, 2014).

To preserve the protection of the US veto, what else will Netanyahu promise?

This is Netanyahu’s akeidah. His loyalty and obedience are being tested. But instead of going to the Temple Mount to prove his loyalty to G-d, he is being asked to go to the Temple Mount to prove his disloyalty to G-d.

When Abraham passed his test, he received blessings. What will Netanyahu get after passing this test? We know what he’ll get.  

We know how extortion works. It never gets better. It only gets worse.




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