Posts Tagged Israel

Searching for the Way out of Exile

imagesAt first glance, the soggy, green downs of Ulster bear little resemblance to the parched and craggy hills of Israel.  But a gentle tugging at the cultural fabric of either place unravels an unmistakable common thread:  two peoples, impossibly close geographically, impossibly distant ideologically, with more than enough fuel for hatred between them to burn until the coming of the Messiah.  Tromping over hills and through city streets, however, first in one place and then in the other, I discovered a more compelling similarity:  the bitter struggle of humanity in exile.

“Which are the bad parts of town, the ones I should avoid?” I asked the owner of the bed-and-breakfast where I passed my first night in Belfast.

She dutifully pointed out the Shankhill neighborhood on my map, cautioning me to steer clear of it.  I thanked her and, with sophomoric self-confidence, proceeded there directly.

It was the summer of 1984, and central Belfast exuded all the charm of a city under martial law. Policemen on patrol wore flack jackets.  An armored personnel carrier idled at a major intersection waiting for the signal to change.  Blown out shells of buildings sprouted weeds, and street signs warned, DO NOT LEAVE CAR UNATTENDED.  But as I worked my way up Shankhill, I discovered even more disconcerting landmarks:  elementary school yards swathed in barbed-wire and churches pocked with scars from automatic-rifle fire.

I stopped in at a corner pub and took a seat at the bar beside two locals.  Each was nursing a pint of Guinness.  Another glass, two-thirds full with boiled snails, rested between them.  The men took turns using a bent eight-penny nail to dig each snail out of its shell before popping the meat into their mouths.

Click here to read the whole essay.

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St. Patrick’s Day Re-Reflections

At first glance, the soggy, green downs of Ulster bear little resemblance to the parched and craggy hills of Israel.  But a gentle tugging at the cultural fabric of either place unravels an unmistakable common thread:  two peoples, impossibly close geographically, impossibly distant ideologically, with more than enough fuel for hatred between them to burn until the coming of the Messiah.  Tromping over hills and through city streets, however, first in one place and then in the other, I discovered a more compelling similarity:  the bitter struggle of humanity in exile.

“Which are the bad parts of town, the ones I should avoid?” I asked the owner of the bed-and-breakfast where I passed my first night in Belfast.

She dutifully pointed out the Shankhill neighborhood on my map, cautioning me to steer clear of it.  I thanked her and, with sophomoric self-confidence, proceeded there directly.

Read the whole article here.

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The Media War on Israel

I ask the New York Times:  Why does the paper give equal placement to the photo of Jews mourning Mrs. Mira Scharf and the photo of Muslims mourning Ahmed al-Jabari, the terrorist mastermind largely responsible for Mrs. Scharf’s murder? I ask the anchors of NPR, why does virtually every story covering violence in the Mideast begin with Israeli fire and Arab causalities, mimicking the sardonic Israeli joke that Western reporting typically begins:  Israel incites violence by retaliating?

And I ask the editors, writers, and news anchors of CNN, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, the BBC and major news outlets around the globe, why do you continue to ignore the facts and the history that prove only one irrefutable equation – that Israel’s neighbors are as disinterested in peace as Israel is in war?

Read the whole article here.

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Denouncing Spiritual Terrorism

On March 16, 1968, soldiers of the 1st Battalion’s Charlie Company committed one of the most notorious war crimes in American history when they brutally massacred over 300 villagers in the Vietnamese hamlet of Mỹ Lai.

Was every soldier in the American army complicit in the crime?  Did the perpetrators of the massacre act in accordance with the dictates and the mission of the American military?  Was the savagery inflicted on innocent men, women, and children indicative of the country whose soldiers wore its insignia on their uniforms?

The simple answer is:  no.

We can talk, legitimately, about collective responsibility and the mixed cultural messages that may have contributed to the atrocity.  But when Americans learned about the barbarism of their own soldiers, the untempered outrage that poured forth testified that the individuals had acted as individuals, and that their inhumanity in no way represented the values of their country.

The same was true about the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin in 1995 by the marginally religious zealot Yigal Amir.  As unpopular as Rabin may have been among the religious community, only the most extreme ideologues saw his actions as anything other than an aberration of the Torah values he invoked to justify cold-blooded murder.

And the same is true now with respect to the hideous spitting incident in the Beit Shemesh community in central Israel.  It doesn’t matter that the perpetrator may wear a frock coat and sidelocks.  It doesn’t matter that he may refrain from kindling fire on the Sabbath, may keep a strictly kosher diet, and may stand in prayer before his Creator three times a day.  It doesn’t matter that he may study Talmudic texts and analyze the finest points of Jewish law.  It doesn’t matter if his neighbors, whether few or many, sympathize with his attitudes and his actions.

At best, he is a misguided fool.  At worst, he is an imposter and a terrorist.  Whatever he is, he does not represent the ideals of Torah Judaism.

The sad truth is that the Torah, the Almighty’s guide to morality and virtuous conduct, is only as good as we allow it to be.  The Torah may be a perfect expression of the Divine Will, but it only works to the extent that imperfect humans are willing to let it shape their conduct and, even more essentially, their character.  It does not mystically or magically turn us into saints; rather, it teaches us how to transform ourselves into spiritual beings.  But it remains up to us to follow the path it lights before us.

The sad truth is also that there are imposters among us; the Talmud itself laments the “pious fools” who clothe themselves in the external trappings of religiosity with no comprehension whatsoever of true spiritual values.  The Jew who prays fervently and then cheats in business, the Jew who clops his chest in repentance then slanders his neighbor, the Jew who meticulously trains his son to read from the Torah scroll and then spits on a child who may have innocently absorbed the social mores of the surrounding secular world – a Jew such as this is worse than a fraud.  He is nothing less than a terrorist, for he brings violent derision upon the Torah and all its sincere practitioners.

Frequently at odds with contemporary Western values, Torah values are easily mocked, satirized, and misrepresented by intolerant skeptics who would rather ridicule than seek answers to their questions.  But the Orthodox community includes tens of thousands of Jews like myself, Jews raised in irreligious homes who chose to return to Torah observance, Jews who learned to appreciate the ancient wisdom of our people by asking those same questions, by searching for teachers and mentors who could articulate the answers, and by listening patiently to their explanations.

Unfortunately, many secularists and most of the media prefer to deal in stereotypes.  It’s easier to depict bearded men in long coats as fanatics than it is to examine the historical and philosophical foundations of their tradition.  It’s more provocative to caricature women wearing head-scarves, three-quarter sleeves, and knee-length skirts as burqa-clad Jewish Wahabists than it is to concede the modest elegance projected by many Orthodox women.  It suits the progressive agenda better to decry separate seating on buses in religious communities as Shariah-like segregation than it does to contemplate how sensitivity to sexual boundaries bolsters the integrity of the family structure against the hedonism of secular society.

The useful idiots who masquerade as devoutly orthodox but possess little understanding of authentic spiritual refinement empower cynics eager to smear an entire theology with the broad brush of condemnation based on the actions of a few.  But amidst the outrage, consider this:  Does it make any sense that true adherents of the culture that taught the world the values of peace, charity, and loving-kindness would endorse the public humiliation of a little girl in the name of piety?

It doesn’t.  And we don’t.

Published in the St. Louis Jewish Light.

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Netanyahu Advisor Strikes a Blow for Responsible Journalism

To the New York Times:

I received your email requesting that Prime Minister Netanyahu submit an op-ed to the New York Times.  Unfortunately, we must respectfully decline.

On matters relating to Israel, the op-ed page of the “paper of record” has failed to heed the late Senator Moynihan’s admonition that everyone is entitled to their own opinion but that no one is entitled to their own facts.

A case in point was your decision last May to publish the following bit of historical revision by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas:

It is important to note that the last time the question of Palestinian statehood took center stage at the General Assembly, the question posed to the international community was whether our homeland should be partitioned into two states. In November 1947, the General Assembly made its recommendation and answered in the affirmative.  Shortly thereafter, Zionist forces expelled Palestinian Arabs to ensure a decisive Jewish majority in the future state of Israel, and Arab armies intervened. War and further expulsions ensued.

This paragraph effectively turns on its head an event within living memory in which the Palestinians rejected the UN partition plan accepted by the Jews and then joined five Arab states in launching a war to annihilate the embryonic Jewish state.  It should not have made it past the most rudimentary fact-checking.

The opinions of some of your regular columnists regarding Israel are well known.   They consistently distort the positions of our government and ignore the steps it has taken to advance peace.   They cavalierly defame our country by suggesting that marginal phenomena condemned by Prime Minister Netanyahu and virtually every Israeli official somehow reflects government policy or Israeli society as a whole.  Worse, one columnist even stooped to suggesting that the strong expressions of support for Prime Minister Netanyahu during his speech this year to Congress was “bought and paid for by the Israel lobby” rather than a reflection of the broad support for Israel among the American people.

Yet instead of trying to balance these views with a different opinion, it would seem as if the surest way to get an op-ed published in the New York Times these days, no matter how obscure the writer or the viewpoint, is to attack Israel.    Even so, the recent piece on “Pinkwashing,” in which Israel is vilified for having the temerity to champion its record on gay-rights, set a new bar that will be hard for you to lower in the future.

Not to be accused of cherry-picking to prove a point, I discovered that during the last three months (September through November) you published 20 op-eds about Israel in the New York Times and International Herald Tribune.   After dividing the op-eds into two categories, “positive” and “negative,” with “negative” meaning an attack against the State of Israel or the policies of its democratically elected government, I found that 19 out of 20 columns were “negative.”

The only “positive” piece was penned by Richard Goldstone (of the infamous Goldstone Report), in which he defended Israel against the slanderous charge of Apartheid.

Yet your decision to publish that op-ed came a few months after your paper reportedly rejected Goldstone’s previous submission.  In that earlier piece, which was ultimately published in the Washington Post, the man who was quoted the world over for alleging that Israel had committed war crimes in Gaza, fundamentally changed his position.   According to the New York Times op-ed page, that was apparently news unfit to print.

Your refusal to publish “positive” pieces about Israel apparently does not stem from a shortage of supply.   It was brought to my attention that the Majority Leader and Minority Whip of the U.S.  House of Representatives jointly submitted an op-ed to your paper in September opposing the Palestinian action at the United Nations and supporting the call of both Israel and the Obama administration for direct negotiations without preconditions.   In an age of intense partisanship, one would have thought that strong bipartisan support for Israel on such a timely issue would have made your cut.

So with all due respect to your prestigious paper, you will forgive us for declining your offer.  We wouldn’t want to be seen as “Bibiwashing” the op-ed page of the New York Times.

Sincerely,

Ron Dermer
Senior advisor to Prime Minister Netanyahu

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Please check out the new subscription link at the top of the right hand sidebar.  New articles are posted, on average, every week or two, so you won’t get flooded with more emails.

My articles on Jewish World Review, Aish.com, and other outlets examine current events and contemporary issues through the lens of classical Judasim, as well as Torah philosophy and ethics.

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Thanks for your readership and interest.

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Email of the Week

An Israeli is on vacation and is visiting a zoo in the Englandwhen he sees a little girl leaning into the lion’s cage.Suddenly, the lion grabs her by the cuff of her jacket and tries to pull her inside to slaughter her, under the eyes of her screaming parents.

The Israeli runs to the cage and hits the lion square on the nose with a powerful punch.

Whimpering from the pain the lion jumps back letting go of the girl, and the Israeli brings her to her terrified parents, who thank him endlessly.

A reporter has watched the whole event. The reporter says to the Israeli: ‘Sir, this was the most gallant and brave thing I’ve seen a man do in my whole life.’

The Israeli replies, ‘Why, it was nothing, really. The lion was behind bars. I just saw this little kid in danger and acted as I felt right.’

The reporter says, ‘Well, I’ll make sure this won’t go unnoticed. I’m a journalist, and tomorrow’s paper will have this story on the front page. So, what do you do for a living and what political affiliation do you have?’

The Israeli replies, “I serve in the Israeli army and I vote for the Likud.”

The journalist leaves.

The following morning the Israeli buys the paper to see news of his actions, and reads, on the front page:

RIGHT-WING ISRAELI ASSAULTS AFRICAN IMMIGRANT AND STEALS HIS LUNCH

Hat tip:  Steve Glassman

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Obama’s Mideast Farce

As usual, Charles Krauthammer is a lone voice of truth and reason in the wilderness of international and media groupthink:

President George W.Bush gave a written commitment that America supported Israel absorbing major settlement blocs in any peace agreement, opposed any return to the 1967 lines and stood firm against the so-called Palestinian right of return to Israel.

For 21 / 2 years, the Obama administration has refused to recognize and reaffirm these assurances. Then last week in his State Department speech, President Obama definitively trashed them. He declared that the Arab-Israeli conflict should indeed be resolved along “the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps.”

Nothing new here, said Obama three days later. “By definition, it means that the parties themselves — Israelis and Palestinians — will negotiate a border that is different” from 1967.

It means nothing of the sort. “Mutually” means both parties have to agree. And if one side doesn’t? Then, by definition, you’re back to the 1967 lines.

Read the whole article here.

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The Unfairness Doctrine

The World Cup exposes a dangerous trend in world politics.

Hat tip:  Marc Jacob.

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Thanks, Helen Thomas

I have been saying how much appreciation we owe Helen Thomas for shifting the dialogue away from the farcical condemnation of Israel in the wake of the flotilla incident.

Paul Greenberg takes a broader perspective.

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