Archive for category Israel
Did you miss the new coverage about Obama’s latest meeting with representatives of the Jewish community?
In his anticipated speech of 4 June at Cairo University, President Barack Obama affirmed the fact and the horror of the Holocaust before an audience whose nation and whose people have created a cottage industry around Holocaust denial.
“Six million Jews were killed – more than the entire Jewish population of Israel today. Denying that fact is baseless, it is ignorant, and it is hateful. Threatening Israel with destruction – or repeating vile stereotypes about Jews – is deeply wrong, and only serves to evoke in the minds of Israelis this most painful of memories while preventing the peace that the people of this region deserve.”
The president then went on – predictably, and of political necessity – to acknowledge the plight of the Palestinian people.
“On the other hand, it is also undeniable that the Palestinian people – Muslims and Christians – have suffered in pursuit of a homeland. For more than 60 years they’ve endured the pain of dislocation. Many wait in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, and neighboring lands for a life of peace and security that they have never been able to lead. They endure the daily humiliations – large and small – that come with occupation.”
This was to be expected. However, this observer is not the first to note a subtle yet glaring inaccuracy in the president’s remarks: The seemingly innocuous phrase on the other hand implies equivalence, the same kind of moral equivalence that has been eroding our political and social values for decades. And, ironically, the source of which can be traced to the Holocaust itself.
But first the facts.
In 1937, the British Peel Commission devised the first plan for the partition of Palestine. Although its terms would have granted Israel much less than its 1948 borders, the Jews accepted its terms. Arabs leaders rejected it out of hand.
In 1939, the British White Paper limited Jewish immigration to Palestine to 15,000 per year and that, after 5 years, granted absolute autonomy over the region to Arab authority. The Jews, albeit under protest, accepted its terms. Arab leaders rejected it out of hand.
In 1947, when the United Nations recognized the formation of the modern State of Israel, the Jews begged their Arab neighbors to remain in the country and live along side them as friends. The Mufti of Jerusalem, who had allied himself closely with Hitler during the Second World War, urged all Israeli Arabs to flee the country so that the Arab countries would be unhindered in their campaign to drive the Jews into the sea. More than two-thirds of Arab “refugees” fled Israel without ever seeing an Israeli soldier.
Those same displaced Arabs, and their children and grandchildren, have continued to live as refugees scattered among the Arab nations, the only displaced people ever to be denied repatriation by countries of their own ethnicity. In 1960, King Hussein of Jordan remarked that “Arab leaders have approached the Palestine problem in an irresponsible manner…. they have used the Palestine people for selfish political purposes. This is ridiculous and, I could say, even criminal.”
Equally ridiculous, and equally criminal, to equate the displacement of a people – originally by its own choice and perpetuated for political gain by its own leaders – with the massacre of millions of innocents as part of the attempted genocide of an entire nation.
The tragic irony here is how the Holocaust has made every crime, every distortion, and every deviation of the last half-century diminish to insignificance by way of comparison. Such bedrock values as “right to life” and the established definition of marriage inevitably lost their sanctity in a world that could stand by and allow such an atrocity. The work ethic and individual responsibility lost their value in a world in which the living could be dispatched with such mechanical efficiency. Personal dignity and modesty lost their meaning in a world where human beings could be so piteously degraded.
And in the most perverse twist of all, as if trying to restore some semblence of moral direction to a morally challenged world, the Holocaust has become synonmous with every perceived evil, whereby practioners of every political and ideological platform will be condemned as Nazis by their opposite numbers, further diminishing the horrors of Aushwitz and Birkenau in a generation that already teeters on the brink of forgetfulness.
When every crime becomes an atrocity, when any policial position is made equal to Naziism, then the Holocaust loses all its meaning and its deniers have truly won. There is much evil in the world, and President Obama will not bring about its end either by allowing some evils to pale in comparison to others or by inflating every evil to the level of genocide.
If the leader of the free world demonstrates an inability or unwillingness to evaluate every incidence of evil according to its true value, how can we expect the rest of the world to do any better?
It’s politics as usual. Why is the fallacy of peace with terrorists so difficult for so many to understand?
Block Yeshiva High School graduate Chiyya Smason will meet Israeli President Shimon Peres to be honored as the Israeli Soldier of the Year for 2009.
Here’s a quiz: which nation is most often mentioned in the news and on the floor of the United Nations?
It’s not China. Not Iraq. Not North Korea, Russia, or the United States. Rather, since its inception barely 60 six decades ago, the little Middle Eastern country of Israel has received more media attention than any other single nation and has monopolized more United Nations debate than all other nations combined. Bosnia, Chechnya, Rwanda, and currently Afghanistan may briefly grab center stage, but always the world turns its focus back to Israel.
Of course there is the Holocaust, the most systematic, cold-blooded effort to exterminate a people in modern memory. Having sprouted forth from the ashes of Nazi annihilation, Israel symbolizes the eternal struggle against oppression, racism, and hatred, testifying to the nobility and tenacity of the human spirit. As such, Israel has captured the hearts and minds of Jews and non-Jews alike all around the world.
In reality, of course, Israel is not the fanciful setting of historical fiction, but a real place where ordinary people grapple with extraordinary problems. Israeli Jews are not all saints, not all heroes, and not always above human failings or even human corruption. And the Israeli government is an unsteady ship tossed upon the stormy seas of international politics and global economics.
But Israel is unique among all civilization in that it crowns an ethnic and cultural history nearly 4,000 years old. The Jewish patriarch Abraham, a single man with an unorthodox view of mankind’s place in the universe, stood alone against the pagan sensibilities of an entire world and founded a people and a nation dedicated to ethical behavior, personal responsibility, and the pursuit of peace.
Abraham’s children grew into a nation that aspired to spiritual and moral self-perfection, sometimes conquering and sometimes falling to enemies within and without, but always struggling to uphold the mission of their patriarch as a moral conscience to the world.
And they succeeded. As the non-Jewish historian Paul Johnson explains, “To [the Jews] we owe the idea of … collective conscience and so of social responsibility; of peace as an abstract ideal and love as the foundation of justice and many other items which constitute the basic moral furniture of the human mind.” The very notions of peace and brotherhood, it seems, are the legacy of the Jews, and the country of Israel waves as the banner of those ideals.
No one wins popularity contests by serving as a moral conscience. Morality comes under fierce fire both from tyrants who wish to justify their atrocities and from civil libertarians who thirst for an amoral society where self-indulgence is not only allowed but venerated. Such as these look upon the nation of Israel’s shortcomings and shriek, “Hypocrisy!”
But there is nothing hypocritical about falling short of noble standards, and such failure is far more noble than abandoning standards altogether. Indeed, perhaps anti-Semitism is, at its root, the violent reaction against the proposal that there is a moral compass for navigating our social universe, that there can be an absolute definition of right and wrong, that individuals and societies should be held responsible for their single and collective actions. Better to revile a people and censure a nation that raises the standard of morality than to jeopardize the free license of moral autonomy.
After centuries of enduring crusades, pogroms, and jihads – always in the name of peace and justice and the Divine Will – the Jews finally reclaimed their ancient homeland with the endorsement and blessing of the world community, only to have their Arab neighbors deny Israel’s right to exist and try repeatedly to drive them into the sea. And now, another half-century later, the world community turns a blind eye to the duplicity of Israel’s enemies while demanding never-ending gestures of “peace” from the very Israelis who must fight for their lives.
How tragic that the world prefers to trample upon symbols of morality rather than look to them for inspiration. And how shameful that the nations of West, whose ideals of freedom and justice stand upon Jewish foundations, are compromise Israeli security for the sake of political correctness and political expediency.
Originally published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Sharon and Hitler are the same. Only difference is the name. (Pro-Palestinian rally slogan, Washington, D.C., April 19, 2002).
It’s not surprising that Palestinians and their supporters have routinely made this kind of equation. But it’s another matter entirely when it comes from mainstream politicians, journalists, and academics.
Quoted in the Guardian, BBC commentator and Oxford University lecturer Tom Paulin remarked that the state of Israel has no right to exist, and that Israeli settlers should be shot dead. “They are Nazis, racists,” Paulin said. “I feel nothing but hatred for them.” Neither the university nor the BBC has taken any action against Paulin. Alas, most of the European press seem to share his sentiments. Even Archbishop Desmond Tutu recently admonished Israel for having “forgotten the collective punishment” of the Holocaust.
It staggers the imagination that only half a century after Hitler’s Nazis vilified the Jews as international criminals, the international community has been denouncing the Jews as Nazis. But if Sharon was indeed Hitler, where were the public rallies declaring death to Palestinians? Where are the arm bands imposed on every Arab Israeli? Where are the textbooks teaching Israeli school children that Arabs are subhuman beasts? Where is the ejection of Arab Knesset ministers, who make up nearly 10 percent of the Israeli parliament? Where is the desecration of mosques and Moslem holy places?
If Israel has been guilty of any crime, is not her worst crime that she is no longer weak, no longer downtrodden, no longer a sympathetic David slinging stones at some towering Goliath? Is this not the true reason, given the superficial perception that every prosperous Western nation is evil and every anti-capitalist entity is good, that the court of world opinion refuses to admit as evidence the decades of Arab aggression, the unbroken record of Yasser Arafat’s duplicity, the targeting of Israeli civilians with wholesale terrorism?.
In short, it seems that the academic and journalistic communities have just gotten too lazy to wean themselves away from the sloppy thinking of moral equivalence, the reduction of complex problems into simplistic, black-and-white constructs. And, even more disturbing, is how such narrow reasoning extends far beyond the current Mideast crisis, for it mirrors the thinking behind the last great attempt to annihilate the Jewish people.
On November 24, 1933, Hitler’s National Socialist Party passed a law for the protection of animals, “designed to prevent cruelty and indifference from man … and to awaken and develop sympathy and understanding for animals as one of the highest moral values of a people.”
Over the next 12 years, doctors working for this same Nazi Party infected human subjects with such maladies as typhus, smallpox, and cholera, and imposed upon them forced sterilization, experimental surgery, and euthanasia.
Some might take comfort that at least no schnauzer puppies were mistreated. But to recognize the perversion of granting human dignity to animals while denying it to human beings is to take the first step toward understanding how a Holocaust can happen.
Moral equivalence begets moral confusion, distorting our sense of fair play so that we fail to distinguish between perpetrators and victims, between aggressors and defenders. Our well-intentioned desire to give the benefit of the doubt blinds us to simple justice until, by refusing to acknowledge evil as evil, we allow evil free reign over ourselves and over society.
Conventional wisdom insists that a Holocaust could never happen again. But some parallels between then and now are unsettling. Today, animal rights activists are pushing ever harder for legislation according human rights to gorillas and chimpanzees, following in the path of Peter Singer, the Princeton University ethics department chairman who made headlines advocating the legalized murder of deformed babies in the first month after birth.
When we start seeing animals as equal to humans, when we can no longer appreciate that human rights are a function of human responsibilities, then we’re only a step away from discarding our responsibilities and treating humans as less than animals. Similarly, when we start to see murderers as freedom fighters, we’re a step nearer to the amoral abyss at the edge of which our civil society is already faltering.
The Jews of Europe were not Hitler’s only victims. The Nazi’s exterminated blacks, gypsies, the handicapped, and the elderly. Given more time, they would undoubtedly have gone still further. Given the opportunity, their ideological successors will go just as far.
How terrifying that the specter of Holocaust once again looms over the civilized world. How much more terrifying that the world might stand idly by while it happens, or worse, hasten its arrival.
Originally published in the Miami Jewish Star Times, July 2002.
“Upon three things the world endures,” says the Talmud. “Upon justice, upon truth, and upon peace.” Maybe that’s why my world has often felt as if it’s on the brink of collapse.
Where is justice? Is justice in American foreign policy, which has consistently pressured Israel to make concessions while overlooking Arab violations of Oslo and Wye? Is justice in the UN condemnation of Israel, tacitly endorsed by the United States, after former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak risked his political career by offering once unthinkable concessions? Or is justice in the return of the Jewish patriarch Joseph’s tomb, revered by Jews for three thousand years and now desecrated by the same Palestinians who promise to protect Jewish holy sites given over to their control?
Where is truth? Is truth in the American press, which has continually accused Israel of provoking Arab violence, even as Arab parents send out their children to throw stones at Israeli soldiers and martyr themselves on international television? Is truth in the vilification of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, after he received false assurances from Palestinian security — before his visit to the Temple Mount — that there would be no violence, and despite the full day that passed before the “eruption” of “spontaneous” Arab violence? Or is truth in the squalor of Palestinian refugee camps in nations throughout the Arab world, whose governments have brokered violence for half a century rather than welcoming their own dislocated people as citizens?
Where is peace? Is peace in the concrete blocks hurled down by Arabs onto the heads of Jewish worshipers at the Western Wall, or is it in the beating and stabbing of American yeshiva students pulled from their taxi by an Arab mob? Is peace in the insistence that Judaism’s holiest site on earth should be placed entirely under Palestinian authority? Or is peace in the river of hate pouring out of Palestinian press releases and into the minds of Palestinian school children?
There is yet no justice. There may not be peace any time soon. But allow me to offer this grain of truth:
I was there, in Israel, during the first intifada, when bomb squads regularly cordoned off metropolitan boulevards upon the discovery of unattended handbags or backpacks, where Jews were murdered in their own apartment buildings by Arab knives and on their own street corners by Arab suicide bombers. I was there during the Gulf War, stuffing my one-year-old daughter into a plastic tent to protect her from threatened Iraqi gas attacks, shuddering beside my wife in the middle of the night as American Patriot missiles exploded in the skies over Jerusalem and Saddam Hussein’s Scud missiles devastated the streets of Tel Aviv. I was on buses that were pelted by Arab stones and whose windows were shattered by Arab cinder blocks.
And now I am here, watching in disbelief as journalists around the world paint Israelis as war criminals and Arabs as freedom fighters. And, even more astonishing, is the perpetuation of this macabre fantasy by Jews in the media, by the New York Times and National Public Radio and others. To paraphrase one American student writing from Israel: often Jews have been victims of blood libels, but never before have Jews believed those libels themselves.
American Jews have believed for decades that America would become their haven from the terrors of thirty centuries of anti-Semitism. But those hopes vaporize before the unreasoned biases of the “objective” media, whose slanted reporting discredits both them and the First Amendment they invoke whenever their integrity is called into question.
American Jews must be both Americans and Jews. We must speak out in defense of what’s right and what’s fair for all peoples, but we must also speak out to defend ourselves. We owe it to the hundreds of thousands of Jews murdered by Inquisitors in Spain and Cossacks in Poland, to the millions massacred by the Romans in 2nd century Israel and the Nazis in 20th century Europe. We owe it to the Jews who suffered in uncountable numbers under the Babylonians and the Persians and the Greeks and the Syrians, under Almohads and Crusaders and Bolsheviks and in the Reformation, from thousands of years before any modern nation existed until our own generation. We owe it to all of them.
The rest of the world owes it to them, too.
Originally published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 2000
Henry Clay earned his reputation as “the great compromiser” when he forestalled the outbreak of the Civil War by ten years. Even so, one has to wonder whether even Mr. Clay’s genius for mediation could save the Mideast peace process from becoming a towering embarrassment to US foreign policy.
Compromise, according to Webster’s, is “a method of reaching agreement in a dispute, by which each side surrenders something that it wants.” This shouldn’t be hard to comprehend for anyone with a background in high school civics. What does remain incomprehensible is how otherwise reasonable people might seriously apply the term “compromise” to past peace proposals, and why anyone thinks it will be different the next time around.
Definitions notwithstanding, immediately after the Camp David negotiations in the summer of 2000 the New York Times observed that Yasir Arafat’s “willingness for more talks suggests room for compromise.”
The Times deserved credit for optimism and imagination, but won few points for objective editorial insight. Indeed, only a month earlier (on July 11 of that year), the Times reported that, “The Palestinians want a settlement based on United Nations Resolution 242,” implying that if not for Israeli intransigence, there would have been peace in the region long before.
Let’s see. Resolution 242 mandates 1) the “withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict,” and 2) the “termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgement of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.”
For its part, Israel returned more than 90% of the Sinai to Egypt in 1981, and offered to give more than 90% of Judea and Samaria to the Palestinians under former Prime Minister Ehud Barak. Pretty good, for a compromise.
From the Palestinian side, however, it’s been hard to detect even a whiff of compliance. Rather, these are the ways the Palestinian Authority has terminated its claims and belligerency: all government and schoolbook maps, as well as children’s television programs, identify the whole of Israel as “Palestine;” teenagers at Palestinian “summer camps” train with automatic weapons to fight Israelis; Arafat has named squares and streets after Hamas suicide bombers; Israeli security has caught PA officials smuggling numerous weapons, including anti-tank weapons, into Israel. The list could easily fill this column.
Ehud Barak had been prepared to overlook all that. But then the Camp David talks broke down anyway, largely because of Palestinian insistence of absolute sovereignty over East Jerusalem. Yet Jerusalem has been the heart and soul of Israel for over 3000 years, the holiest site on earth according to Jewish tradition and the Old Testament. The Arab’s spiritual capital is Mecca, whereas Jerusalem is merely a religious and historical footnote, not mentioned by name even once in the Quran. What’s more, from 1948 to 1967, when Jordan controlled East Jerusalem, not one Arab ruler visited the city, except Jordon’s own King Hussein. Electricity and water services were neglected, and no government offices or cultural centers were set up there.
So what does the Palestinian Authority want? What it has always wanted: everything. The very concept of compromise appears utterly foreign to the thinking of Palestinian leaders, and is entirely absent from their behavior. It’s hard to see what the PA has ever thought it’s bringing to the negotiating table, except for the vague promise of controlling terrorism and the hazy commitment of conceding Israel’s right to exist, a right already granted by the United Nations over half a century ago.
In hindsight, it’s also hard to see what Ehud Barak hoped to accomplish by bargaining away so much for so little. According to Mideast analyst David Makovsky, Mr. Barak’s objective was “peace without illusions.” Peace between governments, the former Prime Minister believed, is the only possible goal presently within grasp; peace between peoples is generations away.
Mr. Barak assumed that once a treaty is signed, all of Israel’s Arab neighbors will abide by its conditions, gradually leading to normalization and the eventual cessation of the hateful rhetoric that foments Arab violence.
The trouble is, there’s no evidence it would work. Whatever the terms, any deal that produces even the coldest peace must rest on the foundation of compromise, a foundation that doesn’t exist. The indoctrination of children with hatred of Israel continues, even in Egypt, nearly three decades after it grudgingly traded political recognition for the return of its land.
Other Arab nations have refused to offer even this little olive branch; they have never demonstrated the slightest willingness to compromise. Neither Israel nor the United States should take another step forward until they do. Let us hope that the new U. S. president will learn from the errors of his failed namesake and not put his hope in false promises that have already led nowhere.
Adapted from an article originally published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 2 August 2002
How can anyone not sympathize with the Palestinian people? They’re second class citizens in Israel. They’re denied even a rudimentary infrastructure in the land on the West Bank of the Jordan that has been promised them, and they languish in refugee camps in Arab states from one side of the Middle East to the other. They’re deprived of basic amenities, political self-determination, and basic human dignity, so that one cannot look upon their plight without sharing their indignation. According to Jimmy Carter, they’re victims of Apartheid.
In today’s culture of feelings, most people look for nothing more before rendering judgment. The Palestinian people are clearly victims, and we love nothing so much as we love a victim. So much, in fact, that it often matters little whether we point the finger in the right direction so long as we can point it in some direction. The fallacy, of course, is that in doing so we ourselves become part of the problem, adding to the sum total of injustice in the world while doing nothing to alleviate the plight of the victims whose condition has ignited our wrath.
Before all else we should look to history. And so, before condemning the Israeli people and government as oppressors, will you not make the effort to know and understand the road both peoples have traveled to reach this point? Incline your ear, and listen to the instructive lessons of history.
Do you know that in 1937 the British Peel Commission devised the first plan for the partition of Palestine? Although its terms would have granted Israel much less than its 1948 borders, the Jews accepted its terms. Arabs leaders rejected it out of hand.
Do you know that in 1939 the British White Paper limited Jewish immigration to Palestine to 15,000 per year and that, after 5 years, granted absolute autonomy over the region to Arab authority? The Jews, albeit under protest, accepted its terms. Arab leaders rejected it out of hand.
Do you know that in 1947, when the United Nations recognized the formation of the modern State of Israel, the Jews begged their Arab neighbors to remain in the country and live along side them as friends? The Mufti of Jerusalem, who had allied himself closely with Hitler during the Second World War, urged all Israeli Arabs to flee the country so that the Arab countries would be unhindered in their campaign to drive the Jews into the sea. More than two-thirds of Arab “refugees” fled Israel without ever seeing an Israeli soldier.
Do you know that those same displaced Arabs, and their children and grandchildren, continue to live as refugees scattered among the Arab nations, the only displaced people ever to be denied repatriation by countries of their own ethnicity? In 1960, King Hussein of Jordan remarked that “Arab leaders have approached the Palestine problem in an irresponsible manner…. they have used the Palestine people for selfish political purposes. This is ridiculous and, I could say, even criminal.”
Do you know how many Arab leaders have never renounced their objective to destroy the Jewish nation? That the PLO formed in 1964, when Jordan still controlled the entire West Bank, as a terrorist organization dedicated to the destruction of Israel? That before 1947 Arabs threw garbage down upon the heads of Jews praying at the Western Wall? That between 1947 and 1967 the Jordanians refused Jews access to their most holy site?
Do you know that Arab textbooks contain no reference at all to the State of Israel? That they deny that the Holocaust ever happened? That they repeat the blood libels dating back to the Crusades, claiming that Jews murder gentile children and use their blood to make matzah and wine?
Do you know that billions of dollars sent from around the world to Yasser Arafat to develop infrastructure in the Palestinian Authority never made it past the pockets of Arafat and his lieutenants, who have fattened their private bank accounts abroad while their people live in squalor? Do you remember when Arafat rejected Ehud Barak’s offer to return of 97% of the occupied territories and recognize a Palestinian state?
And do you know that, while debate continues to rage in Israel between the hawks who demand open warfare and doves who promote unilateral contrition, every voice of peace and every suggestion of compromise among the Arabs is silenced by Arab assassins?
It may be true that Israel has not always been guiltless in its dealings with the Palestinian people, but how many options does Israel have in dealing with an enemy who refuses peace in any form, who has no desire except the annihilation of its neighbor? What hope for peace is there with a people who send out the own children to massacre innocents?
History should be our teacher in this, as in all things. Repeated acts of appeasement emboldened Hitler, as they emboldened Arafat, as they embolden Hamas today. It remains difficult to comprehend how the world’s indifference once allowed the attempted genocide of the Jewish people. It is with uncomprehending eyes that today’s Jews witness the world’s moral equivalency and wonder if the same thing could happen again.
Adapted from an article that originally appeared in the St. Louis Jewish Light in May 2002.