Thursday, January 24, 2008

When the wall came tumbling down

Shalom All,

It was said in an article that I read about the events in Gaza the other day that Gaza was like a tube of toothpaste which when squeezed while spurt out toward the weakest direction. It seems that Egypt was that direction. That said, the well orchestrated pity party put on by Hamas with candles and deliberate power outages combined with women wailing at another "Western Wall" this week had an impact on the press. The Palestinians broke out of their prision, starving, heading into Egypt.

Well, it just so happens that Hamas had spent MONTHS cutting through the wall between Gaza and Egypt so that when the charges were placed, they did not just make holes in the wall, but made a large section of it simply collapse. One could say that this was done to aid in weapons smuggling efforts. It is certainly the case that weapons were among the vast amount of items brought in to Gaza through the breach in the wall. Yet, it is not as if weapons were not flowing into Gaza en masse already before the wall fell. What in fact happened when that wall fell is that Gaza ceased to be connected to Israel and became a part of Egypt as it was before 1967.

The question now is whether or not it makes sense for Israel to try to change that. I do not think that it does. In fact, for Israel having Gaza become part of Egypt would solve MANY problems. Gaza is a tremendous drain on Israel and offers no benefits whatsoever unless one finds rocket fire pretty. Let Egypt worry about Gaza. Let the West Bank separate from it, not just physically, something it already is, but emotionally. Let Gaza be Egyptian and not Palestinian territory. At that point, peace is much easier to achieve.

The West Bank is viable. It has industry, labor, and available markets for goods. It has trained professionals and a much more moderate population. With pressure from Gaza released to the west, the pull of Gaza on the West Bank will lessen as well.

Instead of decrying Egyptian security failings, we might actually have something to cheer about for once. Let the fallen wall not be a symbol of a Hamas victory over Israel, but over Egypt. Let it be seen as a symbol of the end of Egypt's ability to cast off Gaza as Israel's problem. Let Gaza be a free EGYPTIAN territory.

The peace process will move radically forward.


Friday, January 11, 2008

Judenhass 2008

This week, the LA Times published a political cartoon depicting a Jewish star as hand cuffs and the United States as a person with its wrists locked in the midst of the Jewish star. The cartoon accompanied an op-ed by Professors Walt and Mearsheimer, who wrote a best selling book on "The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy" which has been praised by anti-Israel, anti-Bush administration, and anti-Jewish people as a critical examination of the power of world Jewry in influencing American politics for the benefit of Israel and to the detriment of the United States. It is a work that rightly should find its home on the shelves of hate mongers between The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and Mein Kampf, full of conspiracy theories about the power and manipulation by Jews of gullible Christians in positions of authority in order to get them to act on behalf of Jews to their own detriment. Yet it finds itself praised in all too many circles. Also this week, Arun Ghandi, grandson of Mahatma Ghandi, wrote an op-ed published in the Washington Post that blamed Israel and Jews in general for creating a "Culture of Violence" and for exploiting the Holocaust in order to manipulate the international community. Ghandi has since apologized for saying that Israel’s policies are representative of Jews as a whole, but did not apologize for saying that Jews exploit the Holocaust.

Is there anyone who legitimately believes that Antisemitism, that Jewish hatred, is a thing of the past? How can anyone put forth such an argument when two of the leading newspapers in the United States, the LA Times and Washington Post, in the same week, published items that are blatantly Anti-Jewish and not just criticism of Israel? It has become so politically acceptable to bash Israel that even criticisms that go well beyond the point where they become anti-Jewish are given voice. If you don't compare all Jews to Satan, just about anything seems acceptable.

Those who would spew forth hatred are given the opportunity under the protection of free speech and from what they see as the moral high ground of criticism of Israel. Yet those who offer these criticisms of Israel's use of military might almost never equally condemn the violence of those against whom Israel must defend itself. Israel's attempts to defend its citizens are lumped together with the actions of those seeking to murder them under the guise of the misleading term, "cycle of violence." Blame for the violence against Israelis by Palestinians is given solely to Israel and its continued occupation. This is done without consideration for why that occupation came about, nor the factors on the Palestinian side that result in Israel maintaining it despite Israel’s efforts to end its occupation and to help to create a viable Palestinian state.

Professors Walt and Mearsheimer, for their part, argue that the US would be much better liked around the world if it just did not support Israel so much. They are certainly correct in that. Those who want to destroy Israel and who hate Jews in general would be much happier and there are far more of them than there are Jews in the world, much less Israelis. If only the US would not provide Israel with the means to defend itself? Perhaps then so many would be able to become happier and our world would be a much nicer place, just without a Jewish state and the untold numbers of Jews who would perish. Many of those same people would be even happier if the United States vanished first, but Walt and Mearsheimer don't mention that.

Walt and Mearsheimer's work unfortunately has been given the imprimatur of too many because they are academics and certainly academics cannot possibly be purveyors of Jew-hatred! Unfortunately, those who consider themselves to be liberals and leftists, many academics among them, seem to appropriately and swiftly condemn hate speech emanating from the political and religious right, but to hesitate or fail to do so when it arises on the political or religious left. They shout from the rooftops when hatred of Jews is espoused unless that hatred comes from the mouth of one seeking an end to conflict against everyone but the Jewish state.

During the High Holidays a couple of years ago, I addressed the questions, “Should we give up who we are to please others? Should we change ourselves so as not to offend others who do not like our differences?” in the context of interfaith marriages. I feel that also applies to the Jewish state and its neighbors, who theoretically want peace. “Should Israel give up what it is in order to please them? Should it change itself so as not to offend others who do not like its difference from them?” The same answer applies. Of course not!

Just as someone who wants to be your friend should not say, “Change who you are, become like me, and I will be your friend,” so too is it wrong for those who wish to be friends with Israel to demand that it cease to be what it is, a Jewish state, for there to be peace. When those who would do so threaten to kill us unless we leave or become like them, must we leave or become like them so as to bring them happiness? Of course not!

The great Reform Rabbi, Abba Hillel Silver, wrote, “Any movement for good will which demands of me self-abnegation is a hostile attack. The man who would be my friend only if he can convert me to his way of living and thinking and believing, is not my friend. He is my enemy. He does not like me for what I am. He would like to see his own reflection in me.” That is exactly what is being asked of Israel by the Arab world in the peace process.

Peace will not come by pursuing that end. Both sides must reach out to those who are willing to live at peace and both sides must actively reject and even act against those who are not so willing. Israel must work to strengthen those among the Palestinian population who are willing to stand up against radical elements. It must work to combat those in its own population who seek to prevent a solution to the conflict. The Palestinians, for their part, must act against the members of their own population who do not wish to see peace alongside a Jewish state of Israel. They must come to see that rockets fired from Lebanon or Gaza into Israel harm not just Israel, but their future.

Is peace possible? With hard work and difficult concessions, maybe. Nothing is certain. Without defending those seeking peace from those seeking to prevent it, peace cannot be achieved for either side. Israel’s ability to defend its population from attacks is mandatory. Palestinians must act on their own to stop their own from attacking Israelis.

Yet also mandatory is the necessity of preventing attacks and confrontations between radical elements on the Israeli side and Palestinians desiring of peaceful coexistence. That is where the process must go. That is step one of the Road Map toward peace. Both sides must act as if they want peace by striving against those who do not want it even, in fact especially, among their own populations. Right now, one side is doing a whole lot more toward this end than the other, but even that side will eventually need to do more.

In this conflict, many refer to security barriers as “barriers to peace.” Yet, preventing violence between the sides is the only way to move toward peace. In my mind, before achieving any final agreement, there needs to be a time when Israel is largely out of Gaza and the vast majority of the territory in the West Bank that will become a Palestinian state. The sides must be able to coexist at peace and demonstrate a willingness to enforce the peace upon their own populations or else any agreement will become but a cease fire before renewed conflict.

Israel's neighbors do not necessarily like its existence. Yes, Walt, Mearsheimer, and Ghandi, we are a persecuted people and Israel, the home of nearly half of the Jews in world, all the more so. Over the years Israel’s neighbors have sought to destroy it. They are displeased that Israel still exists. They are unhappy that the United States continues to support its defense against those who would end its existence and in no small number, the existence of its Jewish citizenry. Making them happy is not an option.

Perhaps, just perhaps, US support for Israel is principled. Just perhaps, it is based upon common ideals: democracy among them. Just perhaps, Israel faces some of the same enemies that America faces, not all Muslims, but certainly radical militant ones. Just perhaps, support of Israel in spite of the anger that it causes among those who would like to see Israel destroyed is a good thing, a thing to praise. I believe that this is true.

When the founders of the nation of Israel discussed what name to give the new nation, many suggested that it be called Judah or Judea. That had been the name given the political entity for more than 1,000 years until the Romans, angered by the Jewish revolt, renamed it Palestina. Ben Gurion spoke up at the time of the nation’s founding and said in essence that this nation is not about the land, but about its people, the people Israel, and thus that name came to be chosen.

During this year of the 60th anniversary of Israel's independence, it is important to remember that there are many who would have aborted its birth and who continue to work for its swift demise. Israel needs our support as much today as it ever has.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Caucuses and Beyond

Shalom All,

What does it all mean?

Certainly, there was excitement and energy at the caucuses not found in the past. About double the number of people participated this year compared to the previous record participation in 2004. The totals were in line with what I suggested earlier. McCain and Thompson battled for third and fourth with the winner between the two unknown. Obama was the clear victor for the Dems. Huckabee the clear winner for the Republicans.

What does all of this mean for Israel?

First off, Obama had substantial Jewish support here, including among some of the AIPAC crowd and some among the religious Zionists as well. Obama, while certainly noting that "no one is suffering more than the Palestinians" earlier on in the campaign, has made clear that a good bit of that suffering has been caused and continues to be caused by the Palestinians themselves. Over the course of the campaign it became clear that Obama was pro-Israel without question. Clinton is a known commodity and is pro-Israel also. I don't believe that Israel has anything to fear from either of them. Edwards is also "pro-Israel," but really is not as interested in foreign issues not related to union jobs. I do not expect that he would dramatically alter US policy toward Israel, but would expect that of the three, he would be the least likely to involve the US in issues in the Middle East beyond Israel's borders.

Obama leaves Iowa a legitimate contender. Clinton is still the national frontrunner. Edwards may not have the money to compete in the more expensive states. On the Democratic side, its going to rapidly turn into a two horse race in my view.

As for the Republicans, Huckabee won big in Iowa because of the large Evangelican Christian turnout. Guliani's showing was dismal. Romney spent a great deal for second place. Thompson likely hoped for better and Paul demonstrated that he speaks for a chunk of the Republican party disillusioned by the rampant spending policies of the recent Republican administrations.

McCain has been growing in popularity in Iowa and didn't really even campaign here. I would expect that he will do well in the primaries as he goes forward. Guliani didn't try here either. The fact that he did poorly in the caucuses is mostly a reflection of a lack of effort here along with a very Evangelical voter base in the Republican party, a group to which Guliani doesn't click. He'll do better going forward as well.

Romney is a fiscal conservative, who is pro-Israel and pro-strong defense, no real concern for Israel there. Huckabee is an Evangelical of the CUFI variety and spoke at Pastor John Hagee's church recently. A recent article in the Jerusalem Post is fairly descriptive of Huckabee's views on Israel . He is likely the most strongly pro-Israel candidate in the election for either party. That said, opposing Israeli territorial retreats for the creation of a Palestinian state and talking about creating a Palestinian state in "Egypt or Saudi Arabia" as the article quotes him as saying might not help the Israeli-Palestinian peace process along much. Certainly with regard to Huckabee's views on social issues such as reproductive choice and many religious issues, there are substantial differences with the bulk of the Jewish community.

Just a few thoughts,


Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Assassinations and Other Disturbing Events

Shalom All,

The past few days have seen several disturbing events:

1. Benazir Bhutto's assassination.
2. Opening of the Rafah Border Crossing by Egypt - Blatantly Allowing Smuggling.
3. Rioting in Kenya after corrupt elections resulting in hundreds of deaths and the burning of those seeking refuge in an Assemblies of God church there.

and some promising ones:

1. France condemned Syria's role in the assassination of leaders in Lebanon with Syria responding by suspending ties with France.
2. Israel has been able to target militants extremely effectively in Gaza while avoiding civilian casualties AND for the most part, the response by the PA has not been to threaten Israel with retaliation.
3. Israel has pledged to stop construction of a neighborhood in East Jerusalem that could potentially make even Arab neighborhoods impossible to place within a future Palestinian state.

The Bhutto assassination is something that while tragic and disturbing should have been expected. Not only was Bhutto strongly warned by the US and other nations, but she had already survived one massive assassination attempt only weeks ago. Furthermore, another opposition candidate was also attacked that morning, but survived that attack, something that should have heightened her fear even more. Musharraf himself has survived several assassination attempts. The very fact that killing Bhutto will have highly damaging effects upon democracy in Pakistan is likely the primary reason why she was killed. Bhutto was both important and symbolically important for those seeking increased freedom in Pakistan and for those seeking increased rights for women in the Muslim world. Her loss for Pakistan cannot be overstated. Neither can the impact of her loss upon the war being waged within Pakistan against radical Muslims in the Northwest. Whoever moves against the radical elements there puts his or her life in danger. Is there a courageous leader on the horizon?

Egypt's opening of the Rafah border crossing to allow well over 2,000 pilgrims back into Gaza without any kind of search being conducted is tantamount to enabling the smuggling of weapons, money, and militants into Gaza. The suggestion that this was done for humanitarian reasons is laughable. Israel had agreed to allow these pilgrims to enter Gaza, but through security in order to prevent smuggling and more importantly, to prevent wanted militants from entering. Egypt, on its own, decided to allow open access to Gaza, thus contradicting any supposition that they are trying to stop smuggling from Egypt into Gaza.

The violence in Kenya has already been called "genocide," something that is quite a bit premature. The Kikuya tribe, who are being slaughtered are primarily Christians. We'll have to keep a close look at the events in Kenya to make sure that the violence doesn't escalate and that those suffering there are not ignored because of events in other locales around the world.

France's stance regarding Syria has changed radically since the election of Sarkozy. Syria can not only no longer count on France to defend it against criticism by the US and Israel, but changes in France have also jeopardized EU and UN support for Syria, essentially isolating Syria from the West. As a major ally of Syria in the past, France has pull with its government. Syria may well feel a need to change its behavior. However, this development could also push Syria into closer ties to Iran, North Korea, and Russia.

Israel's new satellite systems have enabled its anti-militant strikes to be highly effective. In recent weeks, the IDF has targeted militants with high accuracy and with very little collateral damage. Additionally, there is some feeling that Hamas is not supporting Islamic Jihad in the manner that it once did. While openly viewing Islamic Jihad as a brother in the struggle, it seems that Hamas is coming around to the view that ongoing pin pricks aimed at Israel are not helping the cause and are leading to crippling effects on the economy. They may be functionally turning against the radicals in their midst, but slowly. We are a long way from Hamas working to disarm Islamic Jihad, but we are closer to Hamas not actively pursuing arming them.

With the future of peace between Israel and the PA likely limited to the West Bank, it is important that BOTH Israel and the PA prepare for a future Palestinian state that will encompass most, but not all of the West Bank and will include areas in the Jerusalem area that are overwhelmingly Arab, though not all of those areas. Israel may have to concede some neighborhoods in order for the PA not to insist on all of the pre-1967 boundaries in Jerusalem. Peace will require major compromises.

Just a few thoughts,