Archive for April, 2013

Liberal hypocrisy on religion and speech

Thursday, April 11th, 2013

Most Americans are absolutely committed to the ideas in the First Amendment, in particular to freedom of speech and religion. Although the Bill of Rights only deals with actions taken by government, these ideals permeate the culture.

But particularly in the case of the liberal elite — academics, media and entertainment people, intellectuals — there are limitations.

For example, ‘religion’ has a special meaning for them: in the liberal view a ‘religion’ ought to only be about ‘spiritual things’ which by definition do not impinge on a believer’s public actions or politics, and ‘ritual’, which consists of silly behavior on Friday, Saturday or Sunday (depending on the religion).

They are extremely uncomfortable with religion when it crosses the line into actions that might affect others. So, for example, it is considered a damning (no pun intended) indictment of anti-abortion activists to accuse them of holding their position ‘for religious reasons’. Such reasons, they insist, can’t justify actions which might affect anyone other than the believer.

Unitarian Universalists, Reform Jews and liberal Protestants tend to be politically liberal, and while they might say that their politics are determined by their religion, it’s probably the other way around. Catholics, Orthodox Jews and Evangelical Christians are more likely to derive their politics from their beliefs, which bothers liberals.

And then there is Islam. Islam is the most political of religions, in theory at least, calling for the implementation of Shari’a in any society where Muslims live. Judging by the actions of many believers, this is not just theoretical. Since Shari’a establishes a strict hierarchy of rights with male Muslims on top, it very definitely affects non-Muslims.

But while liberals, especially Jewish liberals, object strenuously to religion-based politics among Catholics and Evangelicals — take this, for example — there is total, deafening silence from this quarter about Islam. The inconsistency is striking.

Somehow it has become acceptable to dump on Christian Zionists for their political activities, but absolutely taboo to criticize Muslim groups, some of which support Hamas or Hizballah. Using language identical to that applied to neo-Nazis or the Ku Klux Klan, organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) accuse anyone who is critical of political Islam, or who suggests that radical Muslims present a threat to democracy in the US, of ‘hate’ and ‘bigotry’. Here is SPLC’s list of “active anti-Muslim groups” which even includes the blog “Sultan Knish“, and of course the provocative “Atlas Shrugs” of Pamela Geller.

Interestingly, the SPLC’s classification of ‘hate groups’ by ideology doesn’t include a category for radical Islam!

The mention of Geller brings me back to the ideals of the First Amendment, in particular, freedom of speech. This Sunday, Geller was scheduled to speak at an Orthodox Synagogue in Great Neck, Long Island, on the subject “The Imposition of Sharia in America.” A great deal of pressure was applied to try to stop the event, from the extremist Jewish Voice for Peace group, to the liberal Rabbi Jerome Davidson, retired rabbi of a Reform congregation in Great Neck, and Habeeb Ahmed, an officer of the Islamic Center of Long Island and a member of the county’s Human Rights Commission, as well as the Interfaith Alliance — Long Island Chapter, etc.

The synagogue resisted the pressure until yesterday, when they threw in the towel in response to a threat to stage a march on the synagogue on Sunday morning (during Sunday school). Here is the statement by the synagogue’s board (obtained by Geller):

As the notoriety and media exposure of the planned program this Sunday have increased, so has the legal liability and potential security exposure of our institution and it’s [sic] member families. In an era of heightened security concerns it is irresponsible to jeopardize the safety of those who call Great Neck Synagogue home, especially our children, even at the risk of diverting attention from a potentially important voice in the ongoing debate. Accordingly, the Great Neck Synagogue Men’s Club will no longer be sponsoring the appearance of Pamela Geller this coming Sunday, and no event will be taking place in our facility.”

Executive Board
Great Neck Synagogue

I think it is clear from this that the board has not accepted the arguments of the left/liberal/Muslim opposition that Ms Geller is a dangerous hate speaker who should not be given a platform (Robert Nuxoll of the Interfaith Alliance said her talk was “the equivalent of a church in the 1930s inviting a representative of the Nazi Party to speak,” and Habeeb Ahmed called her “the personification of an Islamophobe.”)

Nevertheless, they have been frightened by an implicit threat of violence into canceling the event. I have personally faced a mass demonstration of angry Muslims, and can tell you that it is scary.

The liberal attitude to free-speech-that-they-disagree-with is never nice. In fact, my motivation for writing this blog was originally that my attempts to publicly present Israel’s case — even to Jewish audiences — was frustrated by ‘liberal’ objections.

Geller has been invited to speak on Sunday at a Chabad house in Great Neck and another synagogue in New Jersey, and intends to do so.

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John Kerry and Farmer Gray

Wednesday, April 10th, 2013
Farmer Gray and cat face their nemeses, the mice

Farmer Gray and cat face their nemeses, the mice

When television in New York was brand new, children’s programming included countless hours of silent cartoons featuring Farmer Gray (or “Farmer Al Falfa”), originally made in the 1920’s and 30’s. Among other problems, Gray and his cat faced the Sisyphean task of ridding the farm of mice, thousands of them. Nothing availed: after dumping the mice in the lake, Gray would return to the farm, turn on a faucet, and out would come — mice.

Why does John Kerry make me feel like Farmer Gray? Possibly because the same old stuff comes back over and over, no matter how clear it is that it is complete and utter nonsense. Yesterday he said,

I am intensely focused on this issue and the region because it is vital really to American interests and regional interests to try and advance the peace process and because this festering absence of peace is used by groups everywhere to recruit and encourage extremism … Both sides mistrust each other deeply and there are reasons that mistrust has built up. I am convinced that we can break that down.

Let’s look at everything stated and implied here:

“The festering absence of peace” is actually festering a lot less in Israel than it is in other places in the world and even the Middle East. There is plenty of festering non-peace going on in Egypt, which is spiraling out of control, where churches are attacked and Christians murdered, and where there will soon be starvation as the nation’s food and currency run out.

There is also a lack of peace festering in Syria, where the death toll of the civil war is conservatively estimated at about 60,000, where chemical and biological weapons are at risk of falling into the hands of terrorists, and where one of the major opposition groups has just announced that it is joining up with al-Qaeda.

There is also the very serious danger that the peaceless festering in Syria will cause Lebanon and Jordan to fester peacelessly as well. And don’t forget the absence of peace in the Korean peninsula, which could begin to fester massively at any moment. These are all much more urgent if regional and world peace is one’s concern.

Certainly “groups” use the Israeli-Arab conflict to “encourage extremism” — more correctly, they use the presence of a Jewish state in ‘their’ Middle East to do that — but would an agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority make them stop? Listen to Barry Rubin:

Islamist groups and governments, along with radical Arab nationalists, Iran, and others, are determined to prevent any resolution of the issue. Anything other than Israel’s extinction they hold to be treason. If—and this isn’t going to happen—Israel and the Palestinian Authority made a comprehensive peace treaty those forces would double and triple their efforts to subvert it.

The government of Palestine would face determined domestic opposition, including assassination attempts on the “traitors” who made peace. Palestinian factions would claim to be more militant than their rivals and would seek to use the new state as a basis for attacking Israel in order to prove their credentials and advance their political fortunes.

What would the government of Palestine do once cross-border attacks inevitably began against Israel? It is highly likely it would disclaim responsibility and say they cannot find those responsible or even proclaim that these people are heroes.

Of course, the Hamas regime in the Gaza Strip would not accept the deal, thus ensuring that it could not be implemented. That last factor, which is a huge and impassable barrier is simply ignored by the “peacemakers.” Israel would have to make major territorial concessions and take heightened risks in advance that would bring zero benefits from a Hamas government that would increase its attacks on Israel. Hamas forces on the West Bank, perhaps in partnership with Fatah radicals, would seek to overthrow Palestine’s government.

There would be attempts to carry out atrocities against Israeli civilians to break the deal, just as happened by Hamas alone during the 1993-2000 “Oslo peace process” period. Hizballah from Lebanon would also increase attacks on Israel to prove that the treasonous peace could not hold.

The ruling Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Syria would do everything possible to help Hamas. There would be outrage in large sectors of public opinion and especially among the armed Islamist militias who would try to lever their countries into war, stage cross-border attacks against Israel, and back Palestinian insurgents.

Of course, the fact that they understand all of the points made above is one of the main reasons why the Palestinian Authority’s leadership isn’t interested in making a peace deal with Israel, and not even negotiating seriously toward that end.

Ironically, then, the recruiting and encouragement of extremism would be at far higher levels than it is now.

Notice that Kerry, like all past American meddlers mediators, conflates ‘peace’ with an Israeli-PLO agreement that results in Israel withdrawing from the territories. But a piece of paper is a piece of paper. There is a fundamental problem that no possible Palestinian Arab leadership will accept the idea of a Jewish state, and will immediately begin trying, by force and diplomacy, to overthrow it. A withdrawal will only make it easier.

What American interests and regional interests is he talking about? I suppose the ‘regional interests’ are those of Turkey and the Arab states. Obviously, whatever is bad for Israel is good for them. American interests ought to include a strong, democratic ally in an area where anti-Americanism is the rule. Instead, Kerry seems to perceive these interests as placating the Saudis, and more recently, the Turks. Both of these regimes are ideologically enemies of the democratic West — and, unlike Israel, they have never supported US actions unless they directly benefited from them.

Finally, there is the mistrust that he believes he can break down. This implies that the issues are not substantive, but flow from misunderstandings developed over the years. But the mistrust on the Israeli side comes from years of terrorism, war, rocket bombardments, etc. It’s very concrete and quite reasonable. And the Arabs mistrust the Jews because they are ‘occupying Arab land’ and have been doing so since 1948 and before. There is only one thing that could change that, and Israel’s Jews are not prepared to move to Poland.

Either Kerry believes his statement, which means he is incompetent, or he understands all of the above and has different motives (which makes him a liar). Maybe he simply wants to carry on the State Department policy, established in the mid-1970’s as a response to the Arab oil weapon, to shrink Israel to 1949 size regardless of the consequences.

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Rocks and Bullets

Tuesday, April 9th, 2013
Ahikam Simantov. Photo by Tzuriel Cohen-Arzi.

Ahikam Simantov. Photo by Tzuriel Cohen-Arzi.

Throwing stones is the birthright and duty of anyone subject to foreign rule. Throwing stones is an action as well as a metaphor of resistance.Amira Hass, Ha’aretz

…it’s not for Israelis to set the rules for the ways Palestinians should challenge our oppressionNoam Sheizaf, +972 Magazine

The court accepted the fact that this was not a kid throwing rocks at the road, but a systematic plan for [the defendant] to try and kill Jews.Adrian Agassi, attorney for family of Asher Palmer, murdered with his baby son by terrorist rock-throwers

A Rock is a Bullet:
The Consequences of Palestinian Rock-Throwing

By Anav Silverman
Tazpit News Agency

For over 25 years, Palestinian rock-throwing has become a part of routine life for Jewish residents living in Judea and Samaria. On the roads to the settlement communities, many of the 300,000 residents living in the scenic region, have experienced some kind of rock attack on their vehicle. While there has been much debate about the political significance of a Palestinian rock thrower by outside media observers and political commentators – for residents impacted by such rock attacks, the rock is simply seen as lethal.

For Ahikam Simantov from Ofra, a community established in 1975 on the main road between Jerusalem and Nablus, a rock thrown at his family’s car forever changed his life 23 years ago.  On May 1990, after celebrating Jerusalem Day in the country’s capital, the Simantov family was driving back home to Ofra when rocks began pelting their car along the way.  One rock smashed through the car window, hitting Ahikam’s head, who was seven-months-old at the time.

“It was a period when you couldn’t drive home without getting hit [by rocks],” said Edna Simantov, Ahikam’s mother to Tazpit News Agency in an exclusive interview. “My husband’s car had been hit the week before – this was the height of the first intifada – the roads were dangerous and everyone was getting protective shielding for their cars.”

“Ahikam began crying, his head hadn’t opened but it had begun to swell. At home, we washed him and removed all the pieces of shattered glass,” Simantov recalls. There were three other siblings in the car at the time.

Because there were no ambulances available, the Simantovs drove back to Jerusalem that night, and checked Ahikam into a hospital. The baby lost consciousness during the ride.

“There was a lot of internal bleeding and the doctors weren’t sure that Ahikam would even survive,” said his mother.

Ahikam did survive but suffered permanent brain damage as a result of the rock crushing his skull, which later led to heavy epileptic seizures. When medication could no longer control his seizures, Ahikam’s parents began exploring options for surgery.

Although the Simantovs eventually located, with the help of family and friends, the Montreal Neurological Institute, where Ahikam underwent successful surgery at age 16 that stopped the epilepsy attacks, the 23-year-old feels that he got the hard end of the deal.

Ahikam Simantov, 1990. Courtesy Simantov family.

Ahikam Simantov, 1990. Courtesy Simantov family.

“I can’t read or write, I will never be able to serve in the army, or get my driving license,” Ahikam recounts sadly. “I will always have to depend on others to help me even with something as simple as sending an SMS. There are many days when I think to myself, why me?”

Ahikam’s mother still keeps the rock that changed the trajectory of her son’s life and that of her family.  “We always knew that rocks were weapons and we’ve been suffering from this rock for decades,” says Edna, holding the giant rock in her hand. “Because of this, one-third of my son’s brain is missing. He walks with a limp, has back problems, cannot feel with his right hand and suffers from a weaker right side. I take him to physiotherapy three times a week. I had so much hope for him when he was born, there was so much potential.”

“This is an ongoing tragedy not only for Ahikam, but for our entire family,” concludes Edna. Ahikam’s older sister, Yael, 25, adds that “our entire family has lived in the shadow of this rock. My childhood changed, I feel as though I never really had one.”

Despite all this, Ahikam completed his National Service, a year of volunteer work for the state, where he says he gained more confidence taking care of horses, an activity that he continues to do today. He also gives talks and presentations about his life experience to Israeli police, soldiers, and students, which have been well-received.

“I speak to groups about what a rock thrown at you can do to your life. You have to treat a rock like a bullet – there is no difference between the two,” stresses Ahikam. “I share this dark story to make people aware, but not so that they should pity me.”

The Simantovs, whose families originally come from Iran, have been living in Ofra for 35 years and now have grandchildren who also live in the community. “Without my family, I never could have survived this ordeal — my dad, my mom and my siblings have been beyond supportive of me,” says Ahikam.

The only other worry that Ahikam’s mother has is that her son should find love. “I want him to be happy, to find a girlfriend,” she says.

Adele Biton

Adele Biton

The most recent Palestinian rock-throwing incident that left a child critically injured took place three weeks ago in Samaria near Ariel. Palestinian teens threw rocks at a vehicle driven by 32-year-old mother, Adva Biton, whose three-year-old girl, Adele was critically injured, and her two older sisters, moderately injured, when a stone struck their vehicle in Samaria on Thursday night, March 14. Adele, who is still unconscious, has been fighting for her life in an Israeli hospital for the past three weeks.

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In praise of nationalism

Monday, April 8th, 2013

Yesterday I talked about universalizing the Holocaust, and how it obscures an important lesson for the Jewish people: that we cannot place the responsibility for our defense in other hands.

A reader has pointed me to another piece which made a similar point, but expressed in in more general terms. Daniel Greenfield (‘Sultan Knish’) wrote this (but read the whole article):

The Jewish response to the Holocaust fell into these two categories. Never Again and Teach Tolerance. And the two responses were segmented by population. Never Again became the credo of Israel and Teach Tolerance became the credo of the Western Diaspora.

There were many Israelis who believed in teaching tolerance and many Western Jews who believed in self-defense, but for the most part the responses were structural because the divide between Nationalists and Universalists predated the Holocaust. …

Never Again made the Holocaust a teachable moment for Jews. Teach Tolerance made it a teachable moment for all mankind. The Nationalist and the Universalist draw two opposite lessons from the Holocaust. The Nationalists focus on resistance while the Universalists focus on persecution. The Nationalist aspires to be a ghetto fighter while the Universalist aspires to be a good German. …

The Holocaust did not heal the divide between the Universalists and the Nationalists; it deepened it. The Universalists still insisted that a better world was coming and that the Holocaust made it more urgent for us to work toward it, while the Nationalists saw the world as a cycle of civilizations that had to be survived, with no respite, except for the religious who awaited a final transformation of the world and everything in it.

The nationalist/universalist distinction is a good one, much more illuminating of today’s war between the Jews than the more usual ones of Right vs. Left or Conservative vs. Liberal.

As Greenfield notes, the universalist believes in progress — he sees human society as perfectible, and indeed, moving in the direction of a better, more humane world. He often believes that the main obstacles to progress are barriers to communication; all humans are at bottom similar with similar wants and needs (mostly economic), and if we only understood each other we could work together for the common good. He prefers to avoid making moral judgments on other cultures.

The nationalist understands several things that the universalist does not:

  1. Cultures may have very different ideas of what a desirable world looks like — it isn’t just a communications problem.
  2. It’s irrational to make unilateral concessions to an adversary with opposing objectives (the universalist doesn’t believe that others really have opposing objectives)
  3. History tends to be cyclical. The idea of continuous progress is a myth
  4. It’s hard enough to perfect one’s own society; it’s foolhardy to try to do it for the rest of the world

If we compare Western and Islamic cultures, we find that universalist attitudes are common in the former and rare in the latter. But of course there are plenty of nationalists among westerners. Compare the nationalist Binyamin Netanyahu with the universalist Shimon Peres.

I think this distinction is more fundamental than the right/left divide. It is also very firmly ensconced in our psyches, and it is not easy to change. How else can you explain the so-called “architects of Oslo” who — after several wars and thousands of lives lost to terrorism — continue to think that a two-state agreement with the PLO will bring peace? Or the 100 American Jewish ‘leaders’ who signed a recent letter calling for Israel to make ‘painful’ concessions?

Other things being equal, a struggle between universalists and nationalists will favor the nationalists, because they understand that their goals are different from those of their adversaries. Israel’s enemies are ‘nationalists’ in this sense, even if they are Islamists. They are happy to pocket concessions, give back nothing, and make further demands.

The universalist is easy prey to doubts. After all, he thinks, if the other side believes in its position so strongly, maybe there’s something to it? So Israeli journalist Noam Sheizaf comments on Amira Hass’ controversial article which applauds Arab stone-throwers with one of the most craven statements I’ve heard in a long time:

…it’s not for Israelis to set the rules for the ways Palestinians should challenge our oppression, especially at times when Israeli society clearly lacks any interest in changing the status quo. Our role is to end the occupation. [my emphasis]

A perfect example of a universalist trying so hard to ‘understand’ that he more or less accepts his enemies’ ‘right’ to bash his brains out!

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How not to remember the Holocaust

Sunday, April 7th, 2013

holocaust cartoon

Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day, and I’m troubled.

History is important, because justice today depends on a correct understanding of yesterday. If your vision of the past is distorted, then your objectives for the future and present actions can be morally wrong, pragmatically futile, or both. If you don’t believe this, think about the consequences of the false Arab and leftist narratives about Israel and ‘Palestine’.

Therefore, understanding what Hitler did to the Jewish people, what historical trends led up to it and how the world responded, is critical for all of us today. There needs to be a Holocaust remembrance Day and it ought to tell its story in detail, over and over to each generation of humanity, and not just to Jews and Europeans.

But certain ways of observing this day make me very uncomfortable.

One is what I call the ‘universal kumbaya Holocaust observance’. The message here is that there are lots of genocides, they are all similar, and we have to try to understand our fellow man in order to prevent them. I went to an event once in which it was said that the real Holocaust encompassed 11 million people — Jews, Gypsies, gays, disabled and mentally ill people, etc.  I didn’t understand how they got to 11 million, nor why they stopped there: about 60 million people died as a result of WWII, probably about half of those in the European theater. Estimates range from 10 to 20 million Chinese dead in the conflict with Japan. Perhaps they should have lit 30 candles for the evil done by Hitler, and added another 30 for Imperial Japan?

The trouble with a universalized observance is that it obscures the significance of the specifically Jewish genocide, the fact that the Holocaust was the perfection, made possible by modern technology and careful planning, of the pogrom, the culmination of  the hundreds of anti-Jewish murders committed over the centuries simply because the victims were Jews, as the Nazis said, a final pogrom which would, for once and for all, erase the Jews from the world.

And by hiding the meaning of this event in plain sight, as it were, among all the other horrors of war, it also absolves today’s Jews from the responsibility to find their own solution to the specifically Jewish problem of endemic Jew-hatred, which has not gone away.

Another kind of Holocaust observance is the ’emotional binge’, in which participants try to bring themselves to the point where they can almost feel the doors of the gas chambers closing on themselves or (worse) their children, in order to fully internalize the ‘real meaning’ of the Holocaust. These events include talks by survivors about their experiences, dramatic performances and even re-enactments in which participants play the role of Jews and Nazis (all of these have been done in my community). The common characteristic is that they are intended to evoke the strongest possible emotional responses.

The catharsis provided by emotional binges is greatly enjoyed by some people, but it adds nothing to the understanding of history. Indeed, it creates a dangerous fixation on the dead Jews of the 1940s, to the detriment of those living today.

Finally there is the ‘symbolic but trivializing gesture’. A local synagogue is attempting to collect 6,000,000 buttons in remembrance of the 6,000,000 Jewish victims of Hitler. It was explained that this is a big number, and the stack of buttons that they will make will help people visualize the extent of the Holocaust.

It’s hard to comment on something quite this silly. Collecting, storing and displaying that many buttons is  a large effort, which one imagines could be exerted to much more effect in some other way. Personally, I have no problem visualizing 6,000,000 people: I just think about the Jewish population of today’s state of Israel.

Which brings me to the general problem I have with all of these ways of commemorating the victims of the Holocaust. They are entirely consistent with total ignorance of the real lesson of the Holocaust for Jews, which is not that 6,000,000 is a big number, or that the death of a child is horrible, or that genocide is bad everywhere, in Rwanda or Armenia or anywhere else.

This is why it is possible for some Jews to light candles, cry, and ‘dialogue’ about the need for cross-cultural understanding with non-Jews until the cows come home, and then go out and (for example) join a demonstration against Jews moving into eastern Jerusalem.

The Jewish lesson of the Holocaust is this: Jew hatred is real, it is dangerous, and it is not possible for Jews to depend on others, no matter how well-intentioned they may seem, to protect them. For almost two thousand years, the Jewish people depended on others, and the result was periods of tolerance interspersed with persecutions, expulsions and murder.

Generations of Jews have learned this lesson from events: Herzl learned it from the Dreyfus case, and Jabotinsky from the Kishniev pogrom of 1903. Unfortunately, the history of modern Israel is also filled with such ‘teaching moments’.

There is a solution to the problem. It doesn’t end Jew-hatred and it doesn’t absolutely guarantee Jewish survival. But it is the best chance for the latter, in both the physical and cultural senses. It is, of course, Jewish independence — that is, Zionism.

So here is my idea for an appropriate Holocaust remembrance event: a teach-in on the subject of Jewish history, in which people would learn not only what Hitler did, but why, and how this was part of a long tradition of evil.

And it wouldn’t hurt to add a discussion of the history of Zionism and the state of Israel, to counteract the poisonous Arab narrative. Because acting justly in the present requires correctly remembering the past.

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