Archive for October, 2013

Another road to peace

Thursday, October 31st, 2013

Last week I spoke to a woman, a senior citizen who reads a column that I write in the local Jewish Federation newsletter. “I enjoy your articles,” she said, “but what I want to know is this: after all these years, when will Israel ever get peace?”

“When we get different Arabs,” I answered.

Of course what I meant was that we cannot reach an agreement with those whose deepest desire is that we be gone from the Middle East, who do not recognize the legitimacy of any Jewish sovereignty regardless of borders, and who encourage murder and venerate murderers in all of their institutions.

This becomes evident in negotiations in which the PLO refuses to recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people, insists upon a ‘right of return’ for the descendants of 1948 refugees, and refuses to consider Israel’s most basic security needs — all the while continuing to glorify murderers and incite young people to become terrorists, even suicide terrorists.

Someday there might be a new Arab leadership, I suggested, that is more interested in economic development than revenge, and then there might be a possibility of peace.

So this morning I was telling “Robman,” who often comments on this blog, about the conversation. And he made an interesting point: there are other ways to get to peace than to make a deal with the Arabs.

There is more to the persistence of Arab terrorism than just hatred and a pathological desire for revenge. There is the belief that if they persist long enough, they will ultimately succeed in getting rid of the ‘Zionist enemy’. To a certain extent, this is part of Islamic ideology — after all, there was a 200-year Crusader kingdom in the Holy Land that was ultimately overcome, something Palestinians talk about a lot.

But that isn’t the only source of encouragement, and the intensity of the struggle is amplified, perhaps even sustained, by the encouragement the Palestinian (and other) Arabs receive daily from the rest of the world, implying that theirs is not a lost cause.

There is the continuous chorus of anti-Israel demonization flowing from  UN bodies and from the EU. There is the ceaseless sniping at Israel from most of the world’s media. But there is also the far more concrete and potent support that the Palestinian Arabs receive from their strongest supporter and closest ally in the world: the United States of America.

Let’s just look at what the PLO entity gets from the US: the great majority of its financial support, both direct aid and training for its army (excuse me, ‘security forces’); money to pay the salaries of PA workers (mostly ‘security forces’) including those in Israeli prisons for terrorism and murder, and those in Hamas-ruled Gaza; and contributions to UNRWA, the agency that maintains the refugee camps where residents are paid to have children that the Arabs will never allow to be resettled anywhere but Israel, and where they are taught to hate Jews and Israel in UN schools.

That’s only money. There is also the unrelenting political pressure on Israel to make concessions like freezing construction, releasing prisoners and ceding land, regardless of the fact that extreme PLO positions on issues absolutely fundamental to peace never change. There is the refusal to acknowledge Israel’s capital, Jerusalem.

And we can’t forget that in the periodic regional wars that the Arab nations and Iranian proxies launch against Israel, the US steps in and stops the fighting when Israel is on the verge of a decisive victory. Each time Israel prevails, but the US always makes sure there will be a next time.

Peace does not only come from diplomacy or agreements. More often, historically, lasting peace comes about because one side defeats the other. Chamberlain and Stalin signed ‘peace’ agreements with Hitler, but peace did not arrive until Russian tanks entered Berlin. And who is preventing Israel from defeating its enemies conclusively? Who is propping them up and giving them hope that they will win in the end? The United States of America.

Recently President Obama announced that he wants to scale down US involvement in the Middle East. Unfortunately, he also said that he would continue to push for an Israel-PLO agreement.

Rather, I suggest that we try a new pro-peace strategy: really support Israel and stop helping her enemies.

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The captitulation adminstration

Tuesday, October 29th, 2013

John Kerry, yesterday:

Obviously, we are now facing a test of that – two tests – in North Korea and in Iran. And we are engaged, as the President has charged me to be and has welcomed, an opportunity to try to put to test whether or not Iran really desires to pursue only a peaceful program, and will submit to the standards of the international community in the effort to prove that to the world. Some have suggested that somehow there’s something wrong with even putting that to the test. I suggest that the idea that the United States of America is a responsible nation to all of humankind would not explore that possibility would be the height of irresponsibility and dangerous in itself, and we will not succumb to those fear tactics and forces that suggest otherwise.

This is quite literally infuriating, on several levels.

He is clearly referring to Israel’s Prime Minister, the ‘some’ who engages in ‘fear tactics’ by telling anyone who will listen that sanctions should not be removed until Iran takes concrete steps toward dismantling its nuclear weapons program.

The ‘test’ Mr. Kerry wants to perform is to weaken sanctions in return for promises and actions that will not materially affect Iran’s progress toward a weapon. That isn’t a test — it’s a capitulation.

I am not sure what Kerry and President Obama think the US will get out of it, but it’s clear what Iran gets — reduced sanctions, which anyway have been leaky enough to only be a minor obstacle on Iran’s path, a moral victory for having faced down the US, and plenty of time to develop its bombs.

One could also ‘test’ Iran by tightening sanctions and seeing if that would persuade the regime to stop development. But for some reason, the most powerful nation in the world (for a while, at least) is incapable of being firm with its sworn enemies.

Not satisfied with its own foreign policy of appeasement, the administration has forced it on Israel as well. How else can you describe the fact that PM Netanyahu was ordered by the US to release convicted murders, unrepentant terrorists who have killed Israelis for the ‘crime’ of being Jewish?

The damage to Israel’s justice system — and to the feelings of the relatives and friends of terror victims — and indeed, the national humiliation that will be felt as the murderers return home to massive celebrations, cannot be undone.

And all this to get the Palestinian Authority (PA), which continues to glorify its murderers and incite more of the same on a daily basis, to engage in a pretense of ‘negotiations’!

I was talking to a friend in Israel today, and the subject was what Obama could possibly have threatened Netanyahu with that would make him do something that an overwhelming majority of Israeli Jews oppose (a poll taken in July before the release of a previous batch of prisoners put opposition at 85%), and which virtually everyone in the region — Jew and Arab alike — knows will not lead to an agreement with the PA.

But that is the price that must be paid, because Kerry and Obama want Israel to test the PA, just as they want to test Iran, despite the fact that both the PA and Iran have a consistent track record of deception.

They have already flunked this test over and over! How many make-ups will we give them?

The truth is that neither the pressure on Israel nor the appeasement of Iran is a test. It is a way to sugar-coat the US policy, which is appeasement of the worst elements of the human race in a naive and doomed attempt to get them on our side.

Partly based on naked fear of terrorism — what if Hizballah were unleashed in the US? — partly on a post-modern sensibility that cannot recognize evil even when it knocks down buildings in our greatest city, and partly on a lack of historical perspective, the policy is simple: give them what they want and they will leave us alone.

For a while.

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Israel will release murderers, yet again

Monday, October 28th, 2013

Well, they’re at it again.

Releasing convicted murderers, I mean. And they are murderers:

All of the 26 prisoners on the [Israel Prison Service] list were either convicted of murder or attempted murder. Among the most notable cases is Damouni Saad Mohammed Ahmed, who was convicted of involvement in the brutal lynch of IDF reservist Amnon Pomerantz in the Gaza Strip in 1990.

Another Palestinian set to be freed is Massoud Issa Rajib Amer, a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine who in 1993 was convicted of brutally hacking to death Ian Feinberg, a young lawyer who spent time in Gaza cultivating ties to the local Palestinian community while trying to promote economic projects. Amer was also convicted of killing three Palestinians suspected of collaborating with Israel.

Israel will also release Tukeman Yusef Suleiman Mahmed, Abu Hanana Zakariya Udia Usama, and Abdel-Aziz Said Kassam Ahmed, three men involved in the 1992 shooting death of Moshe Biton. Biton was shot and killed after entering a convenience store, and his wife was shot after trying to tend to him.

This is the second group of mostly murderers released as part of an agreement that brought Palestinian Authority (PA) negotiators to the table.

Someone recently wrote that “no other country in the world lets murderers go free.” I don’t know how to verify that, but surely no other country would let them go free for less than nothing, which is what Israel has done in this latest deal.

What exactly did Israel get in return for causing immense pain to the family members of victims, making a joke of its justice system and risking the return of these vicious killers to ‘active duty’ as terrorists? Let’s look at the PA’s position in the recent talks:

The Palestinian Authority demands that any land swap with Israel as part of a peace deal not exceed 1.9 percent of the West Bank, less than half of the land necessary to incorporate the lion’s share of settlers, according to details leaked to Channel 2 by a disgruntled Palestinian official on Sunday.

According to the report, the Palestinians are also insisting that they gain control over water, and control at their sides of the Dead Sea and border crossings; that a Palestinian state be able to sign agreements with other states without Israeli intervention; that Israel release all Palestinian prisoners it holds; and that all Palestinian refugees and their descendants be granted the right to choose to live in Israel or the Palestinian territories as part of a final agreement.

To be polite, this is a non-starter. To be impolite, it is a recipe for the end of the Jewish state. Can you imagine ‘Palestine’ inviting Iran to build a base in its territory? Can you imagine flooding Israel with millions of descendants of Arab refugees?

The PA is intransigent because officials do not want to reach an agreement. They know that a high-priority goal of US policy is to get Israel out of the territories, and that the administration in Washington is not sympathetic to Israeli concerns. They know that this leads to continued pressure on Israel to make concessions, like the prisoner release.

Their position gains them points with their constituency — polls have consistently showed that Palestinian Arabs overwhelmingly favor a hard line against Israel — and gets them concessions. By sticking to their maximal demands, they establish a baseline for future ‘peace’ proposals. They employ what I’ve called ‘the divorce court fallacy’ (if one party says X and the other Y, then the truth must be halfway in between) to drive the US closer to their position.

In the meantime, they pursue the parallel tracks of diplomacy at the UN, creating facts on the ground with European money, and of course terrorism.

Neither Israel nor the PA expects these talks to lead to a peace agreement. They do produce benefits for the PA, but what do they do for Israel? Only one thing, which is to get Barack Obama off its back. Maybe.

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Action alert: save Jewish documents from Iraq

Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013
Page from 16th-century bible with commentary found in Iraq

Page from 16th-century bible with commentary found in Iraq in process of preservation at National Archives, Washington

Here is the story in a few lines (Caroline Glick has all the details here):

Iraq had a Jewish population of 137,000 in 1940. Today there are about a dozen left, thanks to Islamic Jew-hatred, fanned in part by our old friend, Haj Amin al-Husseini, and continued through the days of Saddam Hussein.

A collection of books and documents belonging to what was left of the Iraqi Jewish community was looted by Saddam and kept in the basement of the secret police building. In 2003 the documents were rescued from the flooded building by a Defense Department Mideast expert named Harold Rhode. They were brought to the US, where they have been preserved and are being exhibited at the National Archives. Here is a short video from the Archives that tells the remarkable story.

The State Department has decided that they belong to the Iraqi government, because they were found in a government building, and plans to return them to Iraq next year.  Of course, they are not the property of anyone but the Iraqi Jewish community, the great majority of whose surviving members and descendants live in Israel.

It is as if someone burglarizes your house, the police take custody of the stolen property, and decide to give it to the burglars — because after all, it was in their possession.

Here is a letter I wrote to the president and to my senators. I ask my US readers to please think about doing the same.

Dear President Obama,

As you may know, the National Archives are restoring and exhibiting historical Jewish books and documents that were stolen from the Iraqi Jewish community by Saddam Hussein, and brought to the US after the Iraq war by Harold Rhode, a retired Defense Department cultural expert.

Now I understand that the material is slated to be returned to the government of Iraq next year.

This material belongs to Iraq’s Jewish community and no one else. It is no different from the property of German Jews that was stolen by the Nazis. Sending it back to Iraq – whose Jewish population has been reduced from 137,000 in 1940 to approximately one dozen today – is unjust and offensive.

The great majority of Jews of Iraqi descent now live in Israel. The Babylonian Jewry Heritage Center in Or Yehuda, Israel, is prepared to receive this material and is the proper place for it.

Please help the 2,500 year old Iraqi Jewish community get its history back!

Vic Rosenthal

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Coexist? First, be prepared to defend yourself

Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013

Last week I attended a Friday evening service at a Reform temple, led by the high school-age youth group.

The theme of the service, as shown on the program that was distributed to congregants, was this:

coexistThe students quoted MLK, JFK and Helen Keller on the subject of tolerance (they could also have quoted the Torah on how to properly treat the stranger (גר) in our midst, but they didn’t). They declaimed

The world is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion.

which they attributed to Thomas Paine (it seems that he said something similar which did not include the part about “all mankind” and which had a wholly different connotation than the students gave it). They even included this:

The Holy Prophet Mohammed came into this world and taught us “That man is a Muslim who never hurts anyone by word or deed, but who works for the benefit and happiness of God’s creatures.” Belief in God is to love one’s fellow men. — Abdul Ghaffar Khan

(although they failed to add that Khan was at odds with the great majority of Muslims in India, opposed the partition that created Pakistan, and was imprisoned by the Pakistani authorities for 15 years for his non-violent opposition).

And naturally, how could they leave out the immortal lyrics of “Imagine,” by John Lennon?

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for

They did skip the next line, “and no religion, too.” I asked about it and was told that it had originally been included, but their adult advisers suggested that it might be offensive to some congregants!

There was more, and the message was that we are all the same under the skin, and the cause of war and hatred in the world is a lack of understanding. One student even said something like “all cultures are good, they are just different.”

The students developed the program themselves, but I think their teachers and advisers deserve a grade of F for failing to explain some of the basic facts of human existence, particularly as they apply to the Jewish people.

One is that tribalism on all levels has been hardwired into humans by evolutionary pressures. A person will always be more willing to sacrifice personal benefit for a family member than a stranger and for members of successively more inclusive groups than for relative ‘outsiders’. At the same time they will display hostility to outsiders, which can become obsessive.

This can sometimes be controlled by social pressure and legal strictures within a culture or political unit, but is the ‘normal’ behavior of the human animal.

This hostility does not always promote the interests of the group, because it arises from atavistic feelings which are not rational in the first place (although cynical leaders can and do encourage and channel it for political purposes).

Hostile attitudes abound among various cultures, including hatreds which predispose a ‘tribe’ to genocide against its enemies. Since it is not possible for outsiders to defuse the hostility in another culture, the only avenue for survival for a targeted group is self-defense.

The US civil rights movement is an example of social and legal mitigation of intolerance within a broader culture. To the extent that it has been partially successful, it is because it was possible, within the US, to create a feeling of membership in a large ‘tribe’ that included both the persecuted group and the (former) persecutors.

On the world scale there is no larger cultural framework in which to mitigate group hostility — there are international subcultures, like academia, but they are as tribal and hostile as any other group — so the US civil rights movement is not a useful analogy.

Some of the cultures in the world are farther from the ones that these young people are familiar with than they can imagine. The 100 days of the Rwandan Genocide when 500,000 people were murdered, often by their neighbors wielding machetes, might be incomprehensible to them, as would the Syrian rebel cutting out and eating the heart of his enemy.

Don’t even ask what most non-Western cultures think about slavery, equal treatment for religious minorities and women, gay people, etc.

To make the discussion concrete, consider the Jewish people, to which these students belong.

For almost two thousand years they have been the target of hostility from surrounding cultures. From 70 CE to 1948 the Jews were a minority culture wherever they lived, and today the State of Israel is a minority state in the Middle East. The Jews may be the only recognizable ethnic group that has survived and maintained its identity for such a long period.

Although they used various strategies to survive, convincing their hostile neighbors of the benefits of coexistence wasn’t one of them. Nor was assimilation, which (sometimes) allowed individual Jews to survive at the expense of the Jewish culture. What did work was an emphasis on the differences between the Jews and others, and efforts to stay separate from their neighbors.

Today of course, the degree of hostility toward the Jewish state, both among its neighbors and in the wider world — particularly Europe — has reached the point that only aggressive, preemptive self-defense keeps it from being overrun.

Despite efforts to explain that intolerance really isn’t to anyone’s advantage, it seems that every day the hatred grows and the haters find new ways to express it.

The Jewish nation — people and state — can’t affect the outcome of their struggle to survive by preaching tolerance and coexistence. They have little or no power to influence their enemies by rational argument or by setting an example. They are not world citizens, all mankind does not and will not see them as brothers, and the only human or national rights they have are the ones that they can defend.

Do the young people of this congregation understand this? I doubt it.

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