Two questions

April 2nd, 2014

Today I would simply like you to read the words of so-called “right-wing” MK Danny Danon, and then think about two questions.

Would the U.S. release individuals swearing to continue waging jihad in order to liberate their lands? Definitely not. The number of killers operating against the U.S. who received the death sentence [mostly extra-judicially — ed.] or who are being held in military prisons on life [or indeterminate] sentences is growing. And, of course, every U.S. leader knows that any individual who radiates weakness in the face of those who scorned American pride could end up losing his seat. Are U.S. President Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s measures implying that they have lost their respect for us? Does somebody truly believe that the pain felt by families of terror victims hurts any less? Does somebody actually think American blood runs redder than Israeli blood? Where do they find the gall to ask us to release hordes of killers after we sent our best, for the sake of state security, to risk their lives for the sake of bringing in these terrorists, some of whom were holding ticking bombs?

Introducing the name “Pollard” into the equation is a cynical, harmful attempt to exploit certain Jewish values, including the value of “returning our sons to their land,” over others. For 29 years, Jonathan Pollard has languished in prison so the U.S. could teach its good friend in the Middle East a lesson. Our friend the U.S. is forcing us to try to complete an unfair equation: one prisoner for 426. One man, who paid his dues over dozens of years in prison, who is not a threat to society, for hundreds of menacing terrorists, several of whom committed murder or were complicit in the slaughter of hundreds of Israelis. We all want to see Pollard out of jail and in Israel, but not like this.

The questions:

1. When does the relationship Israel has with the US become too expensive for its benefits? Has it already?

2. Has Israel traded the independence it gained through its historic and agonizing struggle for a role as a satellite of the US? Is it already too late to regain it?

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Obama administration’s use of Pollard is despicable

April 1st, 2014

The ransoming of captives [פדיון שבויים] takes precedence over the feeding and clothing of the poor. Indeed there is no religious duty more meritorious than the ransoming of captives, for not only is the captive included in the generality of the hungry, the thirsty, and the naked, but his very life is in jeopardy. — Rambam (Moses Maimonides)

CNN reports:

Jonathan Pollard, the former U.S. intelligence agent who was convicted of spying for Israel, could be released before the Jewish holiday of Passover as part of efforts to save Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, an Israeli official involved in the talks told CNN. …

Kerry stated Tuesday night that “no agreement has been reached with respect to any prisoner” — be it Pollard, whom he was asked about, or anyone else — though talks involving all parties are ongoing in hopes of reaching a broader agreement.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said Tuesday that President Barack Obama hasn’t decided whether to release the convicted spy at Israel’s request. …

In exchange for the release, the sources have said that Israel would have to make significant concessions to the Palestinians, which could include a settlement freeze, the release of additional [Palestinian and/or Israeli Arab] prisoners beyond the current group in dispute and an agreement to continue peace negotiations beyond the end-of-April deadline.

The continued imprisonment (29 years) of Jonathan Pollard, the highly disproportionate sentence he received and the dishonest conduct of the government in his affair are a blot on the supposedly equal justice system of the United States.

Pollard should have been released long ago, but it seems that the government has been waiting for the moment at which it could exact the heaviest ransom. It’s true that nations act according to interests, and concepts like justice and mercy are not relevant to interests. On the other hand, nations have leaders who make decisions, and they are ultimately held to account by God, if not by history.

Last August, Israel agreed to release a total of 104 Arab prisoners, most of them convicted of murder (including multiple murderers) in order to persuade the PLO-ruled Palestinian Authority (PA) to engage in peace talks. Israel was aware that the talks would lead nowhere, but it was considered more important to remain in the good graces of the US. Three of four scheduled prisoner releases have been carried out; in each case, freed murderers were greeted as honored heroes on their return to the PA. There was a great public outcry in Israel — after all, these are murderers and Israel has received nothing in return from the PLO except more incitement to murder.

The fourth and last release has been held up by Israel, primarily because it includes Arab citizens of Israel, whose release calls Israel’s sovereignty over its own citizens into question, and because the PLO has hardened its positions rather than moving closer to an agreement.

Now the US is raising the possibility of freeing Pollard in return for going ahead with the last scheduled prisoner release, and acceding to even more PLO demands. This could be the last time it will be possible for the US to play this particular card, since Pollard is not well and could die in prison (and on the conscience of Barack Obama).

In other words, the US wants to use its Jewish captive — he is no more than that, because he has long since paid his debt to the US for his offenses — to extract concessions from Israel to benefit the PLO, one of the most vicious of terrorist organizations in recent history and one which has absolutely zero desire to end its conflict with Israel.

The fourth prisoner release will damage and humiliate Israel while strengthening the PLO. Other concessions as demanded will do the same. It goes without saying that continuing the negotiations with the PLO will only result in more opportunities for the US to pressure Israel to meet new Palestinian demands.

So Benjamin Netanyahu (leaving aside the significant political consequences for his government that will follow from this decision) is left with a very difficult choice. Should he take the deal, release more murderers to go home to their heroes’ receptions and lifetime pensions (paid for mostly by US taxpayers), compromise Israel’s claim on the territories by freezing construction, and reward the PLO for its intransigence in other ways?

Or should he reject it, almost certainly to see an old Jew die in prison, a Jew that he is enjoined to redeem from captivity both by his tradition and his position as head of the Jewish state — after all, one of the reasons for the founding of the Jewish state was to provide a refuge for Jews everywhere?

There is a precedent. In 1286, scholar and rabbi Meïr of Rothenburg was arrested and imprisoned in Germany (purportedly for leading a band of Jews attempting to emigrate to Palestine).

The account of a young contemporary of Meïr, who was in very close relations with him, seems to indicate, however, that Meïr had entirely different reasons for emigrating. He says that the emperor demanded a great sum of money from the Jews, which the latter would not or could not pay, and that consequently their leader feared—and justly so, as the sequel showed—that the emperor would seize him as a hostage …

The Jewish communities of course did everything to secure the liberation of their greatest teacher; but the ransom demanded by the government—30,000 marks, according to one report—was such an exorbitant one that the negotiations dragged. A later authority … says that Meïr himself prevented any such high sum being paid for his liberation lest the government should repeat this expedient of imprisoning important men for the purpose of extorting money. He therefore remained in prison from June 28, 1286, until his death (1293).

It’s understood, therefore, that a ransom can be too high, in which case it is permissible to allow a captive to go unredeemed.

This is one of those (frequent) times when I am glad that I am not the Prime Minister of Israel! I don’t know what he will decide, but it is absolutely despicable for the Obama Administration to use Pollard in this way, despicable to place the Prime Minister in this position, and — more than anything — despicable to support the PLO (because that is what this amounts to) in its project to eliminate the Jewish state.

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Suddenly, it’s 1947

March 31st, 2014

News item:

US Secretary of State John Kerry is trying to overcome the controversy surrounding the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state by changing the definition to “the national homeland of the Jews”, the London-based Arabic Al-Hayat newspaper reported Saturday morning.

The report, that quoted western diplomatic sources, noted that in exchange for Kerry’s initiative, the Palestinians would have to agree that the Palestinian capital would be established only in parts of East Jerusalem; it was further reported that the Palestinians have rejected the proposal.

Suddenly, it’s 1947. Or 1920. The nations still can’t decide if the Jewish people deserve a state, or something less than one. I’m sure I don’t understand the difference between a “Jewish state” and a “national homeland of the Jews,” and I’m not going to speculate. Israel is a state, and a lot of Jewish blood was spilled to make it so.

This, actually, is what brought it into being, not  the “international community,” the declaration of Lord Balfour or the decisions of various world powers, the League of Nations or the UN.

Today, because of a combination of cowardice, avarice and Jew-hatred, the nations would like to take back any commitments they may have made to the Jews. But the Jewish state rests on its own accomplishments and struggles, not on their acquiescence.

So let them try. Those who say that the Palestinians ought not to be required to recognize Israel as a Jewish state are correct. Who are we to take away the Cause that is their reason for being? On the other hand, who are they to say that we ought to give away parts of our homeland to our enemies?

More, who are they to say that Israel should release murderers so that these same Palestinians will agree to continue talking, when so far all they have talked about is how we should give up everything we won with the aforesaid Jewish blood?

There is a Jewish state because the Jews rose up and threw out the British, who had even then gone back on their commitment to nurture a Jewish homeland, and who condemned thousands, maybe tens or hundreds of thousands, of European Jews to death at the hands of the Nazis by their policies. After that, the Jews had to fight wars and terrorism waged by the Arab nations, whose ethnic and religious prejudice made a Jewish state in the Middle East unacceptable to them.

But they will have to accept it, like it or not. And we don’t have to pretend that their motives are anything other than primitive prejudice.

Recently I had a discussion with a visitor from Mars. He said that he found it difficult to understand the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It went like this:

VFM: What do the Israelis want?
Me: They want the Palestinians to stop trying to kill them. In return, they will give them some of their very small homeland for a new Arab state. But they can’t get the Palestinians to agree to take it.

VFM: The Palestinians want a state, and the Israelis want to give it to them? But why won’t the Palestinians take it?
Me: Because they won’t take it unless the Israelis agree that the part that they don’t give them belongs to the Palestinians too.

VFM: That doesn’t sound fair. I suppose the Palestinians must be very powerful in order to demand so much.
Me: No, actually Israel is much stronger militarily and economically.

VFM: Then what’s the point in talking to them?
Me: Ask John Kerry.

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My farewell to local Jews

March 28th, 2014

I have been the editor of our local Jewish Federation newsletter for several years. Now that I am about to leave and go back to Israel, I wrote a “last editorial,” a letter to my (liberal) Jewish friends. I think it might be of broader interest, so I am reproducing it here.

By Vic Rosenthal

This will be the last Federation Focus that I will edit. Some of you know that after almost exactly 26 years, Lise and I are moving back to Israel. It’s a strange feeling – on the one hand I’ll be with two of my three children and 7 of 8 grandchildren; but on the other, Fresno will always be my home.

This part of my life, in a place where I found a great deal of warmth and friendship from Jewish and non-Jewish people, is ending and a new one beginning. At times like these my thoughts turn beyond my personal concerns, to history and to our people.

I was born in the US during WWII, which means that I grew up in one of the most remarkable places and times, an environment in which, among other things, a Jew didn’t have to worry about being murdered for being a Jew. It doesn’t sound like much, but it has been quite special in Diaspora history. By the time I was 20, barriers to Jews in various occupations, quotas at universities and real estate restrictions were virtually gone.  A Jew in America could be an American and a Jew.

The horror of the Holocaust stunned Americans like General Dwight D. Eisenhower, who saw death camps with his own eyes in 1945. This, they felt, was the natural outcome of Jew-hatred, and they vehemently rejected it. Since then, traditional Jew-hatred has been marginalized in America, along with all forms of racism and ethnic prejudice. It is simply not acceptable, at least in polite society.

But something else took its place.

Around 1968, Yasser Arafat took over the PLO, an organization dedicated to ending Jewish sovereignty in the Middle East. Until then, the PLO’s rhetoric was the usual “throw the Jews into the sea” variety, which – especially after the Holocaust – didn’t go over very well in the West. So Arafat sought out, and received, advice from the masters of propaganda at the Soviet KGB.

And they told him to turn the story around: instead of a tiny Jewish state standing up against the might of a racist, genocidal Arab world, instead of Arabs trying to end Jewish sovereignty and self-determination, they told him to present the conflict as the struggle of a powerless, indigenous third-world people, the ‘Palestinians’, to be free of their colonial oppressors.

Although this required a distortion of history – suddenly, Arabs from Syria or Egypt who had been in Palestine for one or two generations had to be presented as the remnants of a millennia-old ‘Palestinian’ civilization, and Jews who were hated and exterminated in Europe became ‘European colonialists’ – it fit in perfectly with the decolonization movements throughout the world, the civil rights movement in the US, the perception of the Vietnam war as a colonial war, and the New Left’s hatred of ‘American imperialism’.

Later, the language of civil rights was invoked with the 1975 ‘Zionism is racism’ resolution in the UN, followed by the 2001 Durban Conference in which Israel was accused of being an ‘apartheid state’ and likened to South Africa before the overthrow of the apartheid regime. Ugly words, with absolutely no connection to the truth, but by this time a large group of people were ready to believe almost anything negative about Israel.

And the Arabs and their supporters provided plenty of material, expertly exaggerating real events, making up things that didn’t happen, and even staging ’atrocities’ for the benefit of the media (the word ‘Pallywood’ was coined to describe these productions). Israeli efforts at getting the truth out were often late and inadequate.

The degree of animus against Israel on the Left became so great that it disconnected not only from the facts, but from logic. Israel was demonized, and every accusation against her was believed – just as the medieval Jews were accused of poisoning wells and making matzah from Christian blood. A double standard was applied – Israel’s every action in self-defense was subjected to intense scrutiny while serious human rights violations committed by other countries were ignored. Finally, Israel was delegitimized – its enemies argued that its evil was so great that (unlike any other country in the world), it should not even exist.

Instead of hating Jewish people (which is still taboo, at least in the US), they hate – no less irrationally – the Jewish state. This is often presented as simple political disagreement with Israeli policy, but the “three Ds” (as they were called by Natan Sharansky) – demonization, double standard and delegitimization – always give it away.

This extreme hatred of Israel has been called “the new anti-Semitism.”

This puts tremendous pressure on American Jews. Many Jewish immigrants found a place on the American Left, particularly in the labor movement (my grandfather was secretary of his chapter of the ILGWU). They strongly supported FDR and the Democratic Party. Their children and grandchildren were in the forefront of the anti-Vietnam War movement and the student revolts of the 1960s. They grew up, had children of their own, and sent them to ‘good’ colleges where ‘academic freedom’ has come to mean ‘political indoctrination’. They read the New York Times and listen to NPR.

The election of Barack Obama has torn the relationship wide open. How could Jews not support the first black president, who many see as the final triumph of the civil rights movement that they supported so strongly? But at the same time, despite positive rhetoric, the administration’s actual policies toward Israel have been remarkably unsympathetic and even dangerous.

Today, many Jewish Americans are ambivalent about Israel (or even openly hostile), believing – incorrectly – that Israel acts in ways that contradict their liberal or progressive ideals. Jews are even at the forefront of some of the most vicious anti-Israel organizations in the US. This subversion of American Jewish support for Israel has been one of the greatest accomplishments of the forces that want to deny the Jewish people their right to sovereignty in the one tiny Jewish state.

The writer Peter Beinart made a career out of saying that Israel has forced American Jews to choose between their liberalism and Zionism. This is inaccurate. The truth is that a perversion of liberalism is making “new anti-Semites” out of them.

Most of us don’t remember a time when there wasn’t a state of Israel – when a Jew had no homeland and was physically and psychologically dependent on his non-Jewish hosts. When a Jew didn’t belong, wherever he lived.

History tells us that it will not always be so easy to live in the Diaspora. American society is changing rapidly, and the unique situation that has held since 1945 will not continue forever. It will not always be possible to be comfortable as both an American and a Jew, particularly a Zionist Jew. Did you know that the IRS already gives ‘special treatment’ to organizations that support Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria?

The existence of a strong Jewish state is essential to the continued existence of the Jewish people, and the support of the US – or at least the indifference of the US – is essential to the state. Unfortunately, for various reasons US policy today is less pro-Israel than it has been at any time since 1948.

As I say goodbye to my Jewish friends in the Central Valley, I ask you to open your eyes. Don’t let yourselves become unwitting agents of a new incarnation of the old hatred that we have faced for thousands of years, just because it falsely presents itself as ‘progressive’.

If we, American Jews, don’t fight for our country to support Israel, who will?

And if not now, when?

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Erekat’s Palestinian fairy tale

March 26th, 2014
Palestinian negotiator and teller of tall tales Saeb Erekat

Palestinian negotiator and teller of tall tales Saeb Erekat

I am the proud son of the Canaanites who were there 5,500 years before Joshua bin Nun burned down the town of Jericho. — Saeb Erekat, Palestinian negotiator

On the contrary, former Israeli Ambassador to Canada Alan Baker notes:

According to genealogical research of the Bedouin families in Israel, the Erekat family belongs to the extensive Huweitat clan, which originated in the area between the Liya valley, near Taif, in the vicinity of Mecca in the northern Hejaz region, close to the town of Hekl in the Sarawat Mountains, 350 km. from the Jordanian border, and northern Aqaba. Bedouin genealogical literature claims that the Huweitat clan is a Sharifi clan allied with their cousins the Hashemites. The Huweitat clan settled not only in Israel but also in Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the Sinai Peninsula by Ras Seeder.

A branch of this clan settled in geographic Palestine in several waves of immigration that started some 200 years ago, ending during the period of the Arab Revolt and First World War. Apparently, the family to which Erekat belongs settled in Abu Dis near Jerusalem during the last of these waves, which occurred in the early twentieth century, after the Jewish immigration to the area.

Amb. Baker also quotes Dr. Shaul Bartal of the Middle Eastern Studies department of Bar-Ilan University:

The Palestinians are not the farmers who have lived in Palestine for generations, but rather immigrants who only arrived recently. It was only toward the latter stages of the nineteenth century that the country began to blossom thanks to the emergence of a new presence – Zionism – and the amazing results. In 1878, the population of the country numbered 141,000 Muslims who lived here permanently, with at least 25 percent of them considered to be newly arrived immigrants who came mostly from Egypt.

Various studies done over a span of years by Moshe Brawer, Gideon Kressel, and other scholars clearly show that most Arab families who settled in the villages along the coastal plain and the area that would later become the State of Israel originated from Sudan, Libya, Egypt, and Jordan….Other studies show that the waves of immigrants came here in droves from Arab countries during the period of the British Mandate.

Why do I bother (and why did Baker, whose well-documented paper should be read in full)? Not, I think, because being indigenous is of such overriding importance in determining ‘who owns the land’. After all, ‘indigenous’ is a highly relative concept. Yes, the Jews are more indigenous to Judea than the ‘Palestinians’, but probably the descendents of the ancient Philistines (also, incidentally, not the contemporary ‘Palestinians’) have more roots than the Jews in what is today Tel Aviv.

Peoples migrate, assimilate, conquer and get conquered, wax and die out. Legitimacy comes from a combination of factors, of which one is prior possession, but it is not the only one. Modern international law (the UN charter) does not recognize taking land by force; rather, it prefers diplomatic consensus, which is why the Jewish people argue that they legitimately obtained title to the entire land of Israel with the San Remo conference of 1920, and legitimately defended it in 1967. Of course, the reason that the international community chose Palestine for the Jewish homeland was the Jewish people’s historical provenance there.

The Arabs, by inventing their own historical narrative and denying the Jewish one, wish to lay the groundwork to overthrow the just decision that was made by the international community in 1920, before its institutions became corrupted by Arab oil and terrorism as well as postmodern Jew-hatred.

Happily, it is also true that possession is nine-tenths of the law, and today’s Israel is capable of defending itself, as long as it can stay unified — despite some of its intellectuals who appear to have accepted the narrative of their own deadly enemies.

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