Archive for the ‘Moty & Udi’ Category

Jewish politics are local, too

Sunday, August 21st, 2011

I had intended to use this cartoon to illustrate an article about the Tel Aviv tent protest. But if all politics are local, that goes for Jewish politics too. What’s true for Moty and Udi’s generation is also true for American Jews. So I am going to write about local, and American, Jewish politics.

On Thursday, Israel suffered a painful shock when terrorists murdered 8 Israelis, including a pair of kindergarten teachers on vacation with their husbands and Pascal Avrahami, a 49-year old father of three sons who was a member of the police counterterrorism unit (yamam) that was primarily responsible for stopping the attack, keeping a small disaster from becoming a large catastrophe. My own son, who served with him, went to Avrahami’s funeral on Friday.

Since then, over a hundred rockets have fallen in Israel, killing one or two (reports are unclear) and injuring dozens, including small children (see The Muqata for a minute by minute account of events). There is a possibility of serious escalation.

So — to get local — I was upset, although not surprised, when I went to a Friday night service at our Reform temple and these events were not mentioned. The service was, as always, very upbeat and musical. Prayers were said for local people that were ill, and yahrzeits and recent deaths were commemorated, again as always. But not a word about what was happening in the Jewish state.

Let me say as strongly as possible that I am not criticizing the rabbi of the congregation. I’m convinced that he is personally pro-Israel. He is brand new in Fresno and is just getting to know the members and their politics. He has heard that they are quite contentious — probably he has heard somewhat exaggerated stories about their differences — and he has said that his job is to bring people together, not to push them apart.

Discussion of Israel has become taboo in many Jewish circles, like politics and religion at the boarding house dinner table. Danny Gordis recently wrote that at one rabbinical seminary,  a “campus dean actually instructed students to cease all e-mail discussion of Israel, while every other political topic remained fair game.” A rabbinical seminary!

So one can’t blame the rabbi for not wanting to touch an issue that might fracture his congregation.

And yet, this is a Jewish congregation and Israel is the state of the Jewish People.  Yes, some members have relatives in Israel that they are worried about, but this is emphatically not about that. It is about whether there is a special connection between our Jewish congregation and the Jewish state. Dozens of innocent people were also killed this week by terrorists in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Thailand, Nigeria and Algeria, but isn’t Israel special to us? Or is it ‘just another country‘?

The Torah is central to all forms of Judaism. It’s a lot of things — a moral and legal code, a history book, a theological tract — but more than anything else, it’s a book about a relationship. And this relationship has three poles: God, the Jewish People, and the Land of Israel. What about the last two?

Danny Gordis argues that liberal Judaism has lost its way, rejecting “the sense that no matter how devoted Jews may be to humanity at large, we owe our devotion first and foremost to one particular people—our own people.” This, combined with some pernicious post-modernist reasoning, has brought us to the absurd situation in which the leaders of the anti-Zionist movement in the West are mostly Jews!

And it has brought the Reform movement in the US (URJ) to the point that it would choose J Street and New Israel Fund activist Rabbi Richard Jacobs as its president. Most tellingly, URJ leaders were shocked at the controversy their decision gave rise to. A rabbi close to the process told me that they were blindsided by the political criticism. In effect, they said “we need this guy’s organizational skills and he’s not that far out politically — what’s their problem?”

Jewish groups in the US are often distinguished by the degree to which they follow the commandments:  how they observe Shabbat, kashrut, how they dress, etc. But in my opinion these differences are unimportant compared to the wide gulf that separates those congregations that identify primarily as part of the Jewish people from those that see themselves as human beings who are secondarily of the Jewish persuasion.

I don’t think, incidentally, that all Reform congregations must fall on the universalist side of that divide, despite the URJ’s  Rabbi Jacobs. But I do think that every congregation, including the one I belong to, needs to ask itself how important the Jewish People and the Land of Israel are to them.

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Moty & Udi and the Arab Spring

Monday, August 15th, 2011

The view of the unrest in the Arab world that’s presented in some of the media is remarkably far from reality. In a recent NPR program, the significance of Hosni Mubarak’s trial was discussed by several commentators:

After Egyptians toppled President Hosni Mubarak in February, many thought that their revolution, driven by peaceful, mass demonstrations, would be duplicated elsewhere in the Middle East with the same powerful results.

All too soon, they saw on their TV screens that would not be the case, as uprisings in Libya and Syria brought bloodshed and slaughter. That led to uncertainty and fear in Egypt, because many agree with activist Hossam al-Hamalawy, who says that Egypt’s revolution cannot fully succeed on its own.

“You cannot build a democracy in a country where you are surrounded by a sea or an ocean of dictatorships,” he said.

In the meantime, many who brought about Egypt’s revolution began to lose hope. They watched as the Supreme Military Council, which now holds power, cracked down on protesters and slowed down change, says Hossam Bahgat, the director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.

“There were many days and weeks in which many of us felt our transition is being blocked by the interim forces,” he said.

But then Mubarak was put on trial, wheeled into the courtroom on a hospital bed, and put in a cage used for common criminals. It shocked Egypt and the wider Arab world, says Bahgat.

“Seeing Mubarak on trial will strengthen the popular demand for a democracy and dignity and full accountability,” he said. And, he added, it could also “further terrify these autocrats and once again deliver the message that their days in power are numbered” …

According to Fawaz Gerges, director of the Middle East Center at the London School of Economics, what is taking place across the Arab world is a genuine revolution.

“There is a new order in place. And I think there’s a rupture,” Gerges said. “The rupture that has to do with the mood and psychology of the Arab people. Citizens who are empowered, emboldened. They have rights as opposed to being subjects, ruled by their powerful leaders like Mubarak.”

The message in this is that there are two alternatives: the old order, represented by Mubarak, Qaddafi and Assad, and the new one, characterized by “democracy and dignity and full accountability” and “citizens who are empowered, emboldened. They have rights as opposed to being subjects.”

Of course there is another alternative: that is that these conservative dictatorships will be replaced by revolutionary Islamist regimes. This is precisely what happened in Iran in 1979.

Islamism is waxing strong in the Middle East today. Lebanon, a weak democracy, has been all but taken over by the Islamist Hizballah. In Turkey, formerly a secular democracy, the ruling Islamist AKP has systematically crushed its secular opposition in the military and the legal system, has deliberately wrecked its relationship with Israel, and is making noises about intervening in Syria (such intervention would be on behalf of Sunni Islamists, not democrats). In the Palestinian arena, only US dollars and IDF soldiers prevent the radical Islamist Hamas, which already controls Gaza, from getting control of all the territories.

Destabilizing forces are at work in Egypt, the largest Arabic-speaking nation in the Middle East:

Egyptian troops escorted by tanks entered the Sinai Peninsula region on Friday in an attempt to put an end to the anarchy that has erupted there since the fall of the Mubarak regime.

The aim of the operation was to halt Bedouin control of the northern Sinai area, which allows for the transfer of weapons to the Gaza Strip through underground tunnels…

In July, five people were killed when dozens of gunmen tried to storm a police station in al-Arish. The gunmen and hundreds more, reported to be Islamists, were wearing black and carrying black flags reading “There is no God but God.” Egypt’s military has detained 15 people suspected of involvement in clashes between gunmen and police in northern Sinai, including 10 Palestinians.

Following the attack flyers were distributed in the peninsula, threatening more attacks on police. The flyers were signed “Al-Qaida in Sinai.”

What’s coming in Egypt? Barry Rubin tells us that it’s the Muslim Brotherhood:

The West is still in denial about the Brotherhood’s role in Egypt. Many Egyptians are just becoming resigned to living in a country that’s increasingly Islamist, more Islamic-oriented, and perhaps even run by the Brotherhood. I don’t think the Brotherhood is about to take power in Egypt. I think it is about to become the single most powerful organization in Egypt and that it will play a central role in writing a new constitution and taking over institutions. More likely, within five years the Brotherhood will either be running Egypt or engaged in a very bloody battle to seize control over the state.

Democracy is not even one of the contenders, especially when you consider the fact that Egypt will soon be facing significant problems feeding its people.

In Syria, it appears that Assad and his regime understand that they are in a fight for their lives (literally). They are pulling out all of the stops, sending tanks against civilians, bombarding cities from naval vessels, etc. When the dust clears either Assad will remain (unlikely) or he will be replaced by those forces strong enough to take power. It’s not clear yet who this will be, but I think we can be sure it won’t be the Facebooking students.

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Moty & Udi: A country with normal problems

Monday, August 1st, 2011

This week’s cartoon is about the affordable housing protests that are currently taking place in Tel Aviv. There is no doubt that a young couple simply cannot afford to buy or even rent an apartment in many parts of Israel. There are a lot of reasons for this — simple supply and demand, the lack of a stable rental market (most rentals are temporary, the owner of the property being abroad or waiting for his children to get married, etc.) — but it is a fact.

Our cartoonist wishes to draw attention to another side of the protests. For example:

“My Israel” (Hebrew site here) is an umbrella organization that specializes in the use of social media to spread the message of its member groups. Although Israelis would call it ‘right-wing’, that’s misleading to English-speakers — ‘Zionist’, ‘pro-IDF’ and ‘pro-settlement’ would be more accurate.

My Israel offered on Friday to join the protest, on condition that the national anthem would be sung. However, on Saturday night, it announced that housing protest leader “Daphni Leef’s people evaded and evaded” committing to singing Hatikva at the event in Tel Aviv.

“This should be a protest for all Israeli organizations, Left and Right, because centralization and monopolies do not know the difference between right and left wing,” My Israel chairwoman Ayelet Shaked said. “Therefore, we decided [on Friday] to join the struggle.”

However, the “minimum requirement for joining should be obvious. The protest’s purpose and participants should be Israeli, and its organizers should not stop demonstrators from singing Hatikva, as they did last week,” Shaked said…

“We are not willing to join a protest that aims for anarchy and pointlessly harming the government ‘because Bibi [Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu] is bad’ and that is lead by anti-IDF and anti-Israel elements. We would be happy to work side by side with leftwing Zionists who support the State of Israel, but think territory should be given up. They are our brothers, even if we disagree with them,” My Israel explained…

My Israel wrote that the activists involved in the housing protest “do not want Israel to be a Jewish state.”

On Friday, Ma’ariv columnist Kalman Liebskind listed various leaders of the housing protest and their associations with left-wing organizations and parties, such as Leef, a film editor for the New Israel Fund, Yehudit Ilani of the Balad Party, and Alon Lee Green of the Hadash Party.

Jerusalem Post

Balad and Hadash are parties with mostly Arab memberships (Hadash is the Israeli communist party). And the New Israel fund is an American NGO which consistently supports anti-Zionist causes in Israel. It is absolutely not an exaggeration to say that these elements “do not want Israel to be a Jewish state.”

The less-extreme opposition is also hitching a ride on the anti-government aspect of the protest:

Addressing the social struggle and demands for social justice vocalized in protests and tent protests across the country, opposition leader Tzipi Livni said that “Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is not the solution, he’s the problem” …

While acknowledging that protesters don’t want to hand their struggle over to any political party, something she praised, Livni said that “at the end of the day, this is a problem that will have to be solved politically.”

The opposition leader also called on the prime minister to cancel the Knesset’s scheduled summer recess. Livni also said she hopes that elections come soon, saying, “Israel deserves [an opportunity] to change this government.”

PM Netanyahu is putting forward a plan to improve the housing market and reduce the cost of living in general.

All this goes to show that Israel can be a normal country with normal problems when the pressure of the security situation is relaxed, if only temporarily.

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Moty & Udi: Nothing wrong with self-defense

Monday, July 25th, 2011

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The United Nations deferred the release of its findings on Israel’s deadly seizure of a Gaza-bound Turkish ship to give Jerusalem and Ankara more time to mend fences.

An inquiry set up by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had been due to publish a report on the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident Wednesday, but Israeli officials said the release was moved to Aug. 20.

The report has been postponed repeatedly while Israel and Turkey, both of which have delegates on the U.N. panel under former New Zealand Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer, pursue bilateral reconciliation talks.

I wouldn’t put it that way, folks.

The report has been delayed because it would cut the ground out from under the absurd Turkish position, which is that Israel needs to ‘apologize’ for several of its soldiers defending themselves in the only way possible, from beaten and stabbed to death.

The report is said to conclude that Israel’s blockade of Gaza is legal, and that the Turkish state had direct involvement in the flotilla and the militant IHH that provided the thugs who attacked the boarding party, as I wrote at the time. It also reportedly says “the IDF acted ‘too soon’ and with excess force,” but after all — this is the UN we are talking about.

If this is correct, then the report shows that the Mavi Marmara incident did not ‘just happen’. While it could perhaps have been prevented by better intelligence and planning on the Israeli side, it was clearly designed by the Turkish leadership to further widen the breach between Israel and Turkey which was initiated by Turkish PM ErdoÄŸan when he walked off the stage at Davos in January 2009, after accusing Israel of murder:

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ErdoÄŸan has threatened to downgrade diplomatic relations with Israel even further if Israel does not meet his demands:

In a speech to a conference of foreign ambassadors to the Palestinian territories in Istanbul, Erdogan condemned the continuing blockade of Gaza as “illegal and inhuman,” and said the Palestinians’ troubles were Turkey’s troubles, and would not go neglected.

Erdoğan opened his speech by naming each of the men killed in the raid on the Mavi Marmara ferry, which led the activists’ flotilla. “We have not forgotten, nor will we forget, the self-sacrifice of our brothers, their memories and the massacre they were subjected to,” he said.

Turkey withdrew its ambassador to Israel after the incident in May 2010, suspended military cooperation, and closed its airspace to Israeli military aircraft. It wants Israel to apologize for the killings, pay compensation to the families, and end the embargo of Gaza. — Jerusalem Post

Since ErdoÄŸan’s AKP has been in power in Turkey, he has systematically stripped power from secular and military elements who were responsible for relatively good relations with Israel. With the AKP victory in recent elections, he’s moved Turkey even farther from the West and closer to Iran. There is no reason to think that relations will improve in the foreseeable future, and any gesture on Israel’s part will only be interpreted as an admission of guilt or a sign of weakness.

Israel’s Attorney General supposedly advised PM Netanyahu to apologize in order to prevent the filing of lawsuits against IDF soldiers. In other words, Israel should plead guilty for a crime it did not commit because otherwise it might have to defend its soldiers against equally false accusations. Anyway, who’s to say that there won’t be lawsuits in any event, especially if there is an official admission of guilt to serve as grounds for them?

One of the main thrusts of the propaganda war against Israel has been to delegitimize any use of force in self-defense. This was the theme after the 2006 Lebanon war as well as Operation Cast Lead in 2009-10. This is more than just an attempt to damage Israel by making it harder for her to protect herself. It is intended to humiliate and criminalize the state itself.

Note also that ErdoÄŸan demands an end to the blockade of Gaza. The Mavi Marmara incident already was used by the Obama Administration to force Israel to loosen the blockade, which was originally intended as a way of pressuring Hamas economically. The objective now is only to prevent massive amounts of weapons from reaching Hamas.

The Turkish regime has rejected compromises, such as an ‘expression of regret’. This is just as well, since anything Israel agrees to will be spun as an admission of guilt. The best thing that can happen at this point is that negotiations on this issue will end with no result. There is no possible upside for Israel.

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Detailed results of Pal-Arab poll even worse than I thought

Thursday, July 21st, 2011

I discussed this recent poll last week, based on a Jerusalem Post report. Today, the complete polling data has been released.

The results show that the great majority of Palestinian Arabs do not support the idea of a peaceful two-state solution. Some of the numbers that I note are these:

  • 52% agree that they “do not accept a two-state solution,” while only 44% said they accepted it
  • 56% are “not so certain that Israel will exist 25 years from now as a Jewish state with a Jewish majority
  • Only 7% agreed that “Israel has a permanent right to exist as a homeland for the Jewish people” while 84% thought that “over time Palestinians must work to get back all the land for a Palestinian state”
  • 92% thought that Jerusalem should be the capital of Palestine while only 3% thought it should be shared

These last three points imply that the two-state solution, where it is accepted, is only accepted as a tactical station on the way to the elimination of the Jewish state, part of the implementation of the PLO’s ‘phased plan‘.

Attitudes towards Hamas seem to indicate that Palestinians approve of its approach to the Jews and Israel, although they don’t want to be ruled by it. Most do not reject partnering with an explicitly genocidal, terrorist group:

  • 81% support the agreement between Fatah and Hamas
  • Of those, 74% would continue to support it even if it resulted in reduction of aid
  • 55% of those who support the agreement believe it will make peace between Israel and the Palestinians less likely

But Hamas is not a popular choice to rule ‘Palestine’. When asked who they would vote for if elections were held today, 46% chose Fatah and only 17% Hamas. Nevertheless, the basic ideas of Hamas are popular:

  • 73% said they “believed” the quotation from the Quran in the Hamas covenant that “The Day of Judgment will not come about until Muslims fight the Jews, when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Muslims, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him… “
  • 80%: “For our struggle against the Jews is extremely wide-ranging and grave, so much so that it will need all the loyal efforts we can wield, to be followed by further steps and reinforced by successive battalions from the multifarious Arab and Islamic world, until the enemies are defeated and Allah’s victory prevails.”
  • 62%: “When our enemies usurp some Islamic lands, Jihad becomes a duty binding on all Muslims. In order to face the usurpation of Palestine by the Jews, we have no escape from raising the banner of Jihad. We must spread the spirit of Jihad among the (Islamic) Umma, clash with the enemies and join the ranks of the Jihad fighters.”

Interestingly, violence as a tactic is not so popular.

  • ‘Only’ 45% agreed with the Hamas  Covenant statement that “Peace initiatives, the so-called peaceful solutions, and the international conferences to resolve the Palestinian problem, are all contrary to the beliefs of the Islamic Resistance Movement. There is no solution to the Palestinian problem except by Jihad.
  • Only 32% say that they would support a Third Intifada.

Some have suggested that this indicates a hopeful trend toward compromise and coexistence. But I think that we can see by the continued rejection of Israel’s existence, the support for the antisemitic Hamas platform, and the implication that a two-state solution is a stage in the acquisition of all of the land, that this is only a tactical decision — a recognition that the diplomatic offensive has brought them closer to their goal than the intifadas or Hamas’ rocket attacks (of course, a certain degree of violence is needed to move the diplomatic track along).

Shimon Peres’ remark quoted by Shula in the cartoon above was likely based on questions about what the highest priority of a new Palestinian government should be. Depending on the way the question was asked, 75 or 83% said that it was to “create new jobs.” But although some of the other alternatives offered related to Israel — one was “get Israel to lift roadblocks and ease movement” — there was none that was even close to “promote the elimination of Israel in favor of a Palestinian state from the river to the sea,” which I believe would be a clear winner.

If you think that I’m mistaken, here are some other results, shocking in what they imply about the Palestinian Arab mindset:

  • When asked to quantify their feelings about various people and institutions on a scale of 1 to 100 (100 is the most positive), Dalal Mughrabi got a mean rating of 69.84 — higher than Fatah (61.18) or Hamas (39.85). She was second only to Yasser Arafat, who received 88.92. Dalal Mughrabi was the terrorist who led the Bus of Blood attack in 1978 which killed 36 people, 13 of them children. Jews, on the other hand, got a 4.9 rating and Israel a 1.82. A “two state solution with independent Palestinian state side-by-side with Israel as a Jewish state” was given 19.12.
  • 62% think that kidnapping Israel soldiers and holding them hostage is right
  • An incredible 29% think that “the killings in Itamar,” where five members of a Jewish family, including a 2-month old baby were viciously stabbed to death, were right!
  • 61% think that naming streets after people like Dalal Mughrabi is right
  • 53% think that teaching songs about hating Jews in Palestinian schools is right
  • 72% think that denying that Jews have a history going back thousands of years in Jerusalem is right
  • 22% think that firing rockets at Israeli cities and citizens is right (my guess is that many who disagree do so for tactical reasons)
  • 56% favor the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit and 51% oppose his release.

These are the people that President Obama thinks “must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their full potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state” next door to a truncated Israel. Let’s hope they never reach their “full potential” for evil, which is truly remarkable.

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