Tag Archives: war

It is War

Israel_Declaration_of_IndependenceIsrael is a strong Jewish Democracy filled with promise for her people and for the world. She must continue to strive to remain so. However, Israel is engaged in a two-pronged war that challenges this. One front is BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanction). The other front is manifested by the wave of individual stabbing assaults taking place in the streets. These fronts are critical but they are not the places where the war will be won.

BDS is a clever maneuver in the public space to demonize Israel in the world of public opinion. Although BDS appears to be struggling to gain acceptance by national governments, it is resonating with the young on the college campus and other groups who want to support those they believe are the downtrodden and persecuted. It is part of the war for the hearts and minds of the public at large and it has become a force to be reckoned with.

The second front is on the streets of Israel. There is a de facto guerilla war underway. Individuals are arming themselves with any weapon they can: knives, guns and cars, attacking wherever and whenever, creating fear on the streets. This too is a shrewd campaign to inflict maximum damage with limited resources. Each knife-wielding individual creates a bit of terror. And every one, whether caught and imprisoned or killed, is a soldier sacrificed for the cause.

Two sets of actions are required, one tactical and one strategic. The first is to combat the immediate crises effectively arguing against BDS and containing the violence. These undertakings are necessary to promote the safety and welfare of the people of Israel. However these are tactical in nature; stopping the violence with better patrols, containing the violence by encouraging vigilance and raising the profile of law enforcement to preempt the violence. Unfortunately there is an insidious component to the tactical responses to the fear and terror.

In its efforts to protect itself, Israel ironically becomes complicit in the war to undermine itself. Israel undermines its promise of a democratic state by curtailing rights to citizens and non-citizens, it promotes a culture of animosity, seeing the other side as strictly an enemy who does not want peace, the Knesset considers punishing MKs without any consideration of “due process,” internal debate is squelched and not encouraged. The democratic and Jewish underpinnings of the state are compromised. Reacting this way to the situation actually plays into the hands of the adversary. Beyond tactics there is an urgent need to engage strategically, stepping back to consider the root causes of these offensives and how to grapple with the source of the discontent.  This is the critically important second set of actions.

Strategically, Israel needs to take the actions that only a strong powerful nation can and take the risks to build a society within the Palestinian people that gives hope. A future of prosperity and peace is far better than the hopeless squalor and disenfranchisement now suffered by most Palestinians. In Gaza, economic development such as the proposed port is a concept to be seriously considered. A decision on the West Bank is required. Whether it is the pullback of the Israelis to permit a Palestinian state, or the annexation of the West Bank into Israel, the State of Israel can no longer pretend the status quo, with its continued expansion of settlements, is viable. Which of the two choices is the subject for intense and deliberate debate. But after 50 years, Israel cannot pretend this situation is temporary or the disenfranchised people living in the land will simply become satisfied with it.

The risks of maintaining the status quo are arguably even greater than the risks of taking bold actions toward resolution of the conflict. Israel is strong. Its people are energetic and innovative with a deep love and commitment to their land.   With this solid foundation, Israel can build and move forward. It is an incredibly hard needle to thread, but it can be done. Watching Israel help Syrian war victims demonstrates Israel’s ability to do just that. Israel is at war and the threats are quite real. But Israel can still forge the way toward peace.

Terror in France

wtcOur prayers are with the victims of the horrible terrorist attacks across Paris. Now is the time to grieve. The natural reaction is to strike back and avenge the carnage. But before we do, let’s pause and consider our actions, making them deliberate and thoughtful, to do more than lash out and punish. Who is the enemy and how do we best work to defeat them in the long-term war of ideologies in which we are engaged?

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It is enticing to react and retaliate, but violence untargeted or mistargeted will serve to create more victims and foment more hatred. The threats are real, but we need to know who the adversary is and the most effective ways to combat the enemy. Precipitous action will do far more harm than good.

 Sadly, there are those who are struggle to support the French, seeing this tragedy as an opportunity to say “turnabout is fair play” due to perceived and real anti-Semitism in France. We are better than that.   The Jewish values of Chesed and Rachamim compel us to reach out and provide comfort and support. Our compassion helps us to rise above all kinds of hatred and Judaism becomes a beacon of light to the Nations.

The Real Tragedy of Palmyra’s Destruction

PalmyraAll of us are sickened by the horrible barbaric acts of ISIS and rightly so. Their vision incorporates an intolerant hateful extreme interpretation of Islam, destroying and creating terror wherever they are, in the name of a new triumphant Caliphate.

We have watched helplessly while ISIS destroys Palmyra, an extraordinary archeological remnant. I find this somehow ironic; for Palmyra is nothing more than remnants. The remains of Palmyra are ruins precisely because of a history where the next invader destroyed what preceded. So ISIS continues to do what has done for millennia.

I certainly do not suggest that ISIS is either civilized or legitimate, anything but. However, human beings have a past where we often find a need to conquer and destroy rather than honor and build upon what came before. These ancient ruins are sites of destruction and murder from history. They are tied to cycles of building and prosperity punctuated by war, overthrow and occupation. Possibly there is more we can learn in this moment beyond how to preserve ancient monuments.

Perhaps if we are to truly honor Palmyra, saving the inhabitants of the land should be the priority. ISIS is partly a reaction to a failed nation-state, which we, the “civilized” West, had supported. The developed countries helped to create a festering problem by permitting strongmen to ruthlessly rule because it was in our political interests to do so, rather than create an organic sustainable government whose legitimacy is derived from the people governed. ISIS is attempting to fill a void created when the dictatorship is finally overthrown and there are no institutions or even a history of governance to take its place.

The “civilized” world must accept its responsibility in creating the situation that now exists and therefore engage in nation building to create a place where the native people can live in peace. In the interim, it is our responsibility to provide safe haven for the refugees and victims of war by providing shelter, food and clothing through temporary facilities as well as through immigration. Only when the civilized world does these things can we say we truly honor our past and that humanity is indeed progressing forward.

Pushback on Israel’s obligation to Syrian Refugees

I have received pushback on my call for Israel to join the humanitarian efforts and take in refugees.  I share my response below, to a comment to a post from someone who does not believe as I do.  But let me state for the record that this person, with whom I disagree on this and many other subjects regarding Israel, is someone who I know loves Israel very deeply.  And it is her love for Israel that compels her to take her stand and be in dialogue with me.  I am honored that she thinks enough of me to want to engage in this conversation. Please look to the sidebar to see her comments.

Israel’s moral compass should continue to lead it to be a champion of human values and decency. It is compelled to act as a “light to the nations.” In other words, to be a Jewish homeland is to embrace Jewish Values.

I understand your fear for Israel’s safety. But Israel has the finest security and intelligence capabilities in the world, from the Mossad to the people at the airport. I am fully confident that the Israelis can vet refugees.

And another place where we agree, implementing is not easy. No one realistically would claim otherwise. But I find President Kennedy’s words stirring,
“We do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard… because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills.” We do it because we are Jews and that is what Jews do to live the values we cherish.

May we all be inscribed in the Book of Life, L’Shana Tova Tikatevu

Shabbat Shalom

The Time for Common Heroism is upon Us.

Heroes, it is said, act without thinking of the fear before them. Fear can paralyze, placing us in what we classically describe as Mitzrayim, the narrow places. Although most of us are not heroes, most of us are people who respond with empathy and compassion to those in need.

 When we rise above our fears we can achieve great things. When we act out of fear, we are reflexive and often myopic and ultimately selfish in our self-protectiveness.

 The unfolding tragedies in the Middle East, the hopes of an Arab Spring becoming, to extend the metaphor, the harshest of Winters, have left hundreds of thousands dead and millions displaced. What was once considered home is now an impossible place of hopelessness and despair.

 As Americans, as Jews and as human beings we are compelled to answer the immediate desperate cry for help. World governments, first and foremost the United States, must tackle the underlying causes of this devastation work to resolve these problems. But you and I can make a difference to the people in immediate risk for their lives. We can support humanitarian efforts to provide sanctuary, medicine and food and further we can actively support efforts to resettle refugees.

 Refugees are carefully screened before granted permission to come to the United States. HIAS is in the forefront of coordinating with government agencies after these people are vetted. Our fear cannot let us turn a blind eye and keep us from engaging in the compassionate work our tradition commands.

 L’Shana Tova