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April 12, 2016

Why Religious Zionists don't want Diaspora's advice

The latest poll of Israeli attitudes on religious issues is full of insights and paradoxes, all very useful. Some of this is news, and some of it highlights more obvious trends. 

Interestingly, but not surprisingly, religious Zionists are the least likely Israelis to welcome involvement by Diaspora Jews in Israel's religiosity debates (13 percent). Sure, it's understandable from a tactical perspective: They know their overseas brethren are mostly progressive or non-religious, and that they support an eventual peace deal that gives up most of the West Bank (aka "Judaea & Samaria") so Israelis no longer have to oversee the two million-plus Palestinians (including in Gaza) who don't appreciate Jewish control. Despite the recent internal violence and regional mayhem, most Israelis also remain supportive of such a deal. The last thing the latter-day religious Zionist camp needs is more 'peaceniks' from overseas.

On a strategic level, and by definition, it's the religious Zionists who should be soliciting and nurturing Diaspora involvement. The official Rabbinate remains firmly in the hands of the non-Zionist Haredi establishment, which negates much of the modern-Orthodox theology and practice of religious Zionists. 

Religious Zionism was rooted in a Jewish nationalism premised on a strong connection to all Jews around the world, with Israel as the vibrant religious and spiritual core. In the early days of the state, religious Zionist leaders were reluctant to join the secular Labor Party's negation of the Diaspora, though they did join coalition governments.

Religious Zionists may also be embarrassed by progressive American Jews, who undermine their own claims vis-a-vis Haredim that a little modernity won't erode halachic precepts. 

Have real political dynamics, a highly evolved attachment to the land and an unquenched prophetic pioneering spirit combined to override the interest in having a true dialogue with dissenting Diaspora Jews? In many ways, the State of Israel is no longer seen as a reflection of world Jewry, but rather the other way around. 

Here in the United States, many Jews have already internalized this reversal. Whether through Birthright or AIPAC or the war on BDS, or even the Iran deal, Jewish identity in the Diaspora is increasingly understood and cultivated through a right-wing Israeli lens. More and more, our community looks to Israel and its leaders for guidance. 

This general deference to Israel works just fine for the Haredi establishment which prizes religious dominance above all else, and for the settler-driven religious Zionist movement for which any territorial compromise is viewed in cataclysmic terms. Of course, our dollars and unquestioning support are always welcome and expected, but -- for this segment of Israelis -- candid input and independent initiative are reserved for Israelis.

April 8, 2016

Bernie-Come-Lately does no favors for Mideast peace

Bernie Sanders' recent missteps on Israel and Gaza are disturbing for a few reasons.

First, he was asked about the topic because he's repeatedly mentioned his concerns about Israeli policies and use of force. A serious politician would have known the difference between 10,000 killed and 10,000 injured Palestinians, and a principled politician would have accepted being corrected (after literally asking for it) -- yet Senator Sanders then countered it was even more than 10,000, and implied they were all innocent

On other occasions, I've expressed my own concerns about Israeli actions, including in Gaza. Sen. Sanders is the most visible critic of such policies, and by implication he's the test case for a progressive solution to the Palestinian issue. The fact that he pushes so hard on Israel's buttons without even a sense of the scale of the conflict undermines the credibility for the rest of us, who really put ourselves on the line with friends and the powers that be.

On a more personal note, I've been seeing the relentless defensive tactics of Sen. Sanders and his apologists, most directly (and also directed at me) on social media. This includes questioning my sophistication, challenging my motivations, misrepresenting my arguments, and dismissing the relevance or significance of The Bern's inaccurate, self-righteous and counter-productive complaint against Israel. I've been accused of being an AIPAC stooge and not caring about Palestinian lives, all because I refuse to be satisfied with the Sanders retort that the number wasn’t what’s important…

Accountability, it seems, is only to be demanded of those remaining outside the Sanders camp. The left-wing peace movement is rallying behind him, especially on this point, which unfortunately suggests that -- like Sen. Sanders -- these groups are more interested in scoring points with their home base rather than with convincing anyone else, or with effecting substantive change over the long haul. 

Not that I'm shocked by any of this, but it would have been nice to see some statesmanship.

November 15, 2015

When the best hasbara is no hasbara

Has anyone who ever suffered loss appreciated a condolence message that opens, "I'm so sorry for your loss, but…" Most of us would consider such words to be off-message or insincere at best, vindictive and insensitive at worst.

I suppose what amazes me most about the numerous opportunistic Facebook posts following the Paris attacks is the total lack of shame or pretense. Between cartoons, unsourced videos and personal manifestos, the message ranges from shcandenfreude to resentment, from incitement to satisfaction. They nearly outnumber the messages of support.

The worst of the worst are those who either fool themselves or perhaps are trying to fool the treat of us: "My heart aches for the people of Paris, BUT…" The trend is so prevalent, particularly among my fellow Israel-supporters, that I've clicked "hide" instead of un-friending the dozen or more offenders, after I post my own criticism. 

Honestly, it's hard to rank the levels of perversity, because so many Facebook friends didn't even register a condolence followed by "but" -- they just launched right into a series of posts playing up their own sense of righteousness, superiority, and self-satisfaction.

Thanks for your sympathy?
One message I keep seeing, is that the French are too focused on boycotting Israeli products (presumably because the European Union just voted to label -- but NOT boycott -- products from the West Bank), and not enough on keeping out terrorists. The moral of this meme is that the French have it coming. (Of course, even if they were, they wouldn't have it coming.)

Another message complains that Facebook and the world make such a big deal when 129 (now 132) people are killed in France, while ignoring or excusing smaller attacks on Israelis. Anyone with two or more kids will recognize this sort of jealousy as perfectly natural and understandable…for a six-year-old. 

The fact is, European leaders like French President Francois Hollande and Prime Minister Manuel Valls have stood at Israel's side in its fight against terrorism and other threats, and defended the rights of French Jews -- pretending that they haven't should elicit derision, not applause and "like" clicks. 

September 11, 2015

AIPAC & Bibi, the Perfect Storm

I've already commented a bit about the fallout from the Iran Deal fight, for Israel and for American Jews -- here, here, and here.

Over the years, AIPAC and other Jewish organizations have increasingly given themselves over to wealthy donors with greater or narrower visions. Since the days when the late Yitzhak Rabin -- as  Israel's Ambassador to the U.S. -- slammed American Jews for backing McGovern over Nixon, we have also ceded more and more decisionmaking to the Government of Israel, especially in the past few years.

Added to this, over three decades ago, AIPAC began grooming Benjamin Netanyahu as the proud new face of Israeli leadership. This is the same Bibi who literally pushed his way into the Charlie Hebdo march, en route to lecturing French Jews on their pending demise and the need to all immigrate to their only true home in Israel. While they responded by singing the Marseillaise, the major Jewish organizations on this side of the Atlantic have largely rallied behind Netanyahu, even as he arranged with the Republican opposition to call out President Obama from inside the U.S. Capitol.

We'll recover, because we have to. Maybe AIPAC will go the way of Lehman Bros., maybe it won't. But there are many other organizations out there which are "too big to fail", which means there's no way to stop them from repeating the same destructive folly whenever Netanyahu decides there's an imminent and existential threat to Israel, and by extension to the Diaspora on whose behalf he claims to speak.

As ever, it's the folks on Jewish Main Street who will have to pick up the pieces, and next time there might be fewer of them sticking around to pitch in.

And Netanyahu? He's already moved on to other issues, because the next Holocaust he warned about -- the fight of all fights -- is no longer useful to him. But don't worry, he's still keeping the Holocaust angle alive, this time as a counter to European boycotts.

August 21, 2015

Appreciating Jimmy Carter

Jimmy Carter redeemed our nation after the carnage of Vietnam and Watergate. At Camp David, by sheer force of personality, he saved Israel from having to continuously mobilize on two fronts, which probably set the stage for Startup Nation. 

He boycotted the 1980 Moscow Olympics over the invasion of Afghanistan. He signed off on a daring mission to free the U.S. Embassy hostages in Tehran, and he paid the price. He has some issues with Israel, which is his right, and that pains us because he still has sweeping moral authority in an era when it's become a scarce commodity. 

Every year he sticks around, he saves a few million more people with housing, public health and poverty-relief initiatives. We have been blessed by his service and example, and his legacy is secure. Thank you, President Carter, and God bless.

August 6, 2015

Hiroshima+70 deserves honesty, not fear

Not so long ago, in the National Air & Space Museum’s massive annex behind Dulles Airport, I showed my son the Enola Gay – the infamous B-29 that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima 70 years ago today. I had never seen the actual plane myself, so naturally I looked closely over the information panel. 

There's an obvious argument to be made about the considerations at the time, despite the resulting catastrophe and chilling specter of nuclear apocalypse we still endure (see under: Iran deal). Absent any photos or description of the human toll, the curators focused on the bomber's crew and capabilities, and the tonnage of the blast, etc. 

I was left to describe, for my young son, just what happened, and why that plane is a dark symbol for our civilization, however justified we might claim its mission to have been. How can this artifact be displayed or even mentioned, without presenting its full context and implications?

It isn't just the Enola Gay; the ICBM missiles are also presented with no description of the strategy and the terror they inflicted upon generations of Americans, Russians, and Europeans. Unilateral disarmament may be impractical, but that doesn't mean we can afford to glorify our nuclear "necessary evil". Especially not to our children, and especially not while we're within reach of keeping another nuclear contender from crossing that threshold. 

That the region's only known (though undeclared) nuclear state is leading the opposition to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (the "Iran deal") is troubling on several levels. For today, I'm going to stick with the level of Hiroshima, and the duty we all bear to maintain the dignity of human life along with the value of strength through peace. Fear is a dangerous and addictive drug.

February 4, 2015

Instead of denying he's naked on Iran, Bibi should put on some clothes

As much as I've tried to avoid it, the Netanyahu speech flap keeps festering and snowballing at the same time. In the mass media. 

Everyone involved is a calculating politician, so let's not pretend otherwise. Let's not pretend the White House was entirely above-board, and let's not pretend that the speech and its timing aren't more about Republican and Likud politics than about Iran's nuclear program. The idea that the looming deadline for nuclear negotiations and Israel's upcoming elections just happen to coincide, ignores the fact that Netanyahu decides when to call elections. Even FoxNews has criticized the idea

It's no longer about putting some pressure on the negotiations, so they fail. By being so obvious and over-the-top, Netanyahu has rebalanced the scales in Iran's favor, making it incrementally harder for the Western powers to exact the same concessions from Iran.

Democrats who rank high on AIPAC's friends' list are considering whether to skip Netanyahu's speech altogether. In all the decades of U.S.-Israel partnership and tensions, that's a first, it wasn't inevitable, and it hurts Israel more than it hurts Obama, Boehner, or even -- and especially -- Iran. As for Netanyahu's hometown audience back in Israel, we'll have to see whether he gains more votes than he loses, especially with right-wing contenders like Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman trying to outdo him on the Paris attacks and Jordan's fight against ISIS.

At this late stage, IMHO, the best thing for everyone, including Netanyahu and the nation he leads -- and for the case against Iran -- would be for the PM to step back, apologize for falling into petty politics, and wait until after elections to schedule an official visit. Given that even Netanyahu's confidant and Washington envoy has already passed the buck, I have no illusions this will happen. But then Israel's national anthem is entitled "The Hope"...