The Fallen Statue of Dagon

I often look through Torah portions or Jewish historical narratives and find parallels with issues and events of the day in preparing sermons and when teaching classes. Certainly, reminders such as that we “were strangers in the land of Egypt” and to “love your neighbor as yourself” apply to a whole host of modern day issues, so when those occur in a weekly Torah portion, they are fairly easy to connect.

Quite a bit less often, I find parallels with modern issues in the miracle stories in the Books of Samuel and Kings. I have decided that may be because I don’t look often enough. This week, some parallels are glaring. Pull out your Tanakh or whatever you have to use to read I Samuel and take a moment to read Chapter 5, which contains the story of the time that the Ark was captured by the Philistines and was relocated in the Temple of Dagon in Ashdod.

After the Philistines had captured the ark of God, they took it from Ebenezer to Ashdod. Then they carried the ark into Dagon’s temple and set it beside Dagon. When the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the LORD! They took Dagon and put him back in his place. But the following morning when they rose, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the Lord! His head and hands had been broken off and were lying on the threshold; only his body remained.

For those who do not know, Dagon was believed by the Philistines to be the father of Baal and was the Philistines’ primary divinity. The above narrative is pretty simple. The Ark representing the presence and power of the God of the Israelites, defeats the statue of Dagon representing the presence and power of Dagon, the god of the Philistines. Most of us simply read through this story and largely ignore it. “Of course, our real God will defeat an idol of a fake god.” No real need to comment further, right?

Well, let us for a moment consider this conflict slightly differently. Instead of Adonai vs. Dagon, let’s see it instead as reality vs. delusion. The modern parallels will start to flow. We just have to word the text slightly differently. Try this version.

After the Philistines had the ability to create their own narrative, they brought reality to a place of delusion. Then they brought reality into the Temple of delusion set it beside the primary delusion. When the people of the land rose early the next day, there was the delusion, fallen on its face on the ground before reality! They took the delusion and put it back in his place. [Defending it strongly] But the following morning when they rose, there was the delusion, fallen on its face on the ground before reality! The pieces of the delusion had been broken off and were lying on the threshold; only its body remained.

And so we have President Abbas leading a charge arguing that Jews have no connection to Jerusalem at all, the Palestinian Authority arguing that the “Al Buraq (Western Wall) was, still is and shall remain Palestinian, Arab and Islamic, and insisting on Palestinian control over East Jerusalem including the Old City and the Holy Basin, while seeing these delusions come crashing down. They can try to stand them back up again, but they will fall again and break more and more each time that they do.

But the I Samuel text’s relevance doesn’t end there. The text goes on to mention how other cities become involved and suffer consequences. Perhaps, in our modern midrash, perhaps other nations, forced to attempt to maintain the delusions? Perhaps, just perhaps, Arab nations having had enough of trying to maintain Palestinian delusions and suffering the consequences of war and suffering in their own nations and across the region, nations like Saudi Arabia, are now feeling like the people of Ekron in I Samuel:

11 So they called together all the rulers of the Philistines and said, “Send the ark of the god of Israel away; let it go back to its own place, or it will kill us and our people.”

The message today may well be, “Delusions are causing us tremendous suffering! It’s time to recognize reality!” Or as King Salman of Saudi Arabia did the other day, essentially recognizing that Jerusalem is indeed Israel’s capital, when he offered that East Jerusalem, also left undefined, could potentially be the Palestinian capital.

The anger and threats of violence that we are seeing are normal responses when dearly held delusions have fallen. And don’t for a moment think that the delusion that Jerusalem would not be recognized as Israel’s capital or even the delusion that the entire Old City would be part of a Palestinian capital are the most dearly held delusions yet to be dispelled. The greatest one yet to be dispelled is the delusion that all of the multitudes of people whose lives have been lost in fighting, so many young lives among them, for those delusions and other delusions will have been lost for nothing other than prolonging and deepening the suffering of the Palestinian people for decades instead of recognizing reality and having achieved peaceful coexistence long ago in better circumstances for the Palestinian people than might be possible today or in the foreseeable future.

That delusion is not one that the Palestinians are willing to allow to be confronted. In the words of I Samuel 5:5:

That is why to this day neither the priests of Dagon nor any others who enter Dagon’s temple at Ashdod step on the threshold.

 

 

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Rabbi Kaufman on Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital

NOTE: I publish this as my opinion. I know that others may disagree.

Yesterday, President Trump said, “I have determined that it is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.” As my friend, Rabbi Mickey Boyden, noted in an article for the Times of Israel, David Ben Gurion declared Jerusalem to be the “Eternal Capital” in 1949, the Israeli Knesset has been meeting in Jerusalem since 1950, at its new site since 1966, and Jerusalem is where Israel’s Prime Minister resides. Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. It is an utter absurdity to dispute that.

So why has it taken 68 years for America to officially recognize that fact? Several reasons:

Prior to the creation of Israel, Jerusalem was supposed to be “an international city.” Why? Because Christian Europeans couldn’t stomach having Christian holy sites in either Muslim or Jewish hands. The same was true for Nazareth.

Arab nations refused to accept any compromise.

In the meantime, in order to appease Arab nations, smarting from defeat to defeat over the past hundred years, from having the Ottoman Empire defeated by the British, failing to oust the British by aiding the Nazis, and then having the Jews, a pipsqueak nothing of a people who had just seen a good percentage of their number wiped out by the Nazis, defeat them and establish their own state in the middle of the Arab world, after which they won several military conflicts against an array of Arab nations, the nations that rely on oil imports from the Arab world agreed to act as if Israel had no legitimate claim to Jerusalem, much less a right to ownership over any part of Jerusalem.

Additionally, it has been argued, peace between Israel and Arabs or between Israel and Palestinians was dependent on Israel essentially agreeing that it had no legitimate claim to Jerusalem and no ownership over Jerusalem and that these ideas, not just the boundaries, but the very idea of Jewish legitimacy in Jerusalem, needed to be negotiated.

The Palestinians and other Arab nations even used UNESCO, an organization intended to preserve history and culture, to attempt to promote the delusion of Jewish disconnect from Jerusalem. This is all blatant antisemitism.

Finally, and certainly not to be left out of the discussion, is the Antisemitic idea that Jews are not entitled to have a nation in the first place and therefore certainly cannot claim Jerusalem as their capital.

This entire scenario was always delusional and has become increasingly more so.

Options for a real peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians are becoming more and more limited in scope with the parameters nearly defined even without negotiations. Please see my article “Current 2017 Reasonable Resolution” on the WeAreForIsrael.org website. Any resolution of the conflict will result in Israel’s capital being in Jerusalem.

More recently, several Arab nations have come to realize that establishing more significant relations with Israel would be substantially in their best interest, that Israel has a right to exist, and that it is past time to acknowledge that the Israelis are not wholly at fault for failures to achieve a resolution to the conflict. In fact, I believe that no few Arab leaders are now ready to end the delusionary thinking and deal with realities. Forcing Palestinian leaders to negotiate based upon realities rather than upon deeply and long held delusions is a major step in that direction. If the Palestinians and Israelis do not make peace soon, several Arab nations may establish peace agreements on their own without that happening first.

To argue that Jerusalem should not be considered Israel’s capital is to deny reality. To demand that nations buy in to a delusion or face threat is completely unreasonable, yet that has been the world’s reality for decades. It is far past time that it came to an end and shameful than it has taken this long.

One could argue that perhaps this week wasn’t the best week for recognition to come or that perhaps it is happening now because of other things in the news cycle. Many do not like anything that President Trump says or does and therefore immediately seek to condemn any and every action taken.  But friends, when there were better times, if there truly ever were better times for this to happen, it did not. President after President essentially said, “We accept the delusion” or “We will continue to force the Israelis to accept the delusion.”

And the result of that acceptance was the acceptance of antisemitism, of allowing only the Jewish state of all nations in the world to be prohibited from declaring its capital, of expressly avoiding having ambassadors residing where its national institutions and leadership have resided for decades, of listing events with the leadership of the Jewish state, including at its national legislature or its major national cemetery, as taking place in “Jerusalem,” without including the name of the nation or even worse, including the name of the nation, Israel, with “Israel” crossed out or blacked out.

Some are now arguing that recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital should have come in exchange for something that we wanted as a concession, that we should have held our recognition of reality as ransom in order to blackmail Israel into making policy changes.

Man, if friends don’t let friends drive drunk, they sure as hell don’t blackmail them.

Somehow, too many nations got into a mindset where reality was irrelevant or to be held hostage to hostile delusions. Did no one ask how any peace process could even take place with one side holding to reality and the other to delusions? Did no one ask how any peace process could take place with one side demanding that everyone else accept their delusions as fact in the negotiations?

What will come of all of this?

That there will be “days of rage” is certain. Governments and groups that oppose Israel will simply order people into the streets if they have to. They will wail and smash things as they have so often before. But this rage is going to be a short lived rage for the simple reason that everyone protesting must acknowledge the reality of the situation and people don’t protest against obvious realities for very long.

The real fallout is going to eventually hit the Palestinian side, because this is merely the first delusional domino of many to fall. I urge you to read the article on the “Current 2017 Reasonable Resolution” for the full list. No negotiations can be based on delusions. They cannot be based on “What might have been true if…” or on unreasonable possibilities. They must always be based upon what is with the understanding that the parameters of the negotiations will change if they wait too long. What was possible and reasonable in 1947, 1949, 1966, 1967, 1973, 1993, 2001, 2007, 2014, and 2016 may not be possible, realistically is assuredly not possible, in 2017 or 2018.

Meanwhile, while reports have this President declaring all of Jerusalem, a united, never to be divided, capital of Israel, the President in making his declaration made certain to note that the exact boundaries of Jerusalem are up for negotiation and that nothing precludes Jerusalem, or some portion of it, from also being the capital of a future Palestinian state.

The President stated in his declaration:

“We are not taking a position of any final status issues, including the specific boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem, or the resolution of contested borders. Those questions are up to the parties involved.”

There are certainly things that this President has said and done with which many of us take significant issue. Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital should not be one of them. If indeed one argues that said recognition might have been done at a better time, one must also acknowledge the shamefulness of it having not been done for the previous 68 years in which Jerusalem clearly has functioned as Israel’s capital.

So in the end, Thank You Mr. President for having our nation recognize what should have been recognized long ago, that Jerusalem is indeed the capital of Israel.

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Religious Leaders barred from Israel

Five U.S. Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders were barred from going to Israel under a new law that prohibits entry to the Jewish state by foreign activists who advocate a boycott of the country.

One of them was the deputy director of  “Jewish Voice for Peace”, Rabbi Alissa Wise. I wrote to her as follows:

Dear Rabbi Wise,

I read with interest that you have been refused permission to fly to Israel

Not knowing anything about your organization, I went to your website, which carries the headline: “The people of Gaza should have electricity, clean drinking water, functioning hospitals, and opportunities to rebuild. This means that Israel needs to end its brutal blockade, and the world needs to pressure them to do just that.”

As a person who always votes for Meretz in our national elections, I am sympathetic of a left-wing agenda for the State of Israel. That having been said, the above headline makes no reference whatsoever to the part that Hamas has played in bringing about the current situation. You may recall that when Israel unilaterally vacated Gush Katif, it left the greenhouses and irrigation systems intact as a gesture of goodwill. This did not stop Hamas from arming itself and firing rockets on Sederot’s civilian population. Where were you then? Did you condemn their actions? As you know, Hamas’s stated policy is to work for the destruction of Israel. It says as much in its Charter.

Dr. Mahmoud Al Zahar, a co-founder of Hamas, is on record as having stated: “Neither the liberation of the Gaza Strip nor the liberation of the West Bank or even Jerusalem will suffice us. Hamas will pursue the armed struggle until the liberation of all our lands. We don’t recognize the state of Israel or its right to hold onto one inch of Palestine. Palestine is an Islamic land belonging to all the Muslims.”

And you want us to end the blockade! That is not what you do with an enemy. (Look at what your own country does to Cuba, which is not committed to the destruction of the United States of America.)

Of course I sympathize with the suffering of Gaza’s civilian population, but they chose their leaders and pay the price for that in the same way as ordinary Germans suffered after Adolf Hitler had been elected by them as their chancellor.

As you will gather, I do not share your political sympathies. I feel sure that you have no wish to see Israel destroyed, but an open border with Gaza would risk precisely that. I can see why my government decided to keep you out.

Yours sincerely,

Rabbi Michael Boyden

Posted in Boycott, Boycott of Israel, Pressuring Israel | 2 Comments

A Current Reasonable Resolution to the Conflict 2017

Recent regional political changes have seemingly lessened or even removed pressure from Israel to pursue a “two-state” solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the near future. While it may be true that there is now less pressure on Israel to make major concessions in regard to that conflict, the primary impetus for the entire process remains in place.

By the early 1990s, most Israelis realized that some form of separation between the Israeli and Palestinian populations was essential for the future well-being of Israel. Furthermore, it was understood that the most reasonable way to accomplish that goal was to promote the creation of some sort of Palestinian state. This has not changed. A significant majority of Israelis continue to hold this general view, but some specifics have changed

Most Israelis now believe that more stringent security measures must be put in place today than would have been considered essential in the year 2000, 2007, or even 2010. Events in Gaza since the year 2000 and events in Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and Iran since 2009 dramatically change the security requirements that both Jordan and Israel will require on the Jordanian border and for ongoing security requirements within the West Bank.

Most people now believe that Gaza and the West Bank will likely remain separate political entities to a significant extent going forward. The leadership of Gaza, Hamas, has been in a heated military conflict with Egypt that in recent months has lessened somewhat but remains tense. Hamas would have to be removed from power before Egypt’s anti-Muslim Brotherhood government substantially improves relations with Gaza. The current answer to that problem is neither invasion, nor imposition of rule by the Palestinian Authority lead by Mahmoud Abbas. It is instead, the installation of Mohammed Dahlan.

Mohammed Dahlan is a nationalist political rival of President Abbas. Dahlan has a long history in Gaza, having been born in Khan Younis and having been the leader of Fatah in Gaza. Since 2001, when he called for reforms in the Palestinian Authority, he has been on the outs with Fatah’s West Bank based leadership. Israel, Egypt, and the UAE all see him as a good alternative to Hamas in Gaza, while Hamas itself may see him as better than the Palestinian Authority. Time will tell if a compromise that brings Dahlan into some sort of significant position of power in Gaza will be effective in bringing about positive change for the people of Gaza, for Israel, and for Egypt.

In the meantime, claims of authority over Gaza by the Palestinian Authority are not based in the PA’s ability to govern there, but instead out of the belief that the West Bank and Gaza are remnants of a larger entity, Palestine, that should remain connected. This narrative has necessitated solutions to the conflict for the Palestinians that do not prioritize the needs of the people of the West Bank as opposed to Gaza and at the same time result in harsh policies by the Palestinian Authority against the population of Gaza, such as shutting off their electricity or denying medical care.

In regard to an achievable solution on the whole, however, what I originally proposed in 2014 largely remains what I would propose today. Some things that I suggested at that point in time might be necessary, now are unquestionably so.

The reality continues to be that what is possible for Israel to concede in regard to resolutions of the conflict is not enough for the Palestinian side to prioritize reaching an agreement over and above continuing to fight; and what is demanded by the Palestinian side is seen as more harmful by Israeli leaders than continuing to face violence and anti-Israel activism.

Israel’s improved relations with the Sunni Nationalist powers and the BRIC nations, Brazil, Russia, India, and China (I left out South Africa on purpose), have resulted both in an improved likelihood in achieving a good solution for Israel and in a reduced need to try to do so.

This all said, the idea that there is an obvious solution to the conflict with generally agreed upon parameters that could be easily achieved misrepresents the reality. Here are five major issues:

  1. There is no solution that addresses the realities of Jerusalem that can please both sides and many possible solutions would result in nightmare scenarios for the future.
  2. While the “Right of Return” of Palestinian refugees to homes in Israel is almost certainly not a viable possibility, no alternative is likely to be politically, much less religiously, acceptable to Palestinians.
  3. There may have been discussions about “territorial swaps based on the 1967 lines,” but there are numerous problems that are obfuscated by that simple summation.
  4. Movement of people between Gaza and the West Bank may be necessary for Palestinian unity, but it is a security nightmare for both Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and more recently for Egypt and Jordan.
  5. Finally, Israeli control over the Jordanian border seems to be mandatory for the foreseeable future in order to meet the security concerns for Israel, Jordan, and a future Palestinian state in any form.

Let’s start by looking at the last of the five. International forces have all failed miserably to halt sectarian violence. Suggestions that any international force could step in and prevent Islamic militants from moving into the West Bank and causing problems for both the Palestinian Authority and Israel are laughable. International forces in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, the Sinai, Sudan and other places in the region have proven incompetent in maintaining security, preventing rearming of militant groups, or even in preventing major wars and genocides. This means that any agreement will necessarily have Israeli troops on the Jordanian border for a long time into the future and it will be unreasonable to set any final date by which that would be forced to end.

Movement between the northern and southern West Bank could be easily ensured, even if direct access between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea was maintained. However, with the level of militancy in Gaza at present, traffic between the two Palestinian territories will need to be closely monitored. There is no way that people could simply be allowed to travel through Israeli territory on their way to and from Gaza at this point. Remember that Egypt currently has sealed off its own border with Gaza because of threats coming from Gaza and that Israel has fought multiple wars with militant groups based in Gaza. There are ways to substantially increase economic cooperation between the territories, but because of the weaponry available in Gaza, all shipments to Gaza will need to be closely monitored for years going forward from a peace agreement.

Palestinians themselves may be concerned about Hamas supporters living in the southern West Bank bringing their militancy to the north, but that would likely be an internal Palestinian issue rather than something to negotiate.

It is also the case that Israeli control over the Jordanian border enables less stringent controls on the Israeli-West Bank border. Without Jordanian border control, more stringent security would need to be put in place on the internal border in light of terrorist threats, and that would severely harm economic interaction between the two nations and do grave harm to tourism within Palestinian areas, as it does now when border security is increased.

The basis of the idea of “territorial swaps” is that the Palestinians need enough territory and the proper kind of territory to form a viable state. It is not that the Palestinians are entitled to all of what was Jordanian occupied territory 1948-1967. The latter concept is an impediment to negotiations, for among other reasons, because it violates the most basic concept of the negotiations, that Israel must have secure borders after a peace agreement. Without them, future violence is ensured and any agreement that the two sides reach will not be worth the paper on which it is written. The 1967 lines were far from secure.

The Separation Barrier, with some possible exceptions, runs along the path that provides the necessary security against terrorism that Israel requires. Thus it is the current route of the Separation Barrier, not the 1967 lines, that is the most viable basis for negotiations. There are opportunities for that path to be altered during negotiations and some Israeli settlements may end up on the Palestinian side following such negotiations. It is certainly the case that new settlements and outposts constructed on the Palestinian side of the barrier create new impediments to making any solution work for the Israelis, because it increases the cost of what would have to be yielded in a final status agreement.

The idea of “territorial swaps” itself is problematic because it specifically implies two falsehoods. First, it implies that the Palestinians have a right to negotiate from a position that they never held, namely authoritative control over the West Bank, and that their claim to that much land, much less all of that specific land, is superior to Israel’s claim to it. While there may be public sentiment to that effect across much of the world, it is a legal fiction. Control of the land is an obviously essential characteristic of any valid claim to it. Legal control passed from the Ottomans to the British to Jordan to Israel with each in turn applying its control over the laws and population of the territory, demonstrating control.

Moreover, the concept of “territorial swaps” would involve trading one piece of land for another. Would the Palestinians really consider land near Gaza or abutting the southern West Bank as equivalent to neighborhoods around Jerusalem or in the Galilee? Of course not. The presentation of this concept as a simple basis for negotiations is then flawed.

The Right of Return would seem to be the easiest of the problems to overcome. There is no way that Israel can bring in hundreds of thousands, much less several million, Palestinians and maintain the character of Israel as a Jewish state. Neither can Israel bring in hundreds of thousands of people hostile to its existence and not face civil war and strife. Reasonable alternatives to the Right of Return include restitution, but any financial settlement for properties would likely be far less than actual value today and would certainly not be preferable in many cases to ownership of the land. By way of comparison, Holocaust survivors have received millions of dollars in restitution for losses which at the time of the restitution agreement were worth well into the tens, if not hundreds, of billions of dollars.

Those who see the conflict as an Arab-Jewish one, rather than an Israeli-Palestinian one, might well insist that restitution be paid by Arab nations to the Jews whose properties they seized. They argue that the net result would be that Arab nations would be required to pay out more in restitution to the Jews than the Jewish state would to the Arabs.

Finally, there is no resolution to the situation of Jerusalem that will please both sides and there are few solutions that will maintain the security of the city, its economic and civic viability, and access to its archaeological and holy sites for people of all faiths. Jews will be able to securely access the Old City of Jerusalem with its holy sites only if they remain under Israeli sovereignty.

Furthermore, there is no way to maintain security in the area of the holy basin specifically, the area centered on the Temple Mount, unless Israel controls the entire basin from the top of the hill of the Mount of Olives to the west. Neither is it possible for Silwan, to the south of the Temple Mount, to be under Palestinian control for the same reason. To be honest, the entirety of City-of-David-connected Silwan should be a nationally controlled archaeological park and a major tourist site [It is now privately owned by the City of David organization]. The area between the northern access to the Temple mount and Hebrew University on Mount Scopus also must realistically remain under Israeli sovereignty or Hebrew University will be cut off from the rest of Jerusalem.

One could argue, and many do, that the neighborhood of Isawiya, northeast of Mount Scopus, could be put under Palestinian sovereignty along with areas to the southeast of Silwan such as Abu Dis. The area known as E1, between the large Jerusalem suburb of Malei Adumim and Mount Scopus, also abuts Abu Dis and is an obvious connector between the southern and the northern West Bank.

E1 is an area that would make sense to be included in the territory of each side, but to place it on either side of a barrier would create a major problem. If it is on the Palestinian side, Malei Adumim becomes an island, surrounded by Palestinian territory. No Israeli government could allow this. If E1 remains Israeli, someone traveling from Bethlehem to Ramallah through Abu Dis and Anata would have to travel at least ten additional miles to do so, going around Malei Adumim unless a road were constructed that allowed for travelers to cross from south to north through E1. Such a road or tunnel would become essential in such a scenario. Meanwhile, northern Jerusalem’s near suburbs like Ramat Shlomo are certain to remain on the Israeli side in any reasonable peace agreement.

What is holding up the possibility of any agreement in the near future is not willingness on the part of Israel to make concessions, but a willingness on the part of the Palestinian side to admit the reality of what I discussed above. This means that no amount of pressure brought on Israel by European nations or the United States can realistically do anything to advance the peace process. The only affect of such pressure is harm to Israel. In order to advance the peace process, America and European nations need to help the Palestinian side reach an understanding of a reasonable resolution that is viable. Admittedly, once that is accomplished, the make-up of the Israeli governing coalition will become important in moving forward. With a final status agreement possible, the Israeli left would be much more willing to make necessary concessions to work with the Center Right of the political spectrum in order to help it become a reality and the Israeli electorate could well shift support to parties who would more strongly pursue an agreement.

You will note that this solution might be considered a 2 1/2 state solution with Israel and Gaza as completely separate political entities and the West Bank as a semi-separate entity within the security control of Israel. I believe that it is time to think outside of the box and that those who continue to insist on full independence and full border control for the Palestinians in the West Bank are actually doing grave harm and putting off the prospects of peace.

For the most part, Israel has already accepted what it can and must concede for peace. The question is simply, “Will the Palestinian side choose to accept it at the negotiating table if it is offered?” The answer to that depends on which is more painful, accepting a peace they don’t like or continuing to fight a battle that cannot be won and at the cost of suffering and death in every generation.

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The Jubilee Haggadah – A Travesty of Truth

An organization calling itself SISO (Save Israel Stop the Occupation) claims on its website to be “a new initiative of prominent Israeli individuals and organizations who have joined with Jewish leaders from around the world in a sense of urgency about Israel’s future.”

In order to “enlighten” Diaspora Jews as to Israel’s plight it has just published The Jubilee Haggadah, whose on-line sale has been made possible with the cooperation of the New Israel Fund.

What the Haggadah seeks to do is to draw a parallel between Israelite slavery and the lot of the Palestinians. The comparison is, of course, simplistic, false and intended to mislead. Pharaoh and his taskmasters were not interested in reaching an accommodation with the Israelites.

The same cannot be said for most Israelis, who have repeatedly expressed their wish to arrive at a peace agreement with the Palestinians. We remember only too well the 2000 Camp David Summit hosted by President Clinton in which Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat participated. Clinton has gone on record as blaming Arafat for having refused to respond to Israel’s peace proposals.

Eight years later Ehud Olmert offered the Palestinians an even more generous deal in which Israel would effectively forgo sovereignty of the Temple Mount and in which he proposed a 5%-6% land swap in order to compensate the Palestinians for the major settlement blocs such as Ma’ale Adumim and Ariel that he wished to retain under Israeli jurisdiction. Mahmoud Abbas refused.

I don’t recall Pharaoh offering the Israelites any kind of a deal. On the contrary, he gave a command that every Israelite son be thrown into the Nile (Exodus 1:22).

Nowhere does the Torah tell us that the Israelites wanted to overthrow the Egyptians and take possession of their land. The same cannot be said of the Palestinian Hamas, who control the Gaza Strip and continue to call and work for Israel’s destruction.

Some Palestinians live very comfortably while many lead wretched lives. That was not true of the Israelites in Egypt. All of them suffered. “And they embittered their lives with hard labor” (Exodus 1:14). By contrast, many Palestinians work in Israel bringing home wages far in excess of anything that they could possibly earn at home.

Of course, there are two competing narratives as to how we reached the present tragic situation, which has caused suffering to Palestinians and Israelis alike. Both sides share some responsibility. At least the Haggadah grudgingly acknowledges that when it quotes Prof. Haviva Pedaya as stating that “Nor (is) one party alone guilty for the complex situation.”

However, her statement is more than outbalanced by sketches such as that of a high concrete security barrier reminiscent of the Berlin Wall. No mention is made of the fact that it was erected to protect Israeli citizens following the Second Intifada in which over 1,000 men, women and children were murdered and many more injured and maimed by Palestinian suicide bombers.

This Haggadah is aimed at Diaspora Jews many of whom have little idea of the complexity of Middle East politics and don’t know the history. They will understandably condemn Israel and a further wedge will have been driven between us Israelis and those Jews who bought this Haggadah and were duped by its message. The Palestinians will love it. It has presented only one side of the story without allowing the defense to make its case. That is unpardonable.

 

Posted in Hamas, International Criticism, Peace Negotiations | Leave a comment

UN Security Council Resolution 2334

Many view the decision of the United States not to exercise its veto against UN Security Council Resolution 2334 as the last attempt by President Obama in the death throes of his presidency to score a point against Bibi. White House protestations to the contrary are not taken seriously.

The Resolution is flawed on a number of counts. It demands “that Israel immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem”. Presumably that means that Israel has no right to build in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City or in the Jerusalem suburbs of Gilo and French Hill.

While those areas are termed “occupied”, the inability of the Resolution to distinguish between such neighborhoods and isolated settlements and outposts on the West Bank is unhelpful. No Israeli government would ever relinquish those areas and it is foolhardy to even suggest that she should. The sloppy wording of the Resolution only goes to show how far those who voted for it are removed from the facts on the ground.

No less problematic is the unwillingness of those who formulated the Resolution to address Palestinian misdemeanors. It is simply not good enough to condemn “all acts of violence against civilians, including acts of terror, as well as all acts of provocation, incitement and destruction” without specifically naming the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Hamas.

Hamas runs military training “summer camps” for children in the Gaza Strip and has rained down missiles on Israeli civilian targets, while the PA names town squares and football teams after shahidim, who have murdered and maimed thousands of Israeli civilians. When Palestinian terrorists are incarcerated in Israeli prisons, the PA grants their families stipends. Children are taught in PA schools that the day will come when they will return to Haifa and Jaffa. That is not how you build an infrastructure for peace.

However, the Palestinians do not hold a monopoly on fantasies. Settlers who call the West Bank “Judea and Samaria” live under the illusion that we have the right to settle in all of the land that was promised to our ancestor Abraham and in which our forefathers lived over 3,000 years ago. When the Jewish National Fund distributes collection boxes depicting an Israel extending from the river Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea they simply feed that delusion. Building and expanding settlements cannot help Palestinians believe that Israel really supports a territorial compromise.

If the truth be told, neither the Israelis by and large nor the Palestinians are prepared to forgo their expansionist fantasies and recognize that both sides will have to put their dreams aside if they are to live in peace.

A joint Israeli Palestinian poll recently showed that nearly 60 percent of both Israeli Jews and Palestinians were against a permanent status agreement based on previous Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

If the truth be told, both sides are headed by leaders unable and unwilling to pay the price that a comprehensive settlement would require. Prime Minister Netanyahu panders to the settlers and stands at the head of a Likkud whose coalition is more right-wing than any government that Israel has ever known.

Meanwhile, President Abbas is ever fearful that Hammas will displace the PA on the West Bank. Like Netanyahu, he cannot afford to be perceived of as favoring compromise. The rise of Islamism and Al-Qaeda has only served to increase anxiety about the threats that surround us and have created an atmosphere in which Israel is unlikely to take risks.

And that is the political context in which the United Nations Security Council has seen fit to castigate Israeli policy with regard to settlements. The PA is delighted with the outcome of a vote from which the United States chose to abstain. Israel’s enemies are rubbing their hands with glee that she has been given a bloody nose. However, the Resolution is ultimately futile and won’t contribute one iota to solving the Israel/Palestinian conflict. On the contrary, it will make some Israelis wonder what Obama really meant when he said “I’ve got your back”.

Posted in International Criticism, Peace Negotiations, Pressuring Israel | 2 Comments

Implications of Failed Manipulations

It seems that Tony Blair and John Kerry worked to try to get Prime Minister Netanyahu to add the Zionist Union into the coalition in order to promote peace efforts. Let’s consider this for a moment.

  1. This would mean foreign governments were actively trying to manipulate the composition of the elected government of Israel to suit their desires. This makes Bibi’s speech to Congress in an attempt to publicly share his opinion on the Iran nuclear deal pale, by far, in comparison, laughably so. This would be like Israel trying to get Hillary Clinton to make Bernie Sanders her VP and to change her policies to be in line with his. Actually, it’s more like Israel trying to encourage Donald Trump to make Hillary Clinton, the leader of the opposing side, his VP, but that doesn’t work in our political system, so Clinton-Sanders is a better example.
  2. Kerry and Blair failed so miserably that not only did Zionist Union not end up joining the coalition, they created an environment that encouraged Israel Beiteinu to join it! This actually makes the governing coalition even a further right leaning one.
  3. Zionist Union was again harmed by those foreign powers trying to use it. Think about this for a moment. Zionist Union was literally being used by foreign powers to influence Israeli governmental policy. Let that one sink in.
  4. Avigdor Lieberman may be problematic for a number of reasons, but his ability to work with Russian leaders at a time when Israel needs to work with Russia on Syria and Iran related security issues actually makes his appointment to Minister of Defense make some sense.
  5. Herzog overplayed his hand. Instead of settling for joining the coalition and promoting policies tilted in its direction, Herzog insisted on commitments that would have forced Netanyahu’s other coalition partners to leave the coalition and quite possibly split his own party.
  6. There was no chance that he would willingly do that. Somehow, Herzog seems to have been convinced that pressure against Netanyahu might be enough to make him do it. That is the only possible reasonable interpretation and it means that Herzog expected Israel to be threatened if Netanyahu didn’t comply.
  7. So one question before us is “Will the Quartet threaten Israel, now that Netanyahu has not complied?”
  8. Another is “What actual policy changes may occur with Israel Beiteinu in the coalition, if any?”

****Update May 20, 2016

Bogie Ya’alon has now left the government. This is significant further damage of the failed attempt to bring the Zionist Union into the government. Ya’alon was a moderate voice in the Likud led cabinet. Replacing him on the Likud MK list is Yehuda Glick of Temple Mount fame.

So instead of having a Netanyahu led coalition barely scraping by with 61 seats and having Ya’alon’s moderate voice and military leadership experience in the cabinet as Defense Minister, Israel now has Avigdor Liberman in the cabinet, Yehuda Glick in the K’nesset, a severely weakened opposition leader in Herzog and a strengthened right leaning coalition that now tilts further right.

Posted in We Are For Israel | 10 Comments

Hope and Security – Toward Two States

Going on mostly behind the scenes are many cooperative efforts between Israel, Egypt, Jordan and the Saudis. The Sunni Nationalist states would greatly benefit from Israeli-Palestinian peace for no reason other than that they need to work with Israel right now with or without that peace. It would be far less politically problematic for them to do so with a peace agreement of some sort. So Egypt’s Al Sisi is encouraging one and Netanyahu says that Israel is ready for it.

Al Sisi said that:

If we are able to — all of us together — with effort and a real will and devotion, find a solution for this issue, and find hope for the Palestinians and security for the Israelis, I am telling you a new page will be written.

Note how Al Sisi frames the issue:

  1. Hope for the Palestinians.
  2. Security for the Israelis.

In other words, peace is going to continue to be a process. Hope means moving forward toward a better future. Security means not jeopardizing something you already have. That is precisely what is needed. The Palestinian people need to be able to look forward to a future better than the present. The Israelis need to know that they will be able to live securely in Israel as it now defines itself, Jewish and Democratic.

Interestingly, this all brings Fatah’s Arab allies full circle. Once they were engaged on the side of the Palestinians to bring about peace with Israel and then disengaged because of the Fatah-Hamas civil war. Now they are engaged as a way to help themselves.

This is perhaps the first time that Israeli-Palestinian negotiations are possible in which none of the major players (Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia) see any of the others as a proxy of any other nation. In fact, it is readily apparent that with the exception of Hamas controlled Gaza, this group recognizes that they will have to work together to combat regional threats arrayed against all of them, namely Iran and the Islamic State. Furthermore, among the group, Israel is the most essential partner to have, providing incentive for each to maintain a working, if not good, strategic relationship.

The leaders already understand this and are engaged with each other. The general population of the Sunni Arab nations, however, is more reluctant to approve of the needed relationships until peace of some sort is achieved. Yes, some would object to any peace with Israel, but no few would not and the absence of overwhelming opposition to cooperation with Israel would be advantageous in combating the regional threats.

Within Israel, this news brings additional incentive for the Zionist Union to enter the coalition. As a member of the government, it could urge the government to move forward in some fashion and allow it to do so without threat of collapse at the hands of the right wing parties.

Don’t get all excited yet. We’re not going to see Bibi and Abu Mazen walking down the paths of Camp David anytime soon, but we may see some progress in the right direction for the first time in a long time. That at least might be something to give us all hope for the future.

Posted in Egypt, Peace Negotiations, We Are For Israel | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Sad State of the Two State Debate

These are the words of the leader of the pro-peace Labor party, Buji Herzog:

I don’t see a possibility at the moment of implementing the two-state solution. I want to yearn for it, I want to move toward it, I want negotiations, I sign on to it and I am obligated to it, but I don’t see the possibility of doing it right now.

It is not simply that Prime Minister Netanyahu is not willing to bring it about. Instead, it is that security concerns must be addressed first. According to the Times of Israel:

Netanyahu and [PA President Mahmoud Abbas] are incapable of moving forward,” he alleged — but [Herzog] said that should he be elected prime minister, his coalition would focus on implementing security measures rather than a bilateral agreement.

The dominant perspectives in Israel right now in regard to the possibility of a two-state solution are the following:

The position of the Center-Left (30-40% including much of the Zionist Union and Yesh Atid): A two-state solution might be possible at some future date provided security measures are addressed first, accomplished, and proven effective. Only then, when those who seek to harm Israelis and would be significantly empowered by the increased freedom of mobility and ability to acquire supplies that would be available in a two state solution, can Israel realistically move forward. Some on the left in the past have suggested that the Palestinian Authority must regain effective control of Gaza as part of this process. The settlement blocs and metro Jerusalem would remain under Israeli control. The Center-Left would encourage the Prime Minister to maintain policies that would promote the possibility of a two-state solution to happen in the long-term.

The position of the Center-Right (30-40% including much of Likud and Kulanu): A full two-state solution with Palestinian border control is unrealistic for the foreseeable future. In essence, the Center-Right would begin with the conditions set by the Center-Left and add relatively long-term Israeli border control and stronger security measures. The difference in the short term is that the Center-Right is more reluctant to accept restrictions on policy necessary to promote a long-term peace agreement.

The position of the Right extreme (10-20% including much of Jewish Home, UTJ, SHAS, and some of Likud): All of the land belongs to the Jews. Most of those from this perspective believe that the status-quo can be maintained indefinitely with Palestinians living within Israel’s borders as citizens of an observer state within the state. A tiny minority believe that the Muslim Arabs [they see the Palestinians not as a national group at all] should leave the Jewish state and go elsewhere if they are not willing to accept the status-quo.

The position of the Left extreme (10-20% including much of Meretz and the Arab List): There must be either a two-state solution put in place in the near future or else Israel must act as if the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are Israeli citizens. Either of these solutions would accept that major security problems would accompany the solutions.

Looking at this, one must accept that while a substantial majority of Israelis believe that a two state solution that provides Israel security would be the goal, upwards of 70% of the Israeli population believes that not only is a two-state solution not possible in the foreseeable future, but that there is much work to do on the security situation, both in the shorter and longer terms, in order to alter that reality.

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The Attempt to Start an Intifada

There is some debate whether or not we are witnessing a new intifada, a new uprising. The reality is that we are definitely witnessing an attempt by Hamas to produce one. Today, Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas’ leader in Gaza, stated:

We are calling for the strengthening and increasing of the intifada… It is the only path that will lead to liberation.

Past efforts have begun with arming militants on the Temple Mount with rocks, incendiaries, and explosives. During the past few weeks of clashes, Israeli security forces have discovered attempts to arm protesters on the Temple Mount and have even discovered pipe bombs prepared for use there.

Additionally, the rhetoric associated with the last intifada, namely that Israel is trying to take over the Temple Mount, is being used by Palestinian leaders as a way to stir up protests. There is no effort by Israel to change the status-quo of the site, but the Palestinian leadership has been insisting that there is, something that has been done in the past to promote protests against Israel and remains an effective way to do so around the region.

Hamas, severely weakened by the sealing of the Egypt-Gaza border by a hostile Egyptian government, desperately needs Palestinians in the West Bank to engage in an intifada in order to change the dynamic on the ground. There has been little ongoing violent action against Israel and diplomatic channels have failed to produce the necessary pressure on Israel to bring them about.

Furthermore, with Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia all essentially working with Israel on the three major issues facing the region (The Syrian Civil War, The Islamic State, and Iran), the Palestinian cause has been largely ignored by those whom the Palestinians desperately need to fight for them in order to make any headway against Israel, much less to ultimately destroy the Jewish state.

Palestinian Pres. Abbas’ recent warnings about the possibility of an intifada have also been attempts to promote one by giving voice and support to those who have been seeking to once again resort to violence. This has put the ball squarely into Hamas’ ready and waiting hands along with those of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the militant branch of Abbas’ own Fatah party, and Islamic Jihad.

But this is a dangerous game. Pres. Abbas wants to draw the world’s attention to his cause and to demonstrate his ability to stop violence while maintaining control over the West Bank. It is important for Abbas to be able to show that there is a realistic threat of violence in the West Bank for which security cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority at an extensive level is required and that therefore Israeli concessions to the Palestinians are also necessary.

Thus, violence and protests are essential to Abbas’ cause, but not a full scale intifada which would be difficult to control and dangerous for Abbas and his associates specifically.

The problems that those who want to get a new intifada going face numerous issues:

Gaza based Hamas, which is definitely the most dangerous to Israel of the three organizations at the moment, is not in a good position to help. The Egyptian border is much more tightly controlled now than at any point in time since 1967.

The most likely goal of any current Hamas led attempt at an intifada right now would be the unseating of the Fatah led government in the West Bank rather than accomplishing anything significant against Israel in the long term or to alter Egypt’s defensive posture against Gaza. Pres. Abbas needs to be very careful about how much he allows this violence to strengthen.

Hamas is not Pres. Abbas’ only problem. The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a wing of Fatah, which has been largely silent for a number of years may either be ready to have Pres. Abbas and Fatah abandon the solely diplomatic tack of Palestinian efforts in recent years or they too may be emboldened to engage in violence in an attempt to take control of Fatah and with it leadership over the West Bank.

Meanwhile, Islamic Jihad will no doubt have been strengthened because of the nuclear and financial agreement with its patron state of Iran. Islamic Jihad could be seeking to aid Hamas or the Al Aqsa Martyrs in efforts to harm Israel. But without a doubt, Iran would prefer to see Hamas, with whom it has worked in the past, take over the leadership of the Palestinian cause.

Thus far, President Abbas’ response to the recent attacks has been to blame Israel and to appear somewhat supportive of both the terrorists and protests. However, should the attacks and protests rage out of control, not only is there a likelihood of Israeli incursions into the West Bank, but of the very destabilization that these militant groups seek in hoping to remove Abbas from power.

This week, Abbas began to realize the danger that he faces from within and has issued calls to his forces to urgently quell protests. While the public explanation is to “deny Israel a pretext for a West Bank crackdown,” the reality is that the greater danger is to his own rule in the West Bank with or without any Israeli incursions. It does not take a genius to realize that the reason for protests is a failure of the current Palestinian leadership in their efforts to overcome Israel and to reclaim, in the least, rule over Jerusalem as well as to end the occupation of the West Bank. Should protests grow, it would be all too easy for them to rapidly turn against the failed leadership of Fatah.

In the meantime, the Palestinian leadership, both Hamas and Fatah, are encouraging violence against Israeli civilians, something which should be condemned in the strongest terms and because of which US and European cooperation and support for the Palestinian leadership should be brought into question.

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