Thursday, March 25, 2010

Responding to Obama, and other Foes

At the Yom Iyyun for first year semikha students in 1978, Rabbi Norman Lamm recounted how he once had the occasion to read through Yiddish papers that were published in the early to late thirties. He was struck by the purple prose, and the giant headlines, as different Jewish groups duked it out on many sundry internal issues. Most of these were Orthodox organs, so you can well imagine the type of issues that were discussed: kashrus, Zionism, Qitniyos etc.

What struck Dr. Lamm, he noted, was that other items were modestly posted in smaller letters: 'Hitler becomes Chancellor' 'Nurenberg Laws Passed in Germany' etc.

I was reminded of this story, upon considering the types of undeniably important issues that have been fiercely debated recently within the Orthodox Community.

However, things need to be placed into proportion. President Obama's artificially created, but no less real, diplomatic crisis poses an existential threat to the State of Israel. He is, apparently, hell bent on imposing a 'solution' to the Arab-Israel conflict, in time to ensure his re-election. That 'solution' requires withdrawal to the 1949 armistice lines and the division of Jerusalem. Since, according to him, the Palestinians are the injured party, they need not concede anything.

The problem runs deeper. First, by stressing Jerusalem in the first stage, Obama is willy nilly making it impossible for the Arabs to compromise on anything (including the Kotel). This is because the emphasis on Jerusalem focuses upon the specifically religious aspect of the conflict which is insoluble, by definition. Second, even if a formal scheme is worked out, does anyone really believe that it will be honored by the other side? Third, Obama has consistently advocated the Palestinian narrative that Israel is a payback for the Holocaust and that, by extension, Jews have no natural right to a state here. In other words, he is striving to undermine our very legitimacy.

Predictably, the press in Israel has already started beating on the drums of concession, as part of its ongoing campaign to liquidate Israel as a Jewish State. Israel has become far more Jewish in the past few years, but I'm never sure just how long we can withstand the kind of brainwashing that the media dishes out.

From my vantage point, the situation in the United States is equally grave. Most American Jews don't seem to care about us here. Even official leaders (did someone mention the leading Reform rabbi?) seem to have naively accepted the essentially racist position that if we only give the Arabs more, they'll be nice to us. (The position is racist, because it ignores what the Arab and Muslim world says to our faces, and assumes they think just like enlightened westerners.)

Of course, while we rely first and foremost upon HaQadosh Barukh Hu, it seems that the Orthodox community is our only human ally. It is critical that that community be mobilized to pressure Democrats, especially, to stand up for Israel as it's being bullied by an ideologically driven, Palestinian ally (backed by his inevitable Jewish advisors).

I am not an alarmist. However, this is potentially a matter of life and death. The Arabs have waited for decades for the US to abandon us. All of our neighbors are sitting on Islamist insurgencies, which could easily force them to war. They are also well aware of the global rise in anti-Israel and anti-Jewish sentiment (especially in Europe), and that the American Jewish community is slowly dissolving any national sentiment it might have.

We need to stand fast now.


Nachum said...

Prof. Woolf: I'm growing increasingly convinced that the Orthodox community in the US can't be trusted on this either. I was reading a prominent Orthodox blogger today and was struck by his ability to make this whole thing Israel's fault and the dismissively easy way he called for a "freeze" on building in Yerushalayim. And he's not the only one. The galut has really seeped into a lot of people...

The Democrats, alas, have long gone off the deep end. Anti-Zionism and (yes) anti-Semitism are now a natural companion to left-wing politics.

The main hope on that front is for the Christian and conservative Americans to throw them all out of office, and soon. The main hope on the front here is for Netanyahu not to lose his backbone.

Josh said...

As a traditional, American Jew I must respectfully dissent from your pillorying of my President. For me, the paramount issue is the security of America, the country I live in and pay taxes to. If the President is advised by General Petraeus that Israel's policies damage American interest, I expect him to do his job and attempt to pushback on those policies. For American Jews who have a scintilla of loyalty to the state which imperfectly allows us so many opportunities, the security of the American soldiers in the region dwarfs any concern we may have for Israel, a foreign country.
I am not telling PM Netanyahu what to do. He has his own political calculus. But as an American I would appreciate my President performing the duties of his office and ensuring my security. Not the security of Israel, an increasingly isolated, intransigent rogue state. I really pray that you people over there can work to bring your own discourse and actions into consonance with the interests of our country.

Jeffrey Woolf said...

I assume you've since read Gen. Petraeus' repudiation of the remarks attributed to him. OTOH, Pres. Obama has earned nothing but failing grades in the security department. Allying himself with rogue states (Venezuela, Pakistan etc) against allies (India, Britain, Poland) is hardly the stuff of smart or responsible foreign policy.

I deeply resent your terming our country a rogue state. But your language shows you to be a PoMO afficianado, so no amount of rational discussion is called for.
Just keep in mind, that Jews who talked about 'You people' find that they will need 'you people' some day.

Anonymous said...

Nachum wrote: "The main hope on that front is for the Christian and conservative Americans to throw them all out of office, and soon. "

I disagree. To the extent that American Jews have in the past been able to influence foreign policy, it has been through nurturing relationships with representatives in both political parties. It would be the height of folly for us to turn our backs on the Democratic party, thus giving the Israel-haters exclusive access to Democratic policy-makers. (There's this saying about putting all your eggs in one basket...) I think that the Orthodox community's conspicuous and gleeful embrace of right-wing Republican ideology and representation may come back to haunt us all. The more it becomes apparent to Democratic politicians that the Orthodox community has walked away from them, the less likely they will be to care about anything we have to say. That will be very bad for Israel, and we've done it to ourselves. Hoping and praying for a Republican resurgence that may or may not come to pass seems like a very risky strategy. I wish that our Orthodox leadership could be more sensitive to the repercussions of their political romances. --DMF

Josh said...

I have little truck with the purveyors of Pomo theory, and resent the implication. Israel tilts towards rogue state status with its extrajudicial assassinations, illegal settlements and continued inhumane embargo on Gaza. While I do not feel Israel is the same as Zimbabwe, you must agree that there is cause for concern.
My real point is not to condemn Israel, but rather to defend the actions of our commander in chief. Obama may not have made all the right calls, but its commonsensical to assume that a temporary settlement freeze can build good will. And it is not normal to react with anything but fury when someone insults your VP.
People who think Israel represents anything positive should be deeply wary of offending the world's only superpower with jingoistic and needless intransigence and out and out rude stupidity. I think Israelis should also be aware that some American Jews will not endorse every rude insult they throw at our country and the international community. Why not act with tact, derech eretz and humility to rebuild a working relationship with the US, to restart talks with the PA and to help ensure dignity for both sides? Oh right. Cause Israelis are assholes.

Jeffrey Woolf said...

1)"Israel tilts towards rogue state status with its extrajudicial assassinations, illegal settlements and continued inhumane embargo on Gaza."

The settlements are not illegal, as dozens of ionternational jurists have noted. Assasinations of enemies are standard operating procedure in the War on Terror, and are carried out with greater collateral damage by the United States. There is no embargo on humanitarian necessities in Gaza.

2) The government was 'set up' in creating the Biden flap, by the US.

3) Your so-called common sensical freeze is a violation of the human rights of its targets.
The rest of your screed is not worthy of response If you continue to write in this manner I will simply reject your comments.

Anonymous said...

I'm afraif that even the Orthodox community is not our ally. Too many Orthodox Jews have adopted the pagan view that the government somehow knows best what's good for us. (see Nadav Shragai's column today on the leadership quality of Moses to understand why this idea is deemed pagan). This view was codified halachically by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik (it is understandable why elites - of any sort - would adopt this view)and has now been morphed by his students and later generations to the point that it is difficult to encourage effective protests in the Orthodox community. Meanwhile, "in-house" a certain wing of the National Religious community has morphed the views of Rav Kook into something that represents 19th century Prussian nationalism and will tell their followers that despite the evils perpetrated by the State, one is not allowed to refuse to throw Roi Klein's widow (and her neighbor, newly widowed wife of Eliraz Peretz) out of their home because the State is Holy. Others in the national religious community have adopted the pagan view that the government knows best (see Haim Navon's new politruk pamphlet on disobedience sponsored the Neemanei Torah V'avoda). Nope, the Orthodox community won't draw a red line and won't save us - I wish it were different - and it can be different, but I'm afraid that the "big headlines" in the Orthodox community are still the wrong one.

Jeffrey Woolf said...


Your 'you people' stance remided me of something:

'Since he removed himself from the community, he has thereby denied a basic principle. Therefore, you should gnash his teeth, and say to him: 'It was for this that God did for me when I left Egypt.' For me, but not for him. If he had been there, he would not have been redeemed.'

Nachum said...

I was about to say the same thing. Sad but appropriate for the season.

Shlomo said...

I would have pointed out that by Josh's standards, the US must be a rogue state, judging by its assasinations in Afghanistan/Pakistan (expanded by Obama) and conquest and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq (continued by Obama).

Criticizing Israel does not make you an anti-Semite. Criticizing Israel while not criticizing any other country which follows identical policies does make you an anti-Semite.

Josh said...

With all due respect, I really need to dissent from the conflation between "Israel" and "Klal Yisrael." From the beginnings of the Zionist movement good people have disagreed over whether we need a state, where it should be, what it might look like. I hear many of the positions in this debate; some strike a more sympathetic tone than others. What I do not do is say that someone on the other side is not part of the historical drama of the Jewish people. This delegitimization stymies intelligent discourse. I am talking about the rude behavior of Israelis in the diplomatic arena, and explaining why I support my government and want to see Israel act more responsibly and maturely. These are matters between states. They do not neccesitate the level of acrimony I am finding here.
In any case people can disagree on these issues. But lets not get into questioning each other's Judaism.

Jeffrey Woolf said...

Your dissent is noted, as is your change of modus dicendi.

I note your anti-Zionism is a principled position, and respect it as such (though I fiercely disagree). Your characterization of the situation here, though, betrays woeful lack of both information and understanding (as much about Islam as about Judaism).

Nachum said...

I don't respect it. Whether or not Zionism is legitimate became a moot point as soon as it succeeded, i.e., in 1948. To still espouse it now- when most of the world's Jews live in Israel- is morally despicable.

Anonymous said...

I am an American, and to paraphrase Michelle, for the first time, I am ashamed of my country.

Josh, you are a naif. It is nonsensical to assume that a temporary settlement freeze can build good will. Do recall what happened after Israel withdrew ENTIRELY from Gaza? BTW, have you actually LOOKED at a map to see where Ramot Shlomo IS? This is in the MIDDLE OF JEWISH NEIGHBORHOODS! In suburban Jerusalem. These additional units would be CONTIGUOUS with already existing Jewish neighborhood!

But enough about that...

My concern, as an American, is the security of America. And selling out Israel is NOT the way to achieve that. For one thing, it involves selling our soul to the devil, figuratively speaking.

Israel is SURROUNDED by Moslem countries, and is the ONLY democratic country in the Middle East. Selling out Israel could very well mean her destruction, a second Holocaust. Sure, there are people who say that Israel will never let that happen, but how can a supposedly COMPASSIONATE people stand by, much less be a party to something that MIGHT happen?

We do it all that time--we let the massacre happen in Rwanda and did nothing but argue what does "genocide" actually mean. We stood by and did nothing during the Killing Fields of Cambodia. We TRIED to do a little when it came to the mess that Yugoslavia became, but even that was too little too late.

Also, Josh, I suggest you look up what "intransigent" means. "Refusing to agree or compromise; uncompromising; inflexible." That mostly describes the ARABS! What do you think the OSLO ACCORDS were about? Israel giving in to a huge degree. There are VERY few things on which Israel has NOT capitulated! But the ARABS? Have they given in on ANYTHING?! They STILL call for the destruction of Israel (though they tend to do it Arabic; how's YOUR Arabic, Josh?)

Israel refuses to give in on the so-called "right of return" and on Jerusalem. And that is about it. And that is pretty DAMNED reasonable, if you ask me. Jerusalem is the HOLIEST city in Judaism, it is the very SOUL of Judaism.

You know, Josh, that after 1948, Jerusalem was SUPPOSED to be "internationalized?" It never was. Jordan invaded it, destroyed Jewish sites, and the International community did NOTHING. After close to 20 years, Israel learned what "Internationalization" means to the world. And that is NOT going to happen again.

Have you EVER been to Israel? To Jerusalem? You might feel a lot different if you spent quality time there. Too bad you can't go BACK in time, to see what things were like 30 years ago...

Bethlehem is a mess now. Thanks to the Moslems. It USED to be a cute Christian village. You know, Josh, for Christians, it is a holy spot where Jesus was born. Now, most of the Christians have been run out. See what "Palestinian" rule means. It means MOSLEM rule.

Israel, for over 60 years, has bent over backward to try and dance the dance that other countries have demanded of her. But enough is enough.

Josh, read some more on the subject. Jeffrey Woolf is kinder than I am, and he is right. You are WOEFULLY uninformed and BADLY misunderstand.

Josh said...

Raising the specter of genocide ignores the sizable repository of nuclear weapons belonging to the supposed victims. Moreover, all the ethnic cleansing to this point has been done by the side which you have cast as victims. This leads me to believe that these claims of victimhood may be overplayed. When Israel renounces its huge army and nuclear weapons cache, I will start to worry. Until then, I am not losing much sleep. I am sure even the first Holocaust could have been prevented if the Jews had nukes.

In terms of settlements, I am broadly against a settlement freeze. But this is because I think that you cannot found a Palestinian state on ethnic cleansing, and because settlements are a kind of red herring obscuring the real issues at play here. Unlike our President, I do not see this as a 1967 problem, but a 1948 problem. And unlike Prof. Woolf, I see the solution in a binational framework rather than in continuing the false hopes of that dark year.

aiwac said...

Well, Josh, I will give you props for being honest about your anti-Zionism instead of hiding behind being a "critic of Israeli policies" like so many of your type.

Seeing as you don't have to actually live with the consequences of your bi-national pie in the sky while there in the USA, I won't bother to rebut your little fantasy. Nor will I deal with your rather silly dismissal of Israel's fears of nuclear war just because it possesses nukes. Most of the world during the Cold War would disagree with your sanguine attitude towards MAD. Or to put it differently: Cuban Missile Crisis.

I am however unnerved by your unequivocal assertion that 1948 was a "dark year" of ethnic cleansing by the "supposed victims". This is a decidedly ignorant and one-sided statement not worthy of one learned such as yourself.

Let's start with "supposed victims". The perception of the Palestinians as violent enemies did not spring up fully formed from imagination. The massacres of 1920, 1921 and 1929; the collaboration of the Mufti with Hitler; the declarations of "driving Jews into the sea" - these were all perfectly good reasons to fear the worst if the Palestinians won. One can debate the issue of guilt, but there were two responsible sides to this conflict. This was not like WWII and the Jews.

1948 was a war, a two-sided, ugly war in which both sides crossed lines (though, in my opinion, the Arabs crossed them first, but that's just nitpicking). There were plenty of Jewish refugees who fled from border areas too(especially in Jerusalem, the Old City, border regions etc). The difference is they were quickly rehabilitated by Israel, while the Palestinians were forced to languish.

The fact that there were more Palestinian refugees is simply testament to the Jews' better military organization, not a "plan" to "ethnically cleanse" the country. Quite the contrary, historians such as Mordechai Bar-On, Yoav Gelber and Asher Susser argue that one of the reason Ben-Gurion refused to conquer the West Bank in 1948 was because the Palestinians there WOULDN'T flee of their own volition (i.e. either he'd be saddled with a large Palestinian population or they'd have to be "ethnically cleansed").

Furthermore, I consider myself pretty versed in 1948 lore (I read both versions of Benny Morris' book, not just the interviews, for instance). Most historians I know of (that don't swallow the Palestinian narrative wholesale like Ilan Pappe) don't describe what happened in 1948 as "ethnic cleansing". Rather it was a combination of flight from fear, economic distress and instances of expulsion due to specific military circumstances (the most famous being Lydda and Ramle).

It may be more comfortable for you to view the world as a reverse mirror of the evil Israel-lovers' world-view, but life is a lot more complicated than that.

May I suggest you find a more productive way of using your energies instead of hating our guts. We don't give a damn, anyway.

Josh said...

Not sure how to respond to this last comment, given that my range of emotion towards Israel is more melancholic than hateful. I do not think what happened in 1948 was simple. Nor do I know who the "true" victims are. I am a bit upset about one victim of the carnage. Namely: Judaism. But this is only one victim among many and perhaps I am biased.

Happy Passover

Anonymous said...

If you consider this a "1948 problem" rather than a "1967 problem" then the PROBLEM lies at the feet of Egypt, Jordan and Syria (not to forget Lebanon and Iraq, who also joined in the fighting).

For those are the countries that continued to occupy the Arab parts of the Palestine Mandate. They are the countries that violated the partition plan that was part of the UN vote. They did NOTHING after the armistice to facilitate the establishment of an Arab state in the Palestine Mandate territories that they controlled; they are the ones that forced the Arab Palestinians to remain in refugee camps forever.

There are an equal number of Jewish refugees who were forced to flee Arab countries in 1948, most of whom fled to Israel. Israel settled them, and integrated them--today, they are ISRAELIS. They received no UN money (unlike the Arab Palestinians) and NO reparations money. Many of them had to leave EVERYTHING THEY OWNED BEHIND. Yet, no one in the international community weeps for them. (I'm thinking Josh certainly does not... I could be wrong, though, but I doubt it.)

In 1947, the partition of India into Moslem Pakistan and (Hindu) India was no less violent, and fraught with trouble. The number of refugees from each side was around one million. Yet we do not hear about those refugees being forced to live generation after generation in "refugee camps."

Don't blame Israel for the "1948 Problem." War is hell. And it was hell for both Arabs and Jews. The difference is, the Jews HAVEN'T been WHINING about it for sixty off years. They picked themselves up, took care of themselves--and their refugees. And concentrated on building a country.

Even in the almost TWENTY YEARS since Oslo, the PA hasn't nearly accomplished what Israel had in her first twenty years. And that is because their raison d'etre is STILL "to hate Israel and push the Jews into the sea." Oslo could've given the Palestinians the "binational framework" of which Josh is so fond. But noooooo. Instead, they used it to start the Second Intifada.

BTW, Josh, nukes don't work so well as that much of a deterrent if you have to use them in your backyard. Israelis want their kids to grow up healthy and happy and successful. Nuking the enemy into submission makes that a wee bit problematic...

Jeffrey Woolf said...

I think your remarks have demonstrated a few, important points that leave me, to say the least, sad.

1) You reach passionate conclusions based upon what can only be charitably seen as a deep and abiding ignorance of Jewish History and the History of Israel. If you are representative of the younger generation of Jewish leaders in the United States, then we are in for an even more difficult time than I'd surmised.

2) Your Us/Them stance is, fundamentally, flawed. As Aiwac noted, you have much in common with Satmar, except that Satmar, at least, asserts that it's a mitzvah to live in Eretz Yisrael. Actually, your position much reminds me of the nineteenth and early twentieth century Hirschians, Deutsche Burghers Mosaische Orthodoxische glaubens.
As a fourth generation Bostonian, I have a deep and abiding love for the United States. However, America is still Golus, as comfortable as it might be. (Indeed, the comfort of America might emerge to be more insidious for Jewish survival than the persecutions of Europe).

3) I'm not sure if I should respond to your cheap shot about Judaism being the victim of Zionism. I am the first to admit that the attempts to live according to the Torah in a sovereign state, after two millenia of exile, and the traumas of modernity, have led to many errors of extremism and outright Hillul HaShem. However, an equal number of faults accrue to those who 'sophisticatedly' enslave the Torah to passing trends, rather than critically engaging them.

I sense we embaress you. So be it. Both Rambam and Ramban maintained, in different ways, that Judaism and the Jewish People, reach their plenitude here in Israel. Those in Galut are a pale reflection of our reality.

Put differently, Hazal asked why one of the treyfene birds is called a ראה. It is, they reply, because the ראה sits in Babylonia ורואה טריפות בארץ ישראל.

והמבין יבין

Jeffrey Woolf said...

Your comment that Zionism and the miracke of Jewish sovereignty in its ancestral homeland is a 'cancer' on the body politic of Judaism, deserves no reply.

I truly feel sorry for you.

Brian Meeks said...

This is the most incredible blog I have found. I have learned more about the issues relating to Israel in this one post (comments included) than I have in 43 years of following broadcast news in the U.S.

The level of discourse between the people who have left comments is unlike anything that happens here in the U.S., on a blog.

I can only say that I have always been confused by what I perceive as fierce loyalty by the Jewish community, to the Democrats. It has always seemed to me that the the left (Jewish community excluded) are on not on Israel's side, but that is where the votes go.

Again, I am not a scholar on either politics or the conflict, but that is just how it seems to an uneducated eye. I would just like to say that I do agree with the posters conclusions. But then again, what do I know?

I wish everyone of you well, hope for your safety and continued brilliance in your debate.


Jeffrey Woolf said...

Thank you for your kind words,