Thursday, May 29, 2008

He's Not Doing Us Any Favors

It should be painfully obvious to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel that his attempt to shift the country's attention from his legal woes to talks with the Syrians has been, while not a complete failure, certainly an abject one. A dishonest man negotiating on behalf of a democratic country with a dishonest, dictatorial regime is not a recipe for peace, but disaster - at least, for the democracy. It is the height of selfishness to drag a country into negotiations with a country that sponsors terrorist activities against you, just because the media's been scrutinizing the legality of your associations and donors as a politician.

I'm not on principle opposed to an eventual peace accord between Jerusalem and Damascus; I simply, reasonably, commonsensically question the ability of Israel to gain an honest peace with Syria, by which I mean a peace under which the Syrians actually end their official support for Hizballah and Hamas, instead of just agreeing to do so without carrying out the terms of the agreement.

And since it is still the case that any non-diplomat attempting to enter Syria is
immediately deported if any evidence is found, on his or her person, that he or she has visited Israel, I won't believe the Syrians are earnestly pursuing peace between their Arab Republic and the Jewish state until such discriminatory policies are abandoned...which, given the close relationship between Iran and Syria, and Hizballah and Syria, and Hizballah and Iran, isn't likely to happen any time soon. Does Israel deserve peace from Syria? Absolutely. But does Syria deserve peace with Israel?

This isn't mere Diasporic bluster or frustration on my part; I feel somewhat responsible for current events. As both my conscience and my good friend Avram have frequently reminded me, it was in Israel's March 2006 elections, at my polling place in Jerusalem, that I voted for Kadima and Olmert. What the hell was I doing? Why, making a mistake, of course. (If only most Palestinians, who had voted for Hamas in their January 2006 elections, felt the same sense of democratic responsibility that I do.)

There was a word I associated with that party - change - that if left unspoken, seemed in any case in the air. After all, Kadima - formed around Ariel Sharon - had aimed to end the decades-old monopoly on power the Labor and Likud parties had more or less shared, and wished to revolutionize (in its own way) relations with the Palestinian Arabs. Change seemed about as possible then with Kadima as many deluded Americans feel it is today with Obama.

Well, I was wrong then...and they are wrong now. You hear that?

Allow me to "yell" it for you:
I was wrong then, and they are wrong now!

The only significant changes were the changing of the guard in Zion from one set of corrupt politicians to another, and a loss of confidence following a disastrous attempt to punish Hizballah and Lebanon over the former's terrorist activities, in a war Hizballah started but which Israel...which Israel did not win. Now, when the pressure is really on, Ehud Olmert - an archetypal, rather than atypical, Israeli politico - is stubbornly clinging to power amidst a crumbled mandate while negotiating with state-sponsors of terrorism.

Ehud Olmert's immediate and future actions will demonstrate whether he cares more about himself or the country. He has the option of humility, resigning in face of the fact that, if nothing else, he is immensely unpopular - to say nothing of the legal accusations against him. Or he could resign, for the benefit of his own party, since
even Labor chairman and Defense Minister Ehud Barak has stated he would prefer to keep the ruling coalition in the Knesset intact, rather than go to early elections he suspects are on the way.

Or, Prime Minister Olmert, who is as infatuated now with the power and prestige of political office as he was when he served as Jerusalem mayor, could continue his assault on the safety and sensibilities of Israelis until the bitter end - to their, and his own, detriment.

No, this isn't just Diasporic bluster...but even if it were, something very few Israelis in Israel - or their politicians - seem to take into account must still be remembered. As the self-proclaimed, sovereign, militarily-adept national home of the Jewish people, domestic and international political matters affecting the State of Israel tend to reflect negatively or positively (depending on the situation) on Jews around the world, and affect them the same way...whether they are Israeli or not, whether they associate themselves with Israel or not, and whether they like it or not.

This is Ehud Olmert's - and our own - reality, even if he denies it. It is not just for the benefit of Israelis that he must resign and own up to whatever deeds, legal or illegal, he has done. In addition to their political responsibilities at home, Israeli prime ministers have the added burden - acknowledged or not - of moral responsibility toward a millions-strong Jewish Diaspora that, after thousands of years of disenfranchisement, pogroms, discrimination and genocide, looks to modern Israel with a mixture of hope and fear, for themselves and for the future.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert isn't just harming the State of Israel with his selfishness and duplicity; he's injuring the People of Israel as well. This might not bother
him at all...but it bothers me, a Jewish American and an Israeli, a great deal. It is one thing when an ordinary citizen feels a sense of responsibility toward his people, and something completely different when a person entrusted by his people with a position of power and influence doesn't.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Thoughts About Israel's 60th Birthday

What does Jewish independence mean to me?


When one considers that what we're talking about now is the 60th year of modern Jewish sovereignty, over a portion of the Land of Israel, after nearly 2,000 year
s of Jews being denied not only the right to sovereignty, but the right to live, well...such is a question weighted with historical and spiritual importance.

Not only that...we m
ust remember that I am approaching the question not from some abstract perspective, but from the perspective of one who by his own choice became Israeli, who not only lived in the Land which God promised to the patriarch Abraham, but then later, of his own volition left it and our eternal capital...left it physically, if not completely mentally, and never spiritually.

Let us not forget - let's not forget - that how a man feels about the State of Israel, and what its existence means to him 60 years after the reestablishment of Jewish independence in the Land of Israel, is a very personal thing. His thoughts on the matter cannot and should not - in this or any other case - be separated from his close, personal experience with the subject in question.

That of necessity being said, speculation abounds these days over what Israel's greatest accomplishment in its 60 years has been.

To me, that's a no-brainer: Israel's birth, and survival - and flourishin
g - against incredible odds, is the State of Israel's greatest accomplishment in my view.

We're talking, remember, about a country which was invaded by the armies of five
Arab states on the day of its birth in May 1948; a country which faced imminent and utter destruction in June 1967 yet turned the tables on its scheming enemies with a surprise attack decimating the air forces of its greatest enemy; a country which - with the help of arms from the United States - held off the armies of Egypt and Syria following a cowardly surprise attack on Yom Kippur, 1973.

There is no other country on Earth possessing as sound a claim to existence and perpetuation as the State of Israel so possesses; no other nation, anywhere, has as solid a Biblical, historical, archaeological, and moral right to exist as does the State of Israel.

I'm speaking, mind you, as an unabashedly patriotic American.

Governments which raised their fingers not an inch or centimeter to assist the Jews being persecuted and murdered by the Nazis - or governments whose forebears collaborated with
Nazi Berlin - haven't any right to criticize or condemn any but the most extreme, disproportionate method of self-defense the modern Jewish commonwealth employs...and even then, I'm not inclined to give such critics - and their sympathy for a genocidal Palestinian cause - the benefit of the doubt. Especially when Israel's existence, and the lives of Israelis, are threatened.


I find it particularly poignant that this year, Israel's 60th birthday falls accord
ing to the Hebrew calendar on May 7 (evening) & 8 (day), 2008.

May 8th, as you may or may not be aware, is V-E Day - Victory in Europe Day. In 2008, this marks the 63rd anniversary of the day Nazi Germany surrendered to the Allies and brought an official end to the Second World War's ravages of Europe. Fighting, of course, would go on for several months more in the Pacific theater against the Japanese, and not so long after the victory would former allies of convenience - the USA and the USSR - square off against one another, with the fate of a Free Europe hanging in the balance.

When came V-E Day in 1945, the United States and their allies in "the United Nations" were still processing the horrors they'd witnessed in the multiple concentration
camps they'd come across as they pushed across Germany and former Nazi-occupied territories. Three years and seven days later, the State of Israel was born as a legacy both of the Holocaust and the world's indifference to the plight of European Jewry.

Meant to be both a national home and a haven for a long-displaced faith-nation, Israel was born in a baptism of fire: Five Arab armies pushed across the nascent frontiers of the newly reconstituted Jewish commonwealth the day of its Declaration of Independence, their goal - in their own words, which you can look up for yours
elf - being to finish what the Nazis had started. They failed then, and have been failing ever since in their efforts to destroy the State of Israel...and my feelings about Jewish independence cannot fail to be influenced by such facts of history.

How do I feel about Jewish independence, in the Land of Israel, 60 years after its reestablishment?

I'm proud.


Am I proud of Israel merely due to the Jewish state's military accomplishments? Hardly. It is Israel's tenacity, it's pluck, demonstrated by the Jewish state's
flourishing as a country in spite of the many existential threats faced by it, that makes me proud. It is Israel's democracy - as imperfect as any other system of government determined by competitive elections - that makes me proud of the State of Israel, as a Jew and an American by birth, and as an Israeli by choice (thank you, Law of Return).

If the Jews could do what they have done in Israel, after 2,000 years lacking the experience of sovereignty and faced with the threats they face, surely any disadvantaged people or faith-nation could do the same. There is much to be fixed, much to dislike, much to criticize about the State of Israel - but to do so, and act as if other countries are perfect or more virtuous in comparison, is disingenuous.

Israel at 60 isn't so much a miracle, as it is a fulfillment of a divine promise and the perpetual realization of a human dream. After all, what is so miraculous about God saying something will happen and then, happens? Seems pretty cut and dry normal to me. Israel would be a miracle if God had said the people Israel wouldn't return to their Land, and then did anyway. So, too, it goes with human work and sacrifice which has gone into making Israel the success story it is.

Why is the Israeli - the Jewish - ability to outwit and outlast our enemies thought of as strange? Because so many other peoples, faith-nations and whatnot, haven't had the success we have? I mean, think about it - ancient Egypt, Babylon, Haman in Persia, the Greeks, the Roman Empire, the Arab League, the Islamic Republic of Iran...they've all tried, and all failed - though at times, they've come close - to wiping us, our culture and traditions, off the map and mind of human history.


The only miracle with regards to the people of Israel in this day in age might be this: That the State of Israel has held together in spite of all the differences between the Jewish population, in spite of all the life-and-death issues affecting the country which would long ago have caused other countries to be torn apart in civil war.

Maybe it's a miracle, or maybe its the anti-Semitism of Arab state neighbors, the bombs and rockets of terrorists that don't discriminate between ultra-Orthodox and secular Jew, and a shared religious, moral, geographical, cultural and historical heritage rising above petty, arbitrary differences between imperfect human beings. I don't know; it's probably a combination of all those things, with a little help from Divine Providence mixed in.

Whatever the reasons, I feel there is much to be proud of - as a Jew, an American, and as an Israeli - about 60 years of Jewish independence. There's something for everyone to be proud of, really, about Israel, whether you are Jewish or not.

And everyone - Jew and Gentile alike - should be able to take comfort in the fact that at its most basic, the State of Israel is evidence that God hasn't forgotten about us. Modern Israel stands today as proof that when God makes a promise to us, He keeps it.

I don't know about you, but I take comfort in that.