Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Michael Oren Exhorts American Jewry to Stand with Israel in these Ominous, Trying Times: YK Sermon at D.C. Shuls

Ambassador Michael Oren posits that there are no easy choices here for Israel. Israelis live and die by their leaders' decisions. With history as a guide, he points to the damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don't scenarios Israel faces. He also reminds us that Israel remains a robust democracy against daunting odds. And he beseeches us to respect the decisions the Israeli people make through their elected leaders and to respect the grave risks that they take in the name of peace. At the very least, they deserve our support, respect and gratitude.

On Yom Kippur we read the Book of Jonah, one of the Bible's most enigmatic texts. It is also one of the Bible's shortest texts, weighing in at a page and a half, which is quite an accomplishment for this holiday. And it features one of our scripture's least distinguished individuals. Jonah--a man whose name, in Hebrew, means dove--not dov, as in Hebrew for bear, but dove as, in English, pigeon.

Yet this same everyman, this Jonah, is tasked by God with a most daunting mission. He is charged with going to the great city of Nineveh and persuading its pernicious people to repent for their sins or else.

Not such an unusual task, you might think. Twenty-first century life is rife with people who warn of the catastrophes awaiting us if we fail to modify our behavior one way or the other. Today we call them pundits, commentators who, if proven correct, claim all the credit but who, if proven wrong, bear none of the responsibility.

Jonah, though, cannot escape the responsibility. Nor can he dodge his divinely ordained dilemma. If he succeeds in convincing the Ninevehians to atone and no harm befalls them, many will soon question whether that penitence was ever really necessary. Jonah will be labeled an alarmist. But, what if the people of Nineveh ignore the warning and the city meets the same fiery fate as Sodom and Gomorrah? Then Jonah, as a prophet, has failed.

Such is the paradox of prophecy for Jonah, a lose-lose situation. No wonder he runs away. He flees to the sea, only to be swallowed by a gigantic fish, and then to the desert, cowering under a gourd. But, in the end, the fish coughs him up and the gourd withers. The moral is: there is no avoiding Jonah's paradox. Once elected by God, whatever the risks, he must act.

As such, the Book of Jonah can be read as more than morality play, but also a cautionary tale about the hazards of decision-making. It is a type of political primer, if you will, what the medieval thinkers called a Mirror for Princes. The Talmud teaches us that, in the post-Biblical era, the gift of prophecy is reserved for children and fools. In modern times, we don't have prophets--pundits, yes, but no prophets. Instead we have statesmen who, like Jonah, often have to make fateful decisions for which they will bear personal responsibility. If not a paradox of prophecy, these leaders face what we might call the quandary of statecraft.

Take, for example, the case of Winston Churchill. During the 1930s, he warned the world of the dangers of the rapidly rearming German Reich. The British people ignored Churchill- worse they scorned him, only to learn later that he was all along prescient and wise. But what if Churchill had become Britain's Prime Minister five years earlier and had ordered a pre-emptive strike against Germany? Those same people might have concluded that the Nazis never posed a real threat and that their prime minister was merely a warmonger.

Or consider Harry Truman who, shortly after assuming the presidency in the spring of 1945, had to decide whether to drop America's terrible secret weapon on Imperial Japan. Today, many people, including some Americans, regard the dropping of the atomic bomb on two Japanese cities as an act of unrivaled brutality, but what if Truman had decided otherwise? What if the United States had invaded the Japanese mainland and lost, as the US Army estimated at the time, more than a million GIs? Truman, the decision-maker, was either the butcher of Japanese civilians or butcher of young Americans. Either way he lost.

The quandary of statecraft: every national leader knows it and few better than Israeli leaders. They, too, have had to make monumental--even existential--decisions.

On May 14th, 1948, Zionist leader David Ben-Gurion had to determine whether to realize the two-thousand year-long dream of Jewish sovereignty in the land of Israel. But, by doing so, he risked an onslaught by overwhelming Arab forces against a Jewish population half the size of Washington, DC today armed mainly with handguns.

Another example: my personal hero, Levi Eshkol. On June 5th, 1967, Eshkol had to decide whether to unleash Israel Defense Forces against the Arab armies surrounding the Jewish State and clamoring for its destruction or whether to alienate the international community and especially the United States and be branded an aggressor.

Ben-Gurion's decision resulted in the creation of the State of Israel and Eshkol's in the immortal image of Israeli paratroopers dancing before the Kotel. Nothing is inevitable in history and in both cases the outcome might have been tragically different. Like Churchill and Truman, Ben-Gurion and Eshkol confronted the quandary of statecraft.

They also have to answer to their citizens. Unlike the prophetic leaders of antiquity, presidents and prime ministers are not selected by God but rather elected by the majority of their peoples through a democratic process. In America, the system was modeled on the Roman Republic in which citizens empowered senators to represent them in the distant capital. In tiny Israel, with its multi-party consensual style of democracy, the model is not Rome but rather ancient Athens. The American president, it has been said, represents 300 million constituents; Israeli prime ministers represent 7 million prime ministers.

Israeli democracy is rambunctious and intensely personal, placing the premium on individual participation. In our family, I can attest, my wife and I have never voted for the same party. Our son also went his own way politically. Together with his friends, he started a political party in our living room that now holds two seats on the Jerusalem municipality.

At 62 years old, Israel's democracy is older than more than half of the democratic governments in the world, which, in turn, account for less than half of the world's existing nations. Israel is one of the handful of democracies that has never succumbed to periods of undemocratic rule. And Israel has achieved this extraordinary record in spite of the fact that it is the only democracy never to know a nanosecond of peace and which has endured pressures that would have crushed most other democracies long ago. In a region inhospitable--even fatal--to government by and of the people, Israel's democracy thrives.

Democracy in Israel is not only personal and vibrant, but also grave, because the stakes are so enormously high. Recalling Jonah's paradox, the leaders we elect are confronted with grueling decisions.

Consider the case of terror. Israel today is threatened with two major terror organizations: Hamas in Gaza and, in Lebanon, Hizbollah. Both are backed by Iran and both call openly for Israel's destruction. And, over the past five years, both have acted on that call by firing nearly 15,000 rockets at Israeli towns and villages.

Next imagine that you're the prime minister of Israel. You know that in order to keep those thousands of rockets out of Hamas's hands you need to blockade Gaza from the sea. The policy is risky--people may get hurt, especially if they're armed extremists--and liable to make you very unpopular in the world. But you have to choose between being popular and watching idly while a million Israelis come under rocket fire. You have to choose between popular and being alive.

In Lebanon, Hezbollah has nearly quadrupled the rockets in its arsenal. They're bigger, more accurate rockets, with a range that can reach every Israeli city, even Eilat. Worse: Hizbollah has positioned those rockets under homes, hospitals, and schools, confident that if Israelis try to defend themselves from those missiles, they will be branded war criminals.

Imagine, again, that you're Israel's prime minister. Do you wait until Hizbollah finds a pretext to fire those rockets or do you act preemptively? Do you risk having the much of the country being reduced to rubble or having that same country reduced to international pariah status?

The terror threat is a very poignant example of the quandary of statecraft in Israel, but an even thornier case is posed by the peace process.

Yes, the peace process, with its vision of two peoples living in adjacent states in a relationship of permanent and legitimate peace. What could be so hazardous about that?

Well, let's return to that Kafkaesque scenario in which you wake up one morning and find yourself transformed into Israel's prime minister.

You know that to create that neighboring state that you're going to have to give up some land, but not just any land, but land regarded as sacred by the majority of the Jewish people for more than three thousand years. You know that a great many of your countrymen have made their homes in these areas and that numerous Israelis have given their lives in their defense. You know that Israel has in the past withdrawn from territories in an effort to generate peace but that it received no peace but rather war. And, lastly, you know that many Arabs view the two-state solution as a two stage solution in which the ultimate stage is Israel's dissolution.

What, then, Mr. or Ms. Prime Minister, do you do?

You could opt for maintaining the status quo, with the risk of deepening Israel's international isolation or you could specify a vision of peace that significantly reduces its perils. You could, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has done, insist that the future Palestinian State be effectively demilitarized, without an army that could bombard Israeli cities or an air force that could shoot down planes landing at Ben-Gurion Airport. You could insist that the Palestinian State reciprocally recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, and so put an end to all future claims and conflicts.

Even then, of course, Israel will be running incalculable risks, for what if the Palestinian state implodes and becomes another Gaza or Lebanon? What do you do if, a week after the peace treaty is signed, a rocket falls on Tel Aviv?

More than Gaza, more than peace, the ultimate quandary of statecraft centers on Iran.

This is the radical, genocidal Iran whose leaders regularly call for Israel's annihilation and provides terrorists with the means for accomplishing that goal. This is the Iran that undermines governments throughout the Middle East and even South America, and an Iran that shoots its own people protesting for freedom.

Iran does all this without nuclear weapons--imagine what it would do with the nuclear arms it is assiduously developing. And imagine what you, awakening once again as the Israeli Prime Minister, will decide. Do you remain passive while Iran provides nuclear weaponry to terrorist groups, targets Tel Aviv with nuclear-tipped missiles, and triggers a nuclear arms race throughout the region? Or do you act, as Israel has now, joining with the United States and other like-minded nations in imposing sanctions on Iran, hoping to dissuade its rulers from nuclearizing? And, if that fails, do you keep all options on the table, with the potentially far-reaching risks those options entail?

The issues of terror, the peace process, and Iran evoke strong emotions in this country and around the world, and often spark criticism of Israeli policies. Yet it's crucial to recall that those policies are determined by the leaders elected through one of the world's most robust and resilient democracies. Recall that the people of Israel--not of Europe, not of the United States--bear the fullest consequences for their leaders' decisions.

There is no escaping the responsibility--as Jonah learned thousands of years ago--and that responsibility is borne by our leaders and by the majority of the people they represent. Israel today faces decisions every bit as daunting as those confronting Jonah, but we will not run away. There is no gourd to hide under or fish to swallow us whole. Terror, the peace process, Iran--our Ninevehs--await.

Support us as we grapple with these towering challenges. Back us in our efforts to defend ourselves from terrorist rockets. Uphold us if we have to make painful sacrifices for peace or if we decide that the terms of the proposed treaty fail to justify those sacrifices. Stand with us as we resist Iran's efforts to acquire nuclear weapons. Respect the decisions we take through our democratic system and respect the risks that we, more than any other nation, take.

The message of the Book of Jonah is one of personal and collective atonement, but it is also a message of unity and faith. "In my trouble I called to the Lord," proclaims Jonah, "VaYa'aneini" - "and He answered me."

Let us--Israelis and the American Jews--united by our faith, our peoplehood, and our common love for democracy. Let us assume responsibility for our decisions, crushingly difficult though they may often be, and appreciative of the quandaries our leaders face. When we call out, let us answer one another with the assurance that no challenge--no paradoxes, no Ninevehs--can defeat us.

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Saturday, September 11, 2010

BDS and the Pacific Northwest: The Seattle Community “Anti-Delegitimization” Task Force

The trends are not encouraging.
This week's Time Magazine Cover Story is titled Why Israel Doesn't Care About Peace.
Nevermind that the Israeli Prime Minister met last week at the White House with a most reluctant Palestinian "peace partner," Mahmoud Abbas. According to Time, Israelis are otherwise engaged, soaking up the last rays of summer and busy making money. The BDS movement is alive and well, having successfully staged the first food co-op boycott of Israel-made products, right here in Washington State. Not to be outdone, California "activists" are ready to jump on the bandwagon.
California Activists Launch Ballot initiative to divest from Israel
Californians committed to peace and justice for Palestine-Israel will launch the statewide campaign of California ballot Initiative 10-0020 with a signing ceremony in front of the Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles on Wednesday, September 8, 2010. Although California has adopted policies requiring divestment from Sudan, Iran and other nations, this is the first ballot measure in the nation aimed at changing Israeli policies through divestment by State agencies. It directs California’s large public employee and teacher pension funds to be consistent with their responsible investing policies and to divest from companies that violate the human rights of Palestinians...

The handwriting on the wall is clear. This is the time to stand up and denounce these insidious tactics, whose purpose is the delegitmizing of the Jewish State.

The Seattle Community “Anti-Delegitimization” Task Force

ADL Pacific NW Region - Hilary Bernstein
AJC Seattle – Wendy Rosen
Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle – Rachel Schachter
Hillel UW – Jeremy Brochin
StandWithUs Northwest – Rob Jacobs
Community Leaders: Rabbi Yohanna Kinberg, Adam Goldblatt, Sandy Berger, David Brumer, Carolyn Hathaway, Nevet Basker

Today, we in the Jewish community are faced with a serious threat. It’s important enough to bring up while we’re in the Yamim Noraim, the days of awe.Here in the Pacific Northwest, regardless of how we may feel about Israel’s policies, we are facing a real and concerted effort to delegitimize Israel, to convince Americans that we’d be better off if there were no Jewish state, no Jewish homeland. It’s an internationally organized effort to get you and other individuals, companies, universities and other organizations, to boycott all Israeli products, to divest from companies doing business with Israel and to push for sanctions against Israel.It’s called the “BDS movement.” “BDS” stands for the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions.Although we are all hopeful that the current Israeli-Palestinian peace talks will end in a lasting peace agreement, we recognize that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one between two peoples with indigenous ties to the land and that both sides will have to make painful sacrifices to ensure that a two-state solution, the only viable result, is implemented. The BDS movement is premised on the assumption that Israel is always in the wrong, no matter what it does.
Supporters claim that a boycott is a non-violent way to bring peace to the Middle East. While this sounds reasonable, it’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing.Why? Because these boycott initiatives ignore context and history, are counter-productive to the current peace talks, and would effectively end Israel as a Jewish state. Nearly all of their efforts insist that Israel accept a complete right of return for all Palestinians. They require that Israel allow 4.8 million Palestinians to take possession of the homes and land that their grandparents either fled or were forced to leave during a war initiated by the five Arab states against the day-old state of Israel.Instead, they say a boycott is necessary because Israel is a genocidal, apartheid state intent on continuing a 60-year policy of ethnic cleansing. The BDS speakers, along with the handouts at the co-ops and on college campuses, claim that Israel regularly commits atrocities.
Wherever the supporters of the BDS movement push for boycotts, they vilify Israel. The local newspapers report their allegations. And there is often little or no public outcry or visible response from the local Jewish community.And the BDS movement has been gathering momentum both locally and around the world. Two years ago we faced Initiative 97, an effort to have the City of Seattle divest from companies doing business with Israel. This year we saw an effort to have the Madison Market boycott all Israeli products. This year, nearly 78 percent of Evergreen State College students voted to divest from companies doing business with Israel. Less than two months ago, the Olympia Food Co-op did boycott all Israeli products. Now numerous other co-ops are considering boycott proposals.If false allegations are made often enough, they become someone’s truth. Now even Time Magazine’s cover continues the delegimization of Israel with “Why Israel Doesn’t Care About Peace” inside a Star of David. We’re in changing times and we cannot remain silent. Criticizing Israel is not wrong. As Jews, we care deeply about the suffering on both sides of the conflict. But vilifying Israel and making it into a pariah state is wrong and we cannot keep silent any longer. We read on Rosh Hashanah, “tein kavod le-amekha,” restore dignity to Your people. It will take more than head shaking and silent response to do that in the face of these lies. Our silence in the face of falsehoods appears to validate these libels. We need to speak out. Now. This is an assault on each and every one of us. For if Israel is deemed illegitimate then, by extension, so too is supporting it.

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Thursday, September 2, 2010

Yossi Klein Halevi: How To Solve the Mosque Controversy: An Open Letter to My Friend, Imam Feisal Rauf

Most eloquent, measured, balanced perspective on the Mosque Controversy. How the project may yet be transformed into something truly inclusive, inspirational, and transcendent.

If You Build It...
YK Halevi
Dear Imam Feisal,

Ramadan Kareem. I pray that you are bearing up under the strain of recent months. I write as a well-wisher and friend. Though we met only briefly, our encounter turned out to be at a fateful moment, and, for me at least, was of lasting significance. We met, you will recall, on September 5, 2001, at a symposium on a book I was about to publish recounting my journey into Islam and Christianity in the Holy Land. (The book was actually released six days later, on September 11.) You appeared on the panel offering a Muslim response to my journey. I was deeply moved by your presence—it wasn’t easy finding a Muslim cleric willing to appear publicly with an Israeli—and by the warm words you had for the book itself, which was written from a position of deep Jewish attachment to the land of Israel. I felt grateful for the courage you showed then, supporting my call for the Muslim world to come to terms with the Jewish return home. And I recall you beaming with gratitude when I spoke of my experience in joining the Muslim prayer line and the reverence—the love—I felt for its choreography of surrender to God.

In recent weeks, in discussions with friends in the American Jewish community about your initiative to build a mosque and Muslim community center near Ground Zero, I’ve found myself repeatedly defending your integrity as an interfaith partner. If you are not a worthy dialogue partner for the Jewish community, then there is almost no one in Islam with whom we can speak.

When our mutual friend and veteran of Muslim-Jewish dialogue, Yehezkel Landau, spoke on your behalf at the Community Board public hearing recently held over your proposed project, I felt it was a gesture of what Jews call kiddush Hashem, sanctifying God’s name. Yehezkel told the hostile audience that, as a former Israeli soldier whose son is now serving in the Israeli army, he affirms that you are “a spiritual ally, not an enemy.” Though other speakers on your behalf were heckled, Yehezkel was greeted with respectful silence.

That small moment of grace revealed how Muslims and Jews can help each other. As Judea Pearl—father of Daniel Pearl, The Wall Street Journal reporter beheaded by jihadists—has put it, Muslims can provide legitimacy for the Jewish people in the East and Jews can provide legitimacy for Islam in the West. I know that same sentiment inspires your longtime outreach to the American Jewish community. You told me that the model for Islamic modernization you sought was exemplified by modern Orthodox Judaism. That you would find inspiration in one aspect of the Jewish response to modernity says much about your openness toward Judaism and friendship toward the Jewish people.

I don’t deny being troubled by some of your statements on the Middle East. You have publicly called yourself a supporter of Israel—and how many Muslim clerics have dared speak those words?—yet you’ve also endorsed a “one-state solution,” code for the destruction of the Jewish state. You have rejected the subterfuge of some Muslim clerics who condemn terror against “innocent civilians” but exclude Israelis, yet you’ve refused to condemn Hamas.

Sometimes it seems that you want to be all things to all people—a liberal to non-Muslim Americans, upholder of Muslim grievances to traditionalists—and that you simply deny the resulting dissonance, as if every contradiction can be healed by your goodwill. Some of your statements about America and the Muslim world—partly blaming U.S. foreign policy for September 11, or saying that America has killed more Muslims than Al Qaeda has killed innocent non-Muslims, as if the terrorists and their targets were morally equivalent—pander to the most simplistic sentiments within your community. But where some see hypocrisy, or even a hidden agenda, I prefer to see the struggles of a good man who wants to help his community enter the American mainstream, while reassuring the faithful of his loyalty.

I believe that you intend to create a center of Islamic moderation near Ground Zero. And it is precisely for that reason that I am turning to you with a plea to reconsider your plans to build the center in its current form. Instead, I urge you to consider turning the site into a center for interfaith encounter. Build the mosque—but do so together with a church and a synagogue and a center for common reflection for all three faiths and for those with no faith. Do this, Imam Feisal, not to surrender to your critics but to honor their pain, and, in the process, to honor Islam.

My own point of reference in this controversy is the Auschwitz convent. You will recall that, in the mid-1980s, a group of Carmelite nuns established a convent on the grounds of Auschwitz. For Jews around the world, the convent was perceived as an attempt to “Christianize” the Holocaust, to deny the Jewishness of the overwhelming majority of the victims of Auschwitz.

In 1989, I went to Poland and discovered to my shock that the Jewish critics were wrong. The convent was founded in Auschwitz I, a slave-labor camp and administrative center for Auschwitz II, or Birkenau, the death camp whose purpose was the destruction of the Jewish people. The distinction was crucial for Poles: Thousands of Polish Catholics died in Auschwitz I, and the nuns were there to pray for their souls and counter the evil that had been done on Polish soil. There was, in other words, no intention to Christianize the Holocaust. Yet Pope John Paul II seemed to realize that, even if Jews had misunderstood the nuns’ intentions, their sensitivities toward that ground deserved respect. And so the Polish pope ordered a convent of Polish nuns out of Auschwitz—in the process sending an extraordinary message of spiritual generosity.

I am urging you to rise to your moment of spiritual greatness. You have dedicated your life to helping Islam enter the American mainstream. In its current form, though, your project will have the opposite effect. The way to ease Islam into the American mainstream is in the company of its fellow Abrahamic faiths. The great obstacle to Islam’s reconciliation with the West is the adherence of even mainstream Muslims to a kind of medieval notion of interfaith relations. Muslim spokesmen often note how, during the Middle Ages, Islam provided protection for Christianity and Judaism. But that model—tolerance under Islamic rule—is inadequate for our time. The new interfaith theology affirms the spiritual legitimacy of all three Abrahamic faiths. Whether or not we accept one another’s faiths as theologically true, we can affirm them as devotionally true, that is, as worthy vessels for a God-centered life.

What will define a genuinely American Islam will be its ability to embrace this modern notion of interfaith relations. A 15-story Islamic center near Ground Zero will undermine that process. In the Muslim world, as you well know, architecture often buttresses triumphalist theology. Throughout the Holy Land, minarets deliberately tower over churches. However inadvertently, your current plan would be understood by large parts of the Muslim world as a victory over the West. Merely adding an interfaith component to the proposed Islamic center would not counter that distorted impression. Instead, it would likely reinforce the medieval theology of extending “protection” to Christianity and Judaism under the auspices of Islam. But an interfaith center in which the three Abrahamic faiths are given equal status would send the message that I believe you intend to convey.

There is no more appropriate place to assert the emergence of an American Islam than Ground Zero. And no American Muslim leader is better positioned to birth that process, dear Imam Feisal, than you.

With respect and blessings,

Yossi Klein Halevi

Yossi Klein Halevi is a contributing editor to The New Republic and a fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. He is the author of At the Entrance to the Garden of Eden: A Jew's Search for God with Christians and Muslims in the Holy Land.

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Source URL: http://www.tnr.com/article/politics/magazine/77384/letter-to-imam-rauf-my-friend-if-you-build-it

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