Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day 2011

Had I spent a very long time trying to compose a post to honor our fallen soldiers, I could not have done better than this post by Rick Richman at Jewish Current Issues.

Guide to Boycotting Israel

Of course, boycotts aimed at Jews are not new, as the photo above demonstrates. Regarding the current boycott and divestment campaign against Israel, I have seen a number of e-mails, web posts and other new media offerings with a similar theme, but I found this one, entitled "Before You Boycott Israel," particularly amusing.

Monday, May 23, 2011

President Obama Statement Once Again Makes MidEast Negotiations Less Likely

President Barack Obama has once again scored on his own goal. (For non-sports fans, that's a bad thing.) Intending to advance the resumption of meaningful Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, he has inadvertently made it more unlikely that the Palestinians will engage in serious peace talks with Israel.

On June 4, 2009, President Barack Obama made his famous Cairo speech, his first effort at advancing U.S. relations with the Islamic and Arab world. In the course of that speech, although it included several true and positive statements about Israel, he said the following fateful words:

"At the same time, Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel's right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine's. The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop." [Emphasis added.]

In fairness to President Obama, the illegitimacy of Israeli settlements in Yehuda and Shomron ["the West Bank"] is a long-held (and in my view wrongly held) American diplomatic position. However, the cessation of Israeli settlement activity had never before been viewed as a prerequisite to the resumption of final status negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. From the moment that President Obama uttered the words, "It is time for these settlements to stop," the Palestinian Authority adopted the position that the cessation of all Israeli settlement activity was a precondition for Palestinian Authority participation in peace negotiations with Israel. And that cessation included, in the Palestinian view, construction within Jerusalem and even construction within the boundaries of existiing settlements. The result--there have been no meaningful Israeli-Arab peace negotiations since June 4, 2009.

Now President Obama has not only repeated the same mistake, he has aggravated it. On May 19, 2011, at the State Department, President Obama outlined his Administration's comprehensive Middle East policy. When he reached the subject of Israeli-Arab peace negotiations, he said many positive things, including a reaffirmation of U.S. friendship with Israel and the U.S. commitment to Israeli security. He even said the following about a transitional period following the creation of a Palestinian state:

"The full and phased withdrawal of Israeli military forces should be coordinated with the assumption of Palestinian security responsibility in a sovereign, non-militarized state. The duration of this transition period must be agreed, and the effectiveness of security arrangements must be demonstrated." [Emphasis added.]

But before that in his speech he uttered the following fateful words:

"The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognised borders are established for both states."

Again, I would argue, that statement reflects long-standing American policy, and does not require a pullback to the June 4, 1967 borders of Israel. At least that is how the statement should have been parsed and publicized by the Israeli government. Instead--and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu certainly shares some blame for this outcome due to his clumsy reaction, along with Republican pundits and politicians who wanted to portray President Obama as a betrayor of Israel and American media that wanted to promote the appearance of a U.S.-Israel split for its newsworthiness--his statement was widely interpreted as requiring Israel to accept the June 4, 1067 borders.

Of course, given that opening, the Palestinian Authority pounced. JTA reports:

"Palestinian officials said they would not resume peace negotiations unless Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accepts President Obama's 1967 border guidelines.

"'If Netanyahu agrees, we shall turn over a new leaf,' Saeb Erekat, the Palestinians' chief negotiator in peace talks, was quoted as saying Sunday in Ynet. 'If he doesn't, then there is no point talking about a peace process. We're saying it loud and clear.'

"Erekat, a member of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah party central committee, repeated similar statements to the KUNA Kuwaiti news agency and others that were rebroadcast on Israel Radio.

"'Once Netanyahu says that the negotiations will lead to a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders, then everything will be set,' Erekat said, according to the Palestinian news agency WAFA."

Note that Mr. Erekat's statement omitted President Obama's reference to "mutually agreed swaps."

So now, as a direct result of two speeches by President Obama, the officially stated Palestinian Authority position is that peace negotiations cannot resume unless and until Israel first agrees to (1) a full cessation of all settlement activity, and (2)a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders. Of course, no responsible Israeli government would make those concessions in advance of any negotiations. So once again, the President's words have made the resumption of peace negotiations less likely.

At some point President Obama may come to understand that Palestinian leaders cannot appear to their own people to be less tough on Israel than the White House. Until then, please Mr. President, no more speeches on Middle East peace.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Only in San Francisco: Ballot Measure to Ban Male Circumcision

On November 8, 2011, San Francisco voters will go to the polls to decide whether to ban a fundamental religious practice of Jews and Muslims. Jews circumcise their baby boys at the age of 8 days, following the commandment given by God to Abraham in the Torah, to circumcise his son Isaac when the boy was 8 days old. Abraham also circumcised his son Ishmael on the same day. Since Ishmael was 13 years old at the time, his spiritual descendents, followers of Islam, circumcise their male sons at age 13. The San Francisco measure would ban penile circumcision unless the person being circumcised is at least 18 years of age and has given his written consent.

Judaism calls its ritual circumcision "brit milah," the covenant of circumcision, because it marks the entry of the child into the covenant with God of our forefather Abraham. As Rabbi Gil Leeds, a certified mohel, trained in the medical procedure and religious practice of circumcision, writes in today's San Francisco Chronicle:

It is a covenantal act that Jews have practiced since the time of the Patriarch Abraham more than three-and-a-half millennia ago. It reflects a commitment to monotheism that reaches back to the dawn of observance practiced even under religious oppression. The holiday of Chanukah emerged after the Greeks banned circumcision, which led to a bloody revolt. The Romans banned circumcision after the destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70. Defying death, Jews secretly followed their tradition.

The ancient Greeks opposed male circumcision because they considered it a mutilation of the perfect male human form. Is it coincidental that this modern attempt to ban circumcision is occurring in a city where homosexuality is more integral to the popular culture than in almost any society since ancient Greece? I would say not, but that is pure speculation on my part.

What is not speculation is that 12,000 signatures were all that was necessary to put on the ballot a proposition that is, in the words of Marc Stern of American Jewish Committee, "the most direct assault on Jewish religious practice in the United States."

Proponents of the measure argue that brit milah puts a baby through a traumatically painful experience that causes mental and physical scars that last a lifetime. I have attended many, many ritual circumcisions, and can personally testify that most of the crying of the baby comes while the mohel is preparing the child for the surgery, before any cutting has occurred. The baby typically is calm and happy just a short time later. Millions of Jewish men can personally testify that they have suffered no lasting trauma from their circumcisions.

"Es ist schwer zu sein a Yid ," it is hard to be a Jew, goes the old Yiddish saying. In recent years in the secular West it is becoming legally harder. In addition to attempts to ban brit milah, we have the continuing attempts to ban the kosher slaughter of animals, schitah. The Netherlands appears to be on the verge of banning kosher slaughter, through a law requiring that an animal be stunned before it is slaughtered. Ironically, Holland was the first European country to allow the free and open practice of Judaism after the persecutions of the Middle Ages.

The Netherlands would thereby join New Zealand, which banned kosher slaughter last year, Iceland, Norway and Sweden. New Zealand currently allows the import of kosher meat other than chicken. (That puts the kabash on the traditional Friday night Sabbath dinner.) A week before New Zealand implemented its ban, the European Union's parliament voted that all packages of kosher meat must bear a label stating that the animal was slaughtered without prior stunning. In Switzerland, where kosher slaughter has been banned since 1893, an animal rights activist is actively promoting a legal ban on the import of kosher and halal meat, imposing an even greater hardship on the Jewish and Muslim citizens of that nation.

By the way, the foremost expert on humane slaughter of animals, Temple Grandin, has repeatedly stated that when done properly, kosher slaughter causes no more pain and suffering to the animal than methods involving prior stunning.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Why George Mitchell Failed to Negotiate Middle East Peace--and What will Happen Next

George Mitchell, appointed by President Obama as the United States Special Envoy to the Middle East, has resigned his post. The man who successfully brokered peace in Northern Ireland was unable to even bring the two sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the table. One may safely predict that in the coming weeks many pundits will attribute Mitchell's failure to insufficient American diplomatic pressure on Israel to suspend settlement activity.

Tawfik Hamid, a senior fellow and chairman of the study of Islamic radicalism at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, writes in the Jerusalem Post that those pundits would be mistaken. Pressuring Israel to give up more land will not peacefully end the Arab-Israeli conflict because the conflict is not about land. He notes that throughout the Muslim world, including this week in Cairo's Tahrir Square, pro-Palestian demonstrators chant, "Khyber Khyber Ya Yahood... Gaish Muhammad Sawfa Yaood." This chant warns the Jews that that the army of Muhammad is coming back for a repeat of what was done to the Jewish Khyber tribe. Hamid explains in his column that according to authentic Islamic history books, the Islamic army, led by Muhammad, annihilated the Jewish tribe of Khyber, raping its women and killing all its men.

Hamid continues, "Until US envoys to the Middle East realize that the problem in the eyes of the Palestinians and their supporters is not the borders of Israel but the very existence of the country, all future missions will similarly fail." The problem, he explains, is not political but rather theological: Islamists, including Hamas, which now shares governing power over the Palestinian Authority with Fatah, is committed to the destruction of Israel and the murder of Jews.

Indeed, many in the "moderate" Fatah faction and elsewhere in the Arab world share Hamas' objectives and murderous anti-Semitic philosophy, as shown by the vicious, Nazi-style propaganda that appears throughout Islamic media. Hamid writes, "Publishing dehumanizing cartoons in the mainstream media, and blaming Jews for nearly every problem in the world has become much too common in the leading Arab media over the past few decades. ... It is virtually impossible to promote any form of peaceful resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict without reducing such levels of anti-Semitism in the Muslim world."

Hamid knows of what he writes. Himself a one-time Islamic extremist from Egypt, he was a member of a terrorist Islamic organization JI with Dr. Ayman Al-Zawaherri, who became later on the second in command of Al-Qaeda. Some twenty-five years ago, he recognized the threat of Radical Islam and the need for a reformation based upon modern peaceful interpretations of classical Islamic core texts. His website is

I am extremely pessimistic regarding the near-time prospects for a peaceful end to the Arab-Israeli conflict. It should not be so--the so-called Arab spring has exposed Israel's enemies for what they are and always have been--murderous dictatorial regimes. The economic misery of the masses in Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Libya, Syria and, yes, Gaza and the West Bank, is not the product of some Zionist plot, but rather of the backward tyrants that governed the now-revolting masses.

Yet, the Arab popular movements that have challenged those deposts seem to view Israel as a greater enemy than their own authoritarian rulers. Islamist demonstrators in Cairo, when they are not murdering Copts and burning their churches, have quickly reverted to vicious anti-Israel propaganda. The military government that currently rules Egypt has announced plans to improve relations with the Nazi-like government of Iran and to reopen the Gaza border, allowing Hamas, the Iran's puppet in Gaza, to openly import advanced Iranian missiles and other weapons. Iran is of course up to the same act on Israel's northern border with Lebanon and Syria, where the mullahs act through Hezbollah and the Assad regime.

In September, the Palestinian Authority has said it will make a unilateral declaration of statehood before the United Nations, and over 60 countries already have declared their intention to recognize the Palestinian state. It is predictable that the new nation of Palestine will immediately be admitted to the United Nations, and that Israel will be declared by the UN to be unlawfully occupying the lands of a member state. That will set the stage for UN sanctions and international armed intervention to "liberate" the occupied Palestinian lands.

What the U.S. stance will be if all this transpires is unknown. What is clear is that the United States has not taken vigorous steps to publicly oppose the Palestinian move toward a unilateral declaration of independence. The sad truth is that the Obama Administration can seriously undermine Israel without ever publicly taking a stand against the Jewish state; the U.S. need merely stand by and do nothing or lodge only mild disapproval.

What will follow for some time, sadly, will be the most difficult period for world Jewry since the Shoah. The Jewish state will be under siege and abandoned by her former allies. And as international opposition to Israel grows, and Israel is increasingly declared to be the cause of all problems and discord in the world, Jews in the Diaspora should not expect to escape persecution in their own countries.

Having said all that, I am not at all pessimistic about the eventual outcome. This has all been foreseen and predicted.

"Behold, they shall be ashamed and confounded, all who were incensed with you. They shall be as nothing and shall perish, those who strove against you. You will seek them and you will not find them, the people who contended with you. They will be like nothing and like zero, the people who made war on you. Because I the Lord your God, who strenghtens your right hand, who says to you, 'Fear not, I will help you. Fear not, worm Yaakov [Jacob],people of Israel, I will help you, says the Lord, your Redeemer and the Holy One of Israel." [Isaiah 41:11-14]

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Should We Rejoice Over the Death of Osama Bin Laden?

A lively discussion has sprung up over the question of whether it is proper to rejoice over the death of Osama Bin Laden. No where is that discussion livelier than within the Jewish community. As quoted by JTA, Rabbi Tzvi Freedman writing on says that even asking the question is very Jewish. "It's so typically Jewish to feel guilty about rejoicing," he observed. The JTA article quotes responses from various rabbis from all of the denominations of Judaism.

Jewish religious tradition is ambivalent on the issue. On the one hand, a wag once said that the Jewish festivals can be explained in three sentences: "They tried to kill us. They failed. Let's eat." Pesach, Channukah and Purim are prime examples of that genre of celebration.

And yet, at the Passover Seder, we spill drops of wine from our full wine cups when we recite the 10 plagues, and the most common explanation of the custom to express sadness that our enemies had to suffer in order for the Jewish nation to achieve its freedom from Egyptian slavery.

Moreover, there is a midrash that when Moses and the Children of Israel united in song at the Red Sea, upon witnessing the drowning of Pharoah and his army and chariots, the angelic hosts wanted to join in the chorus of praise for God, but God himself silenced them, admonishing, "The works of my creation are drowning, and you want to sing praises?" And yet, God did not silence Moses and the Children of Israel, and the Song at the Sea is considered a moment at which they achieved spiritual sublimity. Apparently, it was proper for the Children of Israel to sing and rejoice, but not proper for the angels to join them.

Here is the response of the esteemed Talmudist and teacher of Chabad Chasidism, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz (photo above right)to the question:

In the Bible, we have two almost opposite reactions to the fall of an enemy. On the on hand, we have the famous verse that says, “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles.” (Proverbs 24, 17) On the other hand, we have, among many others, the verse, “When the wicked perish, there is joy.” (Ibid., 11, 10)

In fact, there is no contradiction between those two verses. The first one refers to a situation in which there is animosity or a quarrel between two people. In such a case, a person may have an enemy, but his downfall shouldn’t be any reason for rejoicing. Whatever the quarrel – commercial, political or any other kind – the enemy is just a person in opposition. Such people may cause discomfort to the other side, but essentially, both parties are equal to each other. Therefore, one should not rejoice when one’s enemy has fallen.

The other verse does not deal with personal or national disagreement, but with an objective fact: there indeed are in the world wicked people. And when the wicked are destroyed, others should express their approval and their joy that some vicious object or person has disappeared from the world. Osama bin Laden created for himself a very clear position as one of the wicked, and therefore the world should be happy when at least one element of evil is no longer functioning.

I will follow Rabbi Steinsaltz's advice and be happy at the downfall of a wicked person. What do you think?

Monday, May 02, 2011

Did the Tip That Led to Discovery of Bin Laden's Location Came from "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques" Banned by Obama?

The New York Times is reporting that the information on bin Laden's courier that led to his compound and the al-Qaeda leader's death was derived from interrogating Guantanamo Bay detainees. According to Marc Thiessen of the American Enterprise Institute, those detainees were Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his successor, Abu Faraj al-Libi, and the courier's name was disclosed during CIA interrogations using enhanced interrogation techniques - techniques the Obama administration banned the CIA from using. Thiessen writes:

Before coming to Gitmo, both [Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Faraj al-Libi] were held by the CIA as part of the agency’s enhanced interrogation program, and provided the information that led to bin Laden’s death after undergoing interrogation by the CIA. In other words, the crowning achievement of Obama’s presidency came as a direct result of the CIA interrogation program he has denigrated and shut down. Something the president forgot to mention last night, when he claimed credit for “the most significant achievement to date in our nation’s effort to defeat al Qaeda.” The president owes some thanks—and apologies—to the men and women of the CIA’s interrogation program.
Adds the Jewish Policy Center:

If Thiessen's statement proves true, not only would bin Laden's death be a feather in Obama's cap, but former President Bush's as well for instituting those techniques.
[Hat tip: Jewish Policy Center]

The Glory of Declarative Sentences

This is a message that deserves to go viral:

Typography from Ronnie Bruce on Vimeo.

Osama bin Laden's Death: Photo of the Day

From the New York Times: