Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The opium of the Arabs

Stunted development

As American officials from Middle East envoy George Mitchell to Defense Secretary Robert Gates and from National Security Adviser James Jones to Dennis Ross, who's responsible for Mideast policy at the National Security Council, visit our region this week, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) has just published its fifth report on conditions in the Arab world.

The UNDP tells us that many Arabs are shockingly poor; millions survive on less than $2 a day. Though 60 percent of the world's proven oil reserves are in the Middle East, the report's authors reveal that "Arab countries are actually less industrialized today than was the case four decades ago..."

We know from other sources that national identity is weak. It's been decades since the last colonial power quit the region, yet most Arabs still primarily identify themselves not as citizens of the country in which they live but as Arabs or Muslims. The Palestinian Arabs may be in a different category since their identity has been shaped by their confrontation with the Zionist enterprise.

Although the Arab fertility rate is declining (as more women obtain an education), young people with little hope of upward mobility today comprise a huge chunk of the Middle East population. Half of all Egyptians, for instance, are under 24. This helps explain why many turn to religious fundamentalism for solace.

In its coverage of the report, London's The Economist notes that most Arabs live under basically authoritarian regimes. The magazine, which is not known for its Zionist sympathies, points out that about the only genuinely free elections in the Arab world have been held under "occupation" - in the Palestinian Authority and Iraq. Still, insists The Economist, just as other parts of the Muslim world have transitioned to democracy so too can the Arabs. Perhaps. The magazine is right to say that democracy is more than just holding free elections; it also requires the inculcation of values such as tolerance and a respect for minority rights.

THE UNDP report was largely ignored by the state-controlled Arab media despite containing de rigueur criticism of Israel. The Arabs, and many Arabists in the West, have long embraced the neo-Marxist line that Middle East development has been stymied by outsiders - the oil companies, Western imperialists, Cold War warriors and, unsurprisingly, by the existence of a Jewish state in the region.

The Economist buys into some of this: "The job of the Arab moderates was made all the harder by Israel's recent wars in Gaza and Lebanon. Shocking television footage transformed both of these local fights into moments of pan-Arab and even pan-Muslim rage." The implication being that if only Israel had swallowed two separate cross border attacks in which Israeli soldiers were killed or taken hostage, the world would be a more peaceful place.

Still, with refreshing diversity, The Economist cites Mona Eltahawy, a New York-based Egyptian pundit, who explains that Israel is "the opium of the Arabs." "Resistance" to Israel's existence, she implies, provides Arabs with a convenient excuse for putting off political and economic development.

To the opiate analogy one might add that "settlements" have become like crack cocaine - a habitual pretext used by Mahmoud Abbas and others for not negotiating an end to the conflict. In truth, the settlement issue would become moot once negotiators agreed on final borders.

IT IS to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of The Netherlands that we owe a debt of gratitude for bankrolling the website, Menassat. It's ostensibly intended to promote press freedom and development among the Arabs and recently offered insight into Arab elite thinking on the UNDP report.

Writing from Beirut, Saseen Kawzally quoted approvingly Columbia University's Joseph Massad in damming the report for adopting "the rhetoric and terminology used by the US and Israel." Massad further criticized the English-language version of the report for, supposedly, casting a modicum of blame for the Gaza fighting on Hamas.

But it is Kawzally's indignation at the UNDP report for relegating the "occupation" to eighth place in a list of factors inhibiting Arab development that we find especially instructive. Thank you, taxpayers of The Netherlands. Your money is being used to perpetuate Israel as the opium of the Arabs.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Does ultra-Orthodox garb protect a Jew from sinning?

When righteous stumble

'For these defendants, corruption was a way of life," said New Jersey District Attorney Ralph Marra, speaking of rabbis and politicians ensnared in a $3 million money-laundering scandal.

For the rest of us, it was painful and embarrassing to watch Rabbi Saul Kassin, 87, the venerable leader of the Syrian Jewish community of metropolitan New York, being led away by federal agents.

Images of the arrested ultra-Orthodox Jews being escorted to a waiting bus generated headlines in the American press that said it all: "Is nothing sacred!" (The New York Daily News); "Walk of shame" (Newark Star Ledger); and "Kosher nostra & dirty Jersey" (The New York Post). The paper led its story with: "Everything was on sale - from politicians to kidneys."

ONE OF the reasons ultra-Orthodox Jews wear dark suits, wide-brimmed hats and ritual fringes hanging outside their trousers is as a self-reminder that the Holy One above is a constant presence. Dark colors remind the pious that life should not be taken frivolously - that its purpose is not to revel in the pleasures of the here and now, but to prepare a place for the soul in the eternal world to come. Haredi garb is intended to instill "fear of heaven."

Among the ultra-Orthodox - Hassidic, Lithuanian and Sephardi - distinctive dress is intended to make it difficult to sin publicly or privately. You can never blend in or forget who you are.

It would be unimaginable for a group of ultra-Orthodox Jews to be captured on camera robbing a bank or mugging an elderly pensioner who had just cashed a social security check; or beating a drug dealer senseless for selling heroin on a street corner they had staked claim to.

Plainly, however, haredi garb is not a foolproof protection against immorality.

Lately, the Jewish world has been roiled by the bad behavior of people who are identifiably Jewish. Sometimes it is not a matter of clothing.

Bernard Madoff, for instance, was described as an Orthodox Jew, not because of how he dressed but presumably because of his synagogue affiliation and the fact that he served on the boards of major Orthodox educational institutions. But the magnitude of Madoff's crimes was such that his garb was beside the point; his Jewishness was anyway in the public domain.

From the streets of Jerusalem to the streets of New Jersey, the media have lately been spotlighting what seems like an epidemic of ultra-Orthodox Jews behaving badly. In fact, the number of haredim who riotously attack police officers in Jerusalem or engage in money laundering in New Jersey is minuscule. And it would be stating the obvious to point out that the vast majority of ultra-Orthodox Jews are law-abiding; many live simple, unadorned lives, genuinely focusing their energies on the study of Torah and the fulfillment of the mitzvot, down to their minutiae.

Yet were ultra-Orthodoxy a brand, one might argue that the "franchise" has taken a public-relations hit over the years. Fair or not, the stock of the entire ultra-Orthodox world declines when outwardly pious Jews turn out to be slumlords, child-molesters or wife-abusers, proprietors of nursing homes that neglect their residents, dealers in human organs, money-launderers, or those who have no compunction about hurling bricks through the windshields of cars on Shabbat.

REPENTANCE is an essential tenet of the Jewish way of life. So there needs to be some genuine soul-searching in the haredi world on two levels. Since it is now pretty much demonstrated that distinctive garb doesn't inoculate against unlawful behavior, what would?

And since these crimes also intimate a weakening of faith and an obsession with materialism, what steps can the faithful take to strengthen the tenets of their belief?

And what does this mean for the rest of us? It does not mean that those affiliated with other streams of Judaism, or the unaffiliated secular, can afford to be smug. Human beings are fallible.

Instead, it reinforces the idea that Judaism strives for a golden mean which combines fidelity to tradition with morality; ritual with responsibilities to our fellow human beings - and, it should go without saying, an obligation to adhere to the laws of the land.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Politics & Manipulation -- Obama & Netanyahu

Shabbat shalom to all --

A 'crisis' manipulated

Diplomacy involves an element of political manipulation - sometimes even psychological warfare. We're now witnessing this in the US-Israel relationship.

The Obama administration has made a strategic decision to pressure Israel pointedly, relentlessly and publicly, while, for now at least, asking little of the Palestinians. The diversionary issue employed in this campaign is housing construction over the Green Line.

Washington cannot realistically think that Israel is going to knuckle under and stop building within strategic settlement blocs, or in post-'67 Jerusalem. So it appears that the administration is engaging in confrontation for the sake of confrontation. The object? To gain credibility with the Arab world in the belief it will give them an incentive to make peace.

It's the same failed approach pursued by practically every administration since 1967 - only on hyper-drive. And this time, it's characterized by manipulatively overplaying the chasm in the US-Israel relationship.

Thus US Defense Secretary Robert Gates ostentatiously warns against an Israeli military strike on Iran's nuclear bomb-making facilities on the grounds that it would undermine American interests. Yet, as the clock ticks, Washington still hasn't quite figured out how to "engage" the mullahs and talk them out of building a bomb.

The manipulation comes in various forms: word from the State Department that talk of a cut in US aid to Israel over the settlement controversy is "premature;" stories leaked to Israeli pundits sympathetic to the administration's line - for example, that George Mitchell will be packing binding timetables requiring Israeli concessions when next he arrives in our region. Or claims that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama are headed for a "collision."

To heighten the sense of crisis, one newspaper here sympathetic to the administration's approach claims that the IDF is poised to evacuate all unauthorized West Bank outposts in one 24-hour blitz. The story is erroneous.

Further leaks claim that the Americans are planning an international peace conference which will find Israel isolated, facing the "moderate" Arab world, an unsympathetic Europe and an irritated administration. We're told that tensions between Washington and Jerusalem are so bad that the White House will send a "friendly face" (Dennis Ross) to accompany other ostensibly less sympathetic US officials.

IN RESPONSE, Israel engages in its own, clumsy manipulation.

Responding to implicit threats of a cut in military aid, the IDF is said to be "brainstorming" for the day when it will tell Washington what it can do with its $3 billion, because Israel will purchase what it needs to survive from Vladimir Putin's Russia.

And when our new ambassador to Washington, Michael Oren, held his first overview meeting at the State Department, it was Israeli officials who leaked the false story that he had been "summoned" to hear US protests over Jewish housing construction in east Jerusalem.

The Netanyahu government is wrong to think that exacerbating the perception of a crisis in US-Israel relations is the wisest method of setting "red lines" for future negotiations with the Palestinians. There must be better ways to point out that the Shepherd Hotel is located in the geographically vital Sheikh Jarrah section of the capital, a couple of bus stops from Hebrew University. Nor is playing up bilateral tensions a smart way to encourage the pro-Israel community, already signaling uneasiness over White House tactics, to speak out.

IT'S TOO bad that the Obama administration, which came to Washington promising change, is going down the old, demonstrably counter-productive road of its predecessors. It too fundamentally misreads the source of Arab reluctance to make peace with Israel.

Washington acts as if both sides want the same thing: coexistence. But the Arabs still reject the right of a Jewish state to live anywhere in their midst; still favor demographically inundating Israel with Palestinian refugees and millions of their descendents; and still insist Israel pull back to the hard-to-defend 1949 Armistice Lines.

Under these circumstances, the administration's one-sided pressure on Israel, and its tepid response to Netanyahu's historic Bar-Ilan speech, entrenches Arab intransigence.

It's an even bigger shame that the administration is expending so much energy on an approach that actually reduces the prospects of a breakthrough - and that in so doing, it is employing manipulative tactics that make mainstream Israelis even more fearful of taking risks for peace.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

How the UN helps prolong the Arab-Israel conflict

Dump the CEIRPP

Over the years, the United Nations has done its fair share to prolong and exacerbate the Arab-Israel conflict. The explanation for this lies not with the world body conceptually, and certainly not with the ethos of its founders. But the UN can't but reflect the values shared by the bulk of its members, the efforts of an enlightened minority notwithstanding.

With the arguable exception of General Assembly Resolution 181, which in 1947 called for the establishment of independent Jewish and Arab states - and which the Arabs rejected out of hand - just about every subsequent UN/GA stand on the conflict has been to Israel's detriment. The most recent pertinent GA resolution, for instance, ES-10/18 of January 2009, basically regurgitated the Palestinian position on Operation Cast Lead, codifying it in international law.

There are now 192 member-states in the UN, most of which maintain diplomatic relations with both the Palestine Liberation Organization and Israel. In practice, however, the PLO has a built-in majority for just about any resolution it champions. Start with the 22-member Arab League and add (though allow for some overlap) the 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference, then throw in "non-aligned" countries such as North Korea, Cuba and Venezuela. The result is that one would be hard pressed to come up with a single instance in which the General Assembly sided with Israel against the Arabs.

Not once has the GA unequivocally reprimanded the PLO or Hamas for engaging in airline-hijackings, bus bombings and other forms of anti-civilian warfare. Israel, in contrast, is censured at every opportunity.

THE international body sank to its moral nadir on November 10, 1975, when the General Assembly passed the odious Resolution 3379, by a vote of 72 to 35 with 32 abstentions, labeling the national liberation movement of the Jewish people - Zionism - as a form of "racism." The fact that the resolution was revoked in 1991 by no means entirely removes the ethical stain with which the world body remains tarnished.

But perhaps the single most damaging step the organization took to institutionalize its bias against the Jewish state came with the creation in 1975 of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (CEIRPP).

Unlike the Kurds, Roma, Copts, Uyghur, Tibetans, and others peoples' who plead for international support, only the Palestinian Arabs have a permanent UN-funded body which does nothing but agitate on their behalf.

As part of a revolving door of injustice, each year the GA meets to "discuss" the "Question of Palestine" and each year it passes the recommendations of the CEIRPP. The biases of the committee have metastasized throughout the UN system owing to its ability to poison attitudes toward Israel from within.

It is the CEIRPP which came up with the charade known as the "International Solidarity Day with the Palestinian People," held annually on November 29, and which sponsors an array of meetings, seminars and conferences targeting Israel.

The committee - which convenes again today and tomorrow in Geneva - is comprised of Afghanistan, Belarus, Cuba, Cyprus, Guinea, Guyana, India, Indonesia, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Madagascar, Malaysia, Mali, Malta, Namibia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Tunisia, Turkey and Ukraine.

It will not question the Palestinian decision to reject former prime minister Ehud Olmert's magnanimous 2008 peace offer. It will not tell the Palestinians that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's seminal Bar-Ilan speech offers a way forward toward. It will not tell the Palestinians to end their boycott of the peace negotiations. The CEIRPP will never call on Hamas to recognize Israel, end terror and accept previous Palestinian commitments - as demanded by the Quartet.

Of course, the committee will do none of these things - because its raison d'etre is not peace but the vilification of Israel.

That is why this newspaper endorses a campaign initiated by the New York-based the Anti-Defamation League urging UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to dismantle the committee on the grounds that it is the "single most prolific source of material bearing the official imprimatur of the UN which maligns and debases the Jewish state."

The CEIRPP is also an obstacle to peace - it needs to go.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

London Jewish School Crisis

The JFS lesson

The decision earlier this month by a British appeals court, holding that the admissions policy of the country's largest Jewish school was illegal, underscores a schism within the Jewish world over identity, conversion and the nature of our civilization.

The school, JFS, was chartered in 1732 under Orthodox auspices but had long maintained an enlightened approach toward all segments of the community. The litigation came about because JFS now admits only converts who meet the standards of the haredi-oriented London Beth Din, which is out of touch with the majority of Britain's 260,000 Jewish people.

It's doubtful that most of JFS's 1,900 students lead Orthodox lifestyles, though the court decision does not affect those students already at the school.

The case at hand resulted from the school's refusal to admit a new boy whose mother had been converted by the Liberal stream. His parents divorced; she left the fold, and the boy is being brought up by his halachically Jewish father. Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks's office refused to certify the child as Jewish - a necessary step for JFS admission - because his mother did not have an Orthodox conversion. The father challenged the rejection in court.

He was supported by the Lightman family, whose children were also barred from JFS. Kate Lightman was converted by an Orthodox Bet Din in Israel and does lead an Orthodox life. She was married by an Orthodox rabbi in New York to a kohen - a member of the priestly class which brought animal sacrifices during Temple times. A strict constructionist interpretation of Halacha would, arguably, bar a kohen from marrying a convert. Hence Sacks held that Lightman's conversion was insincere and that the couple's children were not Jewish; and thus ineligible to attend JFS.

In a third case, unrelated to the litigation, JFS barred the children of Helen Sagal, though she too was converted by an Orthodox Beit Din in Israel, on the grounds that the family no longer leads an Orthodox lifestyle.

THE COURT of Appeal found that using ethnicity or race of the mother as the criterion for entry rather than faith, however defined, breached the Race Relations Act. Without taking sides on the JFS case, the Board of Deputies opposes this decision because of its ramifications for all Jewish schools.

JFS tried to appeal the case to the House of Lords, but the court denied permission. The school is likely to pursue a direct petition to the Lords, but this could take time, and there is no guarantee of victory even if the case is heard.

As Simon Rocker of The Jewish Chronicle reported, JFS will now have to rewrite its entry rules; instead of being based on the lineage of an applicant's mother, admission will be based on religious observance - such as synagogue attendance.

But as Prof. Geoffrey Alderman points out, the school has painted itself into a corner. If it produces narrow Orthodox criteria to measure observance, it will transform itself into a haredi institution; and if they are very broad, what's the point?

Yet is JFS even capable of setting middle-of-the-road faith criteria? How will it respond to families that are observant but affiliated, say, with the Conservative or Reform movements?

It's a pity that a school which played so pivotal a role in British Jewish life now finds itself in the clutches of haredi obduracy. Fortunately, a new cross-denominational school is scheduled to open in 2010.

THE JFS controversy is a larger dilemma in microcosm. Those who favor greater insularity and artificially enforced homogeneity, who insist uncompromisingly that they alone are privy to God's purpose, will continue to advocate for a Judaism that is unwelcoming.

The Jewish majority in the Diaspora as well as in Israel - running the gamut from neo-Orthodox to progressive, yet also embracing the affiliated secular - need to develop sensible answers, rooted in Jewish law and tradition, to the issues of identity and conversion.

In so doing they will be hammering home the point that Judaism is a thriving and evolving civilization rooted in sacred history, religious ritual, a shared past and the sense of a common destiny.

It is not synonymous with haredism.

Monday, July 20, 2009

To the Moon

And that's the way it was...

On July 20, 1969, at 10:18 p.m. Israel time - 40 years ago today - Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin became the first humans to walk on the moon.

President Barack Obama will have to weigh the advice of a panel of experts due to report in August and decide whether to spend an estimated $100 billion so that Americans can return to the moon on the 50th anniversary of the first landing.

Lunar colonies could serve as a stepping-stone for an eventual manned mission to Mars. From the moon, astronauts might travel into deep space to the asteroid Apophis, when it passes near Earth in 2021. Later they might reach Mars' moon, Phobos. Some experts hope that humans could journey to Mars as soon as 2031.

Or should space exploration be relegated to cheaper robotic proxies? It's a tough decision.

America finds itself $11 trillion dollars in debt. This year's budget deficit alone is $482 billion. With a wobbly economy, rising unemployment, wars in Afghanistan-Pakistan and Iraq, and millions of Americans without health insurance, can Obama afford to be extravagant on space?

THE NIGHT of that moon landing, Americans were mesmerized by a grainy black-and-white simulation of the Eagle approaching the moon. Millions were tuned to CBS, where Walter Cronkite was anchoring coverage of the descent to the lunar surface. Mission control called off the numbers until there were none left - and Cronkite exclaimed: "Man on the Moon!"

A moment later came word from the astronauts: "Houston, Tranquility base here; the eagle has landed."

Cronkite, who died on Friday at 92, recalled that despite years of preparation, he was nearly speechless with joy. On earth, the War in Vietnam was taking its toll; campus unrest and racial tension roiled. But all that was placed in abeyance as eyes turned heavenward - via the miracle of television - to see Armstrong step onto the surface of the moon, with the words: "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."

This week, the Endeavour space shuttle with its seven-member crew docked with the International Space Station, a structure now as large as a four-bedroom house, presently home to 12 men and a woman - seven Americans, two Russians and two Canadians. When this mission is over, the station will contain an "outdoor" observatory. Only seven missions remain before the shuttle fleet is retired, NASA says.

ISRAELIS COULD not view the live telecast of the first moon landing - our technology was not that advanced. Israel Radio instead broadcast the news in real time, translating each milestone into Hebrew.

The country tried to put aside its reality to share in the excitement. In Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, the US Cultural Center was screening NASA films every 30 minutes.

Israel's victory in the Six Day War notwithstanding, a war of attrition raged on with Egypt. And as Michael Collins, Armstrong and Aldrin were orbiting the moon, the IAF shot down five Egyptian planes over Suez. Around the time the Eagle rejoined Columbia in orbit, Jordanian artillery was shelling Beit She'an.

Israel's Sephardi Chief Rabbi, Yitzhak Nissan, prayed that the moon walk would not deepen man's hubris, but that instead people would better appreciate the act of Creation.

Both Egypt and Jordan devoted more news coverage to the moon landing than to their war against Israel; not so Syria. Palestinian Arab terrorism continued unabated: an attack in Hebron on Israelis making a pilgrimage to the Cave of the Machpelah; the murder of a man waiting for a bus in Tel Aviv by an exploding parcel.

As the astronauts splashed down safely, the IAF downed seven more Egyptian planes after 40 enemy aircraft crossed the Suez Canal. In Haifa's outdoor market, three bombs planted in watermelons detonated, injuring shoppers.

LOOKING back, it is heartening that Israel is now at peace with Egypt and Jordan, though endlessly disquieting that Palestinian intransigence has stalemated reconciliation on that front.

The exploration of space, meanwhile, is a constant reminder that all of us are denizens of the third planet from the sun, and part of something far bigger than meets the eye.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Haredi intifada


An innocent and devoted mother sits in jail because Zionist authorities want to make an example of her to intimidate God-fearing haredim struggling to preserve the sanctity of Jerusalem. The trumped-up charge that keeps this selfless (pregnant) lady behind bars is that for two years she starved her little boy almost to death.

They claim she is suffering from a psychiatric disorder, Munchausen syndrome-by-proxy, which caused her to harm her son to win attention for herself. What nonsense! Everyone knows she is perfectly normal.

Why isn't the media reporting the truth? The child suffered from cancer and had undergone chemotherapy. The doctors told his mother not to allow him food by mouth - which is why the three-year-old became so emaciated, requiring multiple hospitalizations, and ended up weighing seven kilograms. Everyone in the Hadassah oncology department knows this to be true; they saw how she stayed with the child from early morning until late at night.

Then one day she said something that offended some big-shot doctor, because they were doing experiments on the child. Naturally, our community is in an uproar over her unjust arrest…

THIS IS a composite of the conspiracy theories circulating not just on the streets of Mea She'arim and Ramat Beit Shemesh, where the extremist, anti-Zionist Toldot Aharon hassidic sect - to which the troubled family adheres - and its fanatical Naturei Karta allies hold sway, but also in other ultra-Orthodox areas such as Jerusalem's Har Nof, where denizens lead considerably less insular lives. There is sympathy in the wider haredi world for the grievances of the rioters, who have vandalized traffic lights, burned garbage dumpsters and thrown projectiles at police, city workers and passing vehicles.

Haredi women have conducted special prayer meetings for the mother's release. Hassidic politicos have denounced as "collective punishment" Mayor Nir Barkat's decision to suspend municipal services in the affected areas after city social services and sanitation workers came under attack. (Only Lithuanian haredi rabbis have urged their followers not to participate in the rioting.)

For the record, Dr. Yair Birnbaum, deputy director of Hadassah hospital, has confirmed that the abused child never had cancer, and was never treated with chemotherapy. Also that since the boy's separation from his mother, he has been gaining weight and his physical condition has improved.

THAT THE haredi world - particularly Ashkenazi hassidim - finds it enormously difficult to grapple with child, sexual and spousal abuse comes to light when community members turn to the state for vital medical and social services. That's how we learned about Rabbi Elior Chen, who instructed a gullible mother to cleanse her child of "satanic possession." And about Yisrael Walz, who shook his son to death - that became known when the infant was brought to hospital. Some haredim, fearing the diabolical designs of Zionist authorities, say they now hesitate to take their children to hospital.

There are dysfunctional families among all strata of Israeli society. But the only stratum that reacts with collective violence when abuse is exposed is the most insular subdivision of the haredi world.

Why is such antisocial behavior tacitly countenanced by the more conventional hassidim? Because they share values which hold that men should be gainfully unemployed, women socialized to believe that the back of the bus is where God wants them, and youths reared to be clueless about the outside world.

Violence - stopping archeological digs (which might unearth Jewish graves) and protesting the opening on Shabbat of cinemas, 24/7 mini-markets, and parking garages outside their neighborhoods - has become a default, communally sanctioned response.

THIS impulse is emblematic of an alienation which, because it is ripping Israeli society apart, begs to be better understood. Haredim, like Arab citizens of Israel, want to be accepted as different, yet feel shunned.

The Kerner Commission was established to examine the causes of rioting in America's inner cities; in Britain and France, commissions have examined Muslim unrest. Here in Israel, the Orr Commission investigated Arab rioting.

Perhaps we need a state commission to tell us not only why a volatile minority of hassidic sects periodically runs amok - but also how to discourage the culture of extreme insularity that lies at the root of their self-perpetuated estrangement.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Obama meets US Jewish leaders

Whenever American Jewish leaders are invited to the White House to talk
about Israel --­ as 16 were on Monday evening ­-- rest assured that the purpose
of the invitation is not to give the machers an opportunity to sway the leader of the free world, but for the administration to diminish any prospect of them lobbying against the president's policies.

White House aides Rahm Emanuel, David Axelrod and Dan Shapiro sought to
exclude anyone who was likely to strike a discordant note.

None of Israel's leading Christian supporters were invited. And just to be on the safe side, the heads of marginal groups lobbying for an American-imposed solution to
the conflict were invited, and put on a par with the leaders of mainstream
political, religious, fraternal and philanthropic organizations.

It's one thing to criticize Israel's policies; another to advocate
approaches that endanger our security.

Jewish personalities have been legitimately criticizing this or that Israeli
policy since the 1950s, long before the "occupation" and settlements.

When the settlement enterprise got under way after the 1967 war, American Jewish
leaders were not enamored. But so long as the Arabs were perceived to be in
a zero-sum conflict with Israel, Diaspora discomfiture over settlements was
mostly muted. That changed when the perception became one of an emerging
moderate Palestinian Arab leadership genuinely committed to a two-state

Various administrations have since found it easier to pressure Israel into
concessions by dissociating the pro-Israel community from Israeli West Bank
policies, and by promoting American pressure as being in Israel¹s own best

Today, we are witnessing a "perfect storm" of diffuse US pressure on Israel.
Begin with the unyielding opposition to the settlement enterprise of every
administration since Richard Nixon's. Add the growing sense among
establishment figures that non-strategic settlements really are an obstacle
to peace. Consider that the overwhelming majority of American Jews have
never once visited this country and have no understanding of the topography
of the West Bank, or of Israel's legitimate security needs. Then throw in
the emergence of self-proclaimed pro-Israel groups ­ stridently ideological,
highly mobilized and well-funded ­ advocating an American-imposed solution
to the conflict.

Never has criticism of Israel been less nuanced and more unhelpful to
fostering peace.

Who can blame Barack Obama for exploiting this political environment to put
the screws on Israel?

Answer: Those who realize that the settlement-freeze
issue is a red herring; that the non-zero-sum nature of Palestinian
intentions is far from assured; and that it is the Palestinians, not Israel,
who are inhibiting progress on a two-state solution.

AT MONDAY¹S meeting, according to The Los Angeles Times, Obama told the Jewish leaders that public disagreements between the US government and Israel were useful leverage in the pursuit of peace. The AP synopsized
Obama¹s position this way: Eight years of demanding Palestinian concessions
produced no results; it was time to try a different tack.

Assuming these accounts are accurate, it is depressing that Obama's words
did not elicit respectful dissent. Rather, as one rabbinical attendee -- a leader of the Conservative movement -- told reporters, he was keen to let the president have a go.

Obama claimed that the media tended to play up disagreements with Israel
while ignoring his demands of the Arabs. If so, that's probably because the
administration's calls on Israel are public and strident, while those on the
Arabs are hushed and diplomatic.

I'm not suggesting that Obama is substantively less pro-Israel than most
of his predecessors. But I am concerned over his refusal to explicitly
embrace the 1967-plus strategy enunciated by his predecessor. The furthest
he seems willing to go is to hint that changes which have occurred since
1967 will inevitably influence final-status negotiations.

IF THE administration feels it faces no countervailing pressure, it will go
on maintaining that settlements are the obstacle to peace. This alienates
Israel's majority, which is willing to make painful territorial concessions,
yet believes that ill-tempered calls for an unconditional freeze everywhere
only encourage Palestinian intransigence.

Pro-Israel Americans should caution Obama not to lose the Israeli "street"
as he seeks favor with the Arab one.

They need to say --­ loud and clear --­ that the principles enunciated by Prime
Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at Bar-Ilan deserve strong the administration's

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Javier Solana and an imposed 'peace' in the Middle East

'Real mediation'

Javier Solana has had enough. After 10 years as the European Union's foreign policy chief - and despite all the treasure and energy he has poured into Middle East peacemaking - the physicist-turned-diplomat is heading into retirement with Iran on the cusp of an atom bomb, Hamas solidifying its control over Gaza, and Mahmoud Abbas as recalcitrant as ever.

On July 11, Solana gave a speech to the Ditchley Foundation in London which made headlines.

Like many diplomats and intellectuals, Solana appears to regard a Palestinian state as some kind of regional cure-all. Reading between the lines, it's as if he believes that the mullahs in Iran will stop grabbing for regional hegemony, stealing (rigged) elections, and pursuing nuclear weapons; that Arab autocrats will guide their polities toward tolerance and representative government; that Shi'ites and Sunnis will stop blowing each other up; that Kurds, Copts and Baha'is will gain equality.

The Taliban in Afghanistan will liberate women from their burqas; North Africa's Islamists will lay down their weapons; al-Qaida will disband. And millions of restive, alienated Muslims throughout Europe will find a sense of belonging, allowing tranquility to prevail in the continent's inner cities... If only the Palestinians had a state.

THE FRAMEWORK for Palestinian statehood Solana referenced in his London speech included the Clinton Parameters and the Geneva Initiative. Israelis find these, whatever their imperfections, broadly acceptable as points of departure for negotiations.

It was on January 7, 2001 that then-president Bill Clinton called for the creation of a contiguous Palestinian state on most of the West Bank; for the incorporation of settlement blocs into Israel, and for land swaps as necessary. Palestinian refugees, he said, could "return" only to a non-militarized Palestine.

The European-financed Geneva Initiative similarly called for settlement blocs to be annexed to Israel and for a demilitarized Palestinian state. It also insisted that a solution to the refugee issue had to be found in "Palestine," not Israel.

Tellingly, Solana chose to ignore the fact that Ehud Olmert, at the end of 2008, had essentially offered Abbas a turbo-charged version of the Clinton Parameters. Abbas said no, insisting that Israel pull back to the 1949 Armistice Lines and permit itself to be demographically smothered by Arab "refugees" in their millions.

Solana's speech then went off on a tangent about settlements - about how many more Jews lived in Judea and Samaria today compared to when the Oslo Accords were signed. Solana knows that were Israel and the Palestinians to agree on permanent boundaries, settlements situated on the Arab side of the border would, in all probability, be uprooted. It is the Palestinian propensity for violence and intransigence that has robbed Israelis of any incentive to abandon the Jewish heartland.

Solana's fixation with settlements obfuscates and plays to the galleries, but does not genuinely illuminate why peacemaking has stalled.

Next, he turned to Hamas: "Whether we like it or not, Hamas will have to be part of the solution." Full stop. Not a word about the Quartet's principles on recognizing Israel, ending terrorism and abiding by past Palestinian commitments.

He did offer a circumspect critique of the "binary character - all or nothing" of the Arab Peace Initiative, which he admitted would have to be "nuanced."

SOLANA THEN offered a way forward toward creating a Palestinian state: "real mediation." By this, he appeared to mean imposing a solution, and a timetable for its implementation. If the parties didn't go along, he'd have the UN Security Council essentially codify the "real mediation" with its imprimatur.

The contrasting reactions to the Solana speech are instructive. The Palestinians' creative interpretation had Solana calling for the Security Council to recognize a Palestinian state - in line with their maximalist stance - by a certain deadline; even if Israel does not.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said: "We do not object. It's time for the international community to stop treating Israel as above the laws of man."

The reaction of Israel's Foreign Ministry was that peace had to be built on negotiations, not imposed.

Plainly, the Palestinians trust that an internationally imposed "peace" would mostly ignore Israeli concerns, while catering to theirs.

Israelis do not disagree.

Monday, July 13, 2009

NAACP at 100 as seen from Jerusalem

Out of Africa

In the American ideal, leaders who cling to power through deceit and the silencing of dissent are on the wrong side of history, to paraphrase a line from President Barack Obama's inaugural address.

This was essentially the message Obama brought with him as he and his family spent a day over the weekend in Ghana.

The president is of Kenyan descent on his father's side; the First Lady is the great-great-granddaughter of a slave.

In Ghana, the couple and their daughters, Sasha, eight, and Malia, 11, passed through the "Door of No Return" at Cape Coast Castle, where African slaves were "warehoused" in dungeons, sometimes for weeks on end, before being shipped to a life of bondage in the New World. Obama said the 17th-century fortress was "reminiscent of the trip that I took to Buchenwald. It reminds us of the capacity of human beings to commit great evil."

Though the White House kept the itinerary of the visit low-key, thousands of Ghanaians, many wearing souvenir T-shirts and waving American flags, lined the streets and crowded on rooftops to catch a glimpse of Obama.

Ghana was selected for the visit because it is one of the few stable democracies on the continent.

Obama met with President John Atta Mills and addressed parliamentarians and dignitaries at Accra's convention center, saying: "We must start from the simple premise that Africa's future is up to Africans… The West is not responsible for the destruction of the Zimbabwean economy over the last decade, or wars in which children are enlisted as combatants."

He drew applause when he added: "No business wants to invest in a place where the government skims 20 percent off the top, or the head of the port authority is corrupt. No person wants to live in a society where the rule of law gives way to the rule of brutality and bribery."

OBAMA returned to the US just as delegates of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) were gathering in Manhattan to mark the group's centenary. An impetus for the NAACP's founding was the revulsion liberals felt toward the vile practice of lynching; another was shock over the anti-black rampages in Springfield, Illinois, in 1908.

The NAACP's founders and early activists included legendary African Americans, among them W.E.B. Du Bois, joined by socially committed Jews, including Henry Moscowitz, Joel Spingarn, Julius Rosenthal, Lillian Wald, Emil G. Hirsch and Stephen Wise.

Over the years, Jews also contributed to some of the key legal victories achieved by the civil rights movement. For instance, Jack Greenberg assisted Thurgood Marshall in the watershed US Supreme Court case of Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka, and succeeded him as counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

When the black power movement achieved ascendancy in the 1960s-1970s, and violent Jew-hatred became a regular occurrence in urban America, what divided Jews and blacks became stronger than that which united them. The two communities were further driven apart because Jews mostly opposed racial preferences in employment (affirmative action) - even to compensate for institutionalized discrimination.

Meanwhile, the NAACP went through a period of racial chauvinism, reaching its nadir with the brief appointment, in April 1993, of Ben Chavis as executive director. He was and remains a follower of the notorious hater Louis Farrakhan.

TO A welcome and remarkable extent, tensions between African Americans and Jews have receded in the 21st century. It seemed only natural that Obama should receive 78 percent of the Jewish vote, and that two of the president's closets aides would be Jewish.

Today's NAACP, led by Benjamin Todd Jealous, has recommitted to the values of its founders: "We are from our origin a multiracial, multiethnic human rights organization."

And so long as prejudice, sometimes spilling over into outright hate, remains intrinsic to human nature there will be work for advocates of civil rights.

The US civil rights movement and our Zionist enterprise, 6,000 miles away, share a passion for the Promised Land. For Zionists, it is a tangible place; for African Americans it is more of an destination. As both secure their hard-won achievements, they need to strive to remain faithful to their founders' ideals.

Friday, July 10, 2009


Credibility is key

It's doubtful the media ever assessed David Ben-Gurion's "first 100 days"; or Moshe Sharett's - or, for that matter, Menachem Begin's.

The idea of evaluating the first 100 days of a modern head of government originated with the American presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who came to power in 1933 at the height of the Great Depression. Said political scientist Robert DiClerico: "The first hundred days of his administration were a bustle of activity, producing the greatest waterfall of legislation of any president in [US] history."

Most of FDR's successors found him a hard act to follow. But the 100-day milestone stuck and eventually gained momentum even outside America. In Britain, for instance, Margaret Thatcher's leadership was critiqued in June 1975, 100 days after she assumed office - and that's been the case with every premier down to Gordon Brown. Nicolas Sarkozy, among other European leaders, came into office promising results "within 100 days."

BINYAMIN Netanyahu may have imported the "first 100 days" concept to this country when he became premier in 1996 and pledged to come up with a list of state-owned companies that would be privatized. He didn't.

Ehud Barak's first 100 days were charitably evaluated, in October 1999, as "at least setting the stage" for fulfilling the promises he had made in his campaign. When Ariel Sharon was elected to pick up the pieces of Barak's premiership, his first 100 days were devoted to figuring out how to defeat Yasser Arafat's second intifada. Yet Sharon still managed to obtain Knesset support for a bold economic recovery plan.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's first 100 days were upstaged by the kidnapping of Gilad Schalit and the collapse of his convergence plan.

Now the first-100-day criterion has come back to haunt Netanyahu, with Kadima opposition leader Tzipi Livni attacking his government for zigzagging, lack of direction, and failing to address the economic crisis. Her party unveiled a bumper-sticker - "Bibi's the same Bibi. 100 days, zero accomplishments" - which reportedly upset the premier when an aide showed it to him.

Meanwhile, on the steadfast Right, Netanyahu is being pilloried for turning his back on what was understood to be his pledge to oppose a Palestinian state.

NO ONE can fault the premier when unprincipled reporters ambush his venerable 100-year-old father to extract assertions that make the son look like a dissembler. Yet the criticism that Netanyahu has been zigzagging, on both foreign policy and domestic issues, is not without merit.

He hesitated too long before making his Bar-Ilan speech articulating mainstream Israel's acquiescence in a demilitarized Palestinian state.

He misguidedly enlarged Defense Minister (and embattled Labor Party chief) Ehud Barak's portfolio to make him de facto special envoy to the Obama administration. By sidelining Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Netanyahu has been signaling a "soft" negotiating strategy when, arguably, a better bargaining approach - given President Obama's apparently resolute determination to force a categorical and unconditional settlement freeze on Israel - would have been to let the pragmatic but tough Lieberman play his scripted role.

The government has also been ineptly leaking its compromise proposal for a settlement freeze before locking in Washington's assent, eliciting State Department denials and making a face-saving compromise harder to achieve.

In the domestic sphere, Netanyahu's first 100-day flip-flops on budget cuts and, this week, on the proposed imposition of VAT on fruits and vegetable, have manifestly undermined his credibility.

On the positive side, he's advocated a two-year budget process, which if implemented will promote fiscal stability. He has sought to codify the Bank of Israel's independence. His championing of a bill to reform the Israel Lands Administration, while problematic, deserves to be frankly debated.

AT THE end of the day, Israel's hyper-pluralist political system cannot fairly be compared to America's, or even Britain's forms of government. For an American president, the 100-day countdown is typically accompanied by a political honeymoon. Not so in Israel, where Netanyahu was forced to cobble together a coalition of ideologically disparate parties, making and breaking promises just to get from one day to the next.

But the peculiarity of our political system notwithstanding, Netanyahu needs to stop hemorrhaging his credibility if he is to provide the leadership these times demand.
Shabbat shalom
thanks for reading....

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Abba Eban interviewed in 1958 by Mike Wallace

The more things change, the more the stay the same.

The interview below was just brought to my attention and I wanted to share it with friends and readers who see my postings.Very much worth watching.


You'll particularly enjoy the Parliament commercial -- Wallace always the showman. Wallace has been accused of being a self-hating Jew over his long career. I think that's a bit harsh. But his ability to articulate the Arab critique of Israel, I know see, dates back decades.

Watch. Enjoy. Learn.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Two Postings Today -- This is the second

Book Review

One State, Two States

Resolving the Israel/Palestine Conflict

By Benny Morris

Yale University Press, $26

201 pages

Two-state solution, Yada, yada, yada

"I am a strong supporter of a two-state solution. I have articulated that publicly and I will articulate that privately," President Barack Obama said on April 21 in an Oval Office meeting with Jordan's King Abdullah.

On April 17, America's special envoy George Mitchell, now in the process of setting up an office in Jerusalem, said that the Obama administration will be applying "great energy" in pursuit of a two-state solution. "A two state solution is the only solution," said Mitchell.

In the background, Fatah leaders have been urging the White House to press the recently elected government of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to explicitly and unconditionally commit to a two-state solution. Netanyahu formally did so on June 14 at his seminal Bar-Ilan speech and again this past Sunday around the Cabinet table.


On April 22, the One Voice movement -- which works to build support among Palestinians and Jews for a two-state solution -- funded a poll which, lo and behold, revealed that an overwhelming majority of both peoples favor a two-state solution.

Along comes Benny Morris to burst the bubble. His latest book, a slim account of the two-state solution idea is premised on the conviction that, rhetoric aside, the Palestinian Arabs have never really accepted the legitimacy a Jewish state, and that "one-statism" was, is, and remains the dominant Palestinian position.

Whether it is the clear and unequivocal voice of Hamas's Mahmoud Zahar saying “We cannot, we will not, and we will never recognize the enemy in any way, shape or form,” or the more nuanced and Western-savvy tone of Fatah negotiator Saeb Erekat, reiterating that Fatah -- 16 years after Oslo -- will under no circumstances recognize the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish state, Morris's convincing thesis is that the last thing the Palestinians really want is a state of Palestine living side-by-side in peace with a Jewish state.


One State, Two States opens with the unexceptional assertion that one-statism is the dominant line among Hamas radicals, but also – in what may be startling news for some – among Fatah "moderates" and the anti-Zionist intelligentsia on campus and in the punditocracy. The "moderates" and their academic backers say they have given up on "two-states for two peoples", ostensibly because Israel's presence in the West Bank and east Jerusalem is so entrenched that it will never agree to withdraw to the 1949 Armistice Lines – an unalterable Palestinian demand along with the "right of return for Palestinian refugees." Morris has a go at intellectuals such as Rashid Khalidi whom he persuasively shows to be faux moderates.

Of course, this conflict is not over borders, as Morris makes clear: "Put simply, the Palestinian Arab nationalist movement, from inception, and ever since, has consistently regarded Palestine as innately, completely, inalienably, and legitimately 'Arab' and Muslim and has aspired to establish in it a sovereign state under its rule covering all of the country's territory."

The Arabs' steadfast rejectionism is painfully predicable because it is premised on the conviction that the Jews have no civilizational connection (predating the arrival of the Arabs and the birth of Islam) to the Land of Israel and that the Jews are colonial interlopers. The struggle, therefore, is not about borders but over the zero-sum question of which people is, or will be, the majority population between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean.

When the Zionist movement and the soon-to-be nascent Arab national movement first encountered one another, the Jews were a clear minority. In 1882, Morris writes, there were about half a million Arabs and maybe 25,000 Jews. By 1920, there were 80,000 Jews and 700,000 Arabs. When the UN voted for partition, there were 600,000 Jews and 1.25 million Arabs. Today, there are about 3.9 million Palestinian Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza plus another 1.5 million Palestinians inside the Green Line compared to a Jewish population of 5.5 million.

No matter how much the ratio narrowed – and even if the Jews achieved majority status over a sliver of their historic homeland -- there was no way the Arabs would agree to share the land or that Jewish sovereignty was legitimate. It didn't matter that the Arabs had never been sovereign in Palestine or that most of the land was owned by the faraway Ottoman rulers; compromise was out of the question. Nor did it matter that nearly 80 percent of the Jewish National Home, as defined by the League of Nations and the Balfour Declaration, had been lopped off by the British in 1922 and turned over to the Arabs as Transjordan. The Jews, in response, had reluctantly abandoned claims to eastern Palestine, the singular exception being Ze'ev Jabotinsky and his revisionist followers who held fast to the belief that the Jews would one day be the dominant majority.


Once the extent of Arab opposition to the Zionist enterprise registered, Zionist idealists sought to accommodate the Arabs by proposing a bi-national solution. Morris summarizes the efforts of a number of small groups such as Brit Shalom and Hashomer Hatza'ir which pursued the bi-national idea. Some would have even consented to a permanent Jewish minority in the name of sharing the land. But these groups lost steam (not that they had much to begin with) in the wake of the 1929 Hebron intifada and subsequent murderous uprisings in 1936-39. Like today's J-Street radicals pushing for an imposed solution, pacifist rabbi and Hebrew University president Judah Magnes hoped that a bi-national state would be forced on the parties even if it meant a permanent Jewish minority. But in the wake of the April 1948 slaughter of a convoy of medical staff and faculty heading to Hadassah Hospital and Hebrew University on Mount Scopus, even Magnes gave up, went home, and died, Morris tells us.

In the period leading up to the creation of the state, Zionist pragmatists grudgingly accepted the partition of Western Palestine once it became clear that other options of sharing this land with the Arabs, such as a bi-national state, were either unacceptable or impractical. The pragmatists did so despite the realization that western Palestine was and is, basically, an indivisible geographic, political and economic unit.

Yet, every Zionist "yes" to compromise was met by an Arab "no." Their leaders rejected the July 1937 Peel Commission which would have granted Arabs the bulk of the country west of the Jordan; they even said no to the 1939 White Paper which essentially overturned the Balfour Declaration. And they then rejected the 1947 UN Partition to create two states.

Zionist leaders knew all along that ruling over a hostile Arab minority in a partitioned state would be impractical. Had there been goodwill, an exchange of populations would have been possible. There were precedents, such as the Greek-Turkish exchange in the 1920s. Morris cites David Ben-Gurion: "We never wanted to dispossess the Arabs. But since England is giving [the larger] part of the country promised to us for an Arab state, it is only fair that the Arabs in our state be transferred to the Arab area."


The 1948 War, Morris reminds us, displaced 700,000 Arabs but left a 160,000-strong Arab minority inside the Green Line. But that war, he points out, also ended "in an effective two-state partition of Palestine, albeit between Israel and Jordan…" with the Jews holding 8,000 sq. miles and the Arabs holding 2,000 in the West Bank and Gaza. Yet the Arabs sat on the West Bank and Gaza for 19 years refusing to create a state. Soon after the 1967 war -- when, as a result of their war of aggression, they had lost the West Bank and Gaza also -- they once again said no to peace, no to recognition and no to negotiation.

Even in the wake of the 1993 Oslo Accords, writes Morris: "Arafat kept dropping hints, in speeches in Arabic to Muslim audiences, that he was still wedded to the phased policy of liberating all of Palestine and had no intention of honoring a two-state settlement." Morris mentions [page 151] that suicide bombings "were inaugurated by the Palestinian fundamentalists after the Goldstein massacre." In fact, the first suicide attack took place on April 16, 1993 in the West Bank at Bet El. There were about a dozen Hamas strikes (not all successful) before Baruch Goldstein went on his Hebron killing spree of Muslim worshippers at the Cave of the Machpela, in February 1994.

In any event, the Arabs again said "no" in July 2000 to the Clinton plan at Camp David; again to George W. Bush at Taba 2001, and at the end of 2008 when Mahmoud Abbas dismissed Ehud Olmert's magnanimous offer of virtually 100 percent of the West Bank (any difference to be made up by ceding territory in the Negev). This thumbnail sketch of rejectionism is comprehensible only if one appreciates how viscerally the Arabs feel that the Jewish presence in Palestine is a cancer which needs to be kept from spreading until it can, ultimately, be excised.

One State, Two States is a superb summation of just how steadfast the Arabs are about not sharing the Land. Genuine moderates who expressed the slightest interest in compromise were isolated or murdered. Long decades of largely self-inflicted suffering and displacement have only hardened Palestinian hearts, not made them reconsider the pointlessness of their intransigence.


Morris shows how the differences between the PLO and Hamas are inconsequential as far as acceptance of Jewish legitimacy in Palestine is considered. He takes us through the creation of the Palestine National Council in 1964 which premised its platform on the idea that the "Jews are not one people" and have no national rights. It is a position that remains unchanged 45 years later.

He argues that the Fatah constitution has never been revoked or amended even if, post-1973, the movement modified its pronouncements to gain Western support. While the goals were unchanged, new pragmatic tactics, including a "policy of phases" was implemented. In other words, for a spurt of time, the Palestinians appeared willing to take whatever land they could gain in negotiations and use that as a staging area for the continued struggle to liberate all of Palestine.

The phased-plan, however, may now be off the table. How else to explain why Fatah's old guard dismissed the offer Olmert made at the end of 2008? Was it because Fatah lacks even a semblance of legitimacy within the Palestinian polity? Was it because rank and file Palestinians have lost faith in the phased plan? Perhaps the Palestinians fear that even a temporary demobilization will rob them of the will to fight. Morris raises this question, but like the rest of us can provide no satisfactory answer.

Personally, I don't think Fatah's inhibitions relate to Hamas. The Islamists would not stand in the way of the destruction of Israel in stages – indeed, Ahmed Yousef and others have even put forth a plan for a multi-year hudna that serves that is a variation on the theme.

Perhaps the stumbling block is Israel's insistence on a non-militarized Palestinian state, a rejection of the "right of return" and retention of strategic settlement blocs, which theoretically would thwart the phased plan from getting off the ground.


For any student of the Arab-Israel conflict, One State, Two States is an excellent primer on Palestinian duplicity. Morris demonstrates that the Palestinians never really accepted a two-state solution and that Fatah moderates never really gave up on terrorism in the wake of Oslo. The Palestinian "right of return," he shows, will not be solved through diplomatic sleight of hand whereby, for instance, Israel "acknowledged the moral and material suffering caused to the Palestinian people as a result of the 1948 war" via "compensation, resettlement [and] rehabilitation." Nor would it do for Israel to accept a symbolic number of refugees. Even Palestinian moderates, Morris shows, will not bend on their "right" to demographically asphyxiate Israel with the millions upon millions of "refugees."

The future, plainly, belongs to Hamas and One State, Two States presents a workmanlike summary of Hamas's origins and intentions. The Obama administration's likely willingness to fund a Palestinian unity government even if Hamas does not recognize Israel, renounce terror and accept previous Palestinian commitments is disconcerting. Not surprisingly, we're witnessing EU member states flirt with the Islamists – just as they did with Fatah in the early 1980s -- and we're seeing how so-called moderate Hamasniks are learning to fudge their goals in a way that eases the consciences of euro-liberals.

Yet Hamas is unapologetically anti-Semitic, fulminating, as Morris shows, about freemasons, Rotary Clubs and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. "This, then, is the covenant of the leading political party among the Palestinian Arabs, the party that they elected to power in free elections, that thoroughly dominates the Gaza Strip…" he concludes.

One State, Two States is a gloomy, concise, and spot-on account of where prospects for peace with the Palestinians stand: in the same ditch that the Palestinian Arabs began digging a century ago. It is levelheaded polemic more than history. And Morris is no doubt right to acknowledge that non-strategic settlement building close to Palestinian population center in the West Bank has been unhelpful. Yet he is honest enough to acknowledge that most Israelis would be ready to uproot these communities in return for genuine peace.


Morris, who worked at The Jerusalem Post long before I arrived there, made academic waves in 1989 with The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947-1949 which took the wind out of the Zionist line that the Arabs left of their own volition or because they were encouraged by their leaders to "get out of the way while Arab armies finished off the Jews." Yet he concluded that "The Palestinian refugee problem was born of war, not by design, Jewish or Arab."

To paraphrase Woody Allen, reading this book reminds me that we Israelis are at a crossroads in our relations with the Palestinians: One path leads to oblivion while the other to a total abyss. Pray we choose wisely.

Or as Morris puts it -- a one-state solution is a non-starter; the two peoples couldn't possibly live comfortably under one roof. At the same time, the prospects for a two-state solution are bleak "because the Palestinian, in the deepest fibers of their being, oppose such an outcome…"

About the only glimmer of hope Morris holds out is some kind of West Bank-Gaza-Jordan confederation. His next book, I imagine, will tell us why this, too, is a non-starter for the Palestinians.

Somehow, for a time, Morris got lumped together with anti-Zionist revisionist historians. Perhaps it was because of his reported refusal to do reserve duty over the Green Line; perhaps his association with Ben-Gurion University which has a reputation for being a hotbed of post-Zionist radicalism. And yet, precisely because Morris has for years labored in the archives with an open mind, his analysis here and elsewhere has added credibility. The highly accessible One State, Two States should be required reading from the Oval Office to the college campus.


Clashes between Muslim Uighurs and Han Chinese

False familiarity in Xinjiang

To Israeli eyes, the international media's coverage of the clashes between Muslim Uighurs and Han Chinese in Xinjiang province has seemed relatively non-judgmental so far. Chinese authorities are less sanguine, wondering why rioters have been described as peaceful protesters.

Over 150 people have been killed, 1,000 wounded and 1,400 arrested in three days of unrest. Hundreds of shops and cars have been set ablaze and parts of the city of Urumqi look like a war zone.

Authorities insist the violence has been instigated by expatriate agitators, pointing specifically to the German-based World Uighur Congress, and to a Washington-area activist named Rebiya Kadeer.

The Uighurs (pronounced Wee-gurs) are ethnically and religiously tied to the Turkic-speaking region of the former Soviet Union. They complain that the Chinese government limits their freedom to practice Islam. Radical Islam has made inroads in Xinjiang; 20 Uighurs have been captured by US forces in Afghanistan.

The ethnic Han, who dominate China, view Xinjiang as not only geo-strategically essential, but vital because of its oil and gas reserves. The central government encourages Han people to settle in Xinjiang. Once there, they live mostly segregated from the Uighur majority.

A deadly brawl last month between Han and Uighur factory workers, followed by rumors of reprisals, ignited the latest surge of unrest. Muslim mobs chanting "God is great" have confronted security forces, while club-wielding Han counter-demonstrators, fuming because they feel police are not doing enough to protect them, tried marching on a mosque yesterday before being dispersed by police.

THE XINJIANG unrest caught most consumers of news unprepared and unable to form instant opinions.

Until 1977, when Deng Xiaoping began the still ongoing process of transforming China into a more open society, foreign journalists were not even permitted into the region. But when the latest violence erupted, 24/7 cable news coverage kicked-in, as did reporting by the prestige press and wire services. Still, viewers and readers were mostly unfamiliar with the "back story."

What they now "know" - having seen the images - is that heavily armed Chinese police backed by truck-mounted water-cannons confronted demonstrators, who included women and children. They "saw" a lone, elderly woman, leaning on a cane, facing down an armored truck of the paramilitary People's Armed Police; they "witnessed" unidentified victims of the violence hospitalized on life-support, and a child with a head wound reportedly shot while "holding the hand of his pregnant mother when she [too] was shot."

So which will have the lasting impact - the above images, or the assertion by Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang that what has been going on in Xinjiang is "not a peaceful protest, but evil killing, fire-setting and looting"?

The Uighurs claim they have engaged in peaceful protest only to have been set upon by security forces. Qin says they are turning "black into white in an attempt to mislead the public."

The Chinese seem to appreciate that emotive images are overpowering their explanations. So they've gone on the PR offensive, escorting foreign journalists to Urumqi to "see for themselves." They have concurrently shut down cell phone networks and Internet access to keep the Uighurs' message from getting out, and to obstruct their ability to organize.

But the Internet age makes it basically impossible to seal a country hermetically, or manage the flow of news.

JUST about anyone with a computer or a television has a firm opinion about "what Israel must do" to address Palestinian grievances. Familiarity, even if rooted in ignorance, makes everyone an instant expert. The Xinjiang unrest, bringing new players into the media spotlight, leaves most people more befuddled than opinionated, though not averse to blaming the authorities by default.

The side that wears uniforms is always at a public relations disadvantage when it is confronted by images of wailing women and children in traditional garb. In days, some media coverage has planted the germ of the idea that Xinjiang is East Turkestan.

We Israelis might want to recall Xinjiang the next time we feel the world media is being uniquely harsh on us. And perhaps a more humble Chinese leadership will reflect on how easy it is to turn "black into white" before jumping on the anti-Israel bandwagon.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Thanks a lot, Mr. Vice President

Biden's signal

There's little doubt that US Vice President Joe Biden was signaling, in his Sunday television interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos, that the Obama administration would not stand in the way if Israel chose military force to stop Iran from building nuclear weapons.

GS: Prime Minister Netanyahu has made it pretty clear that he agreed with President Obama to give until the end of the year for this whole process of engagement to work. After that, he's prepared to take matters into his own hands. Is that the right approach?

Biden: Look, Israel can determine for itself - it's a sovereign nation - what's in their interest and what they decide to do relative to Iran and anyone else.

GS: Whether we agree or not?

Biden: Whether we agree or not. They're entitled to do that. Any sovereign nation is... But there is no pressure from any nation that's going to alter our behavior as to how to proceed. What we believe is in the national interest of the United States, which we, coincidentally, believe is also in the interest of Israel and the whole world. And so there are separate issues. If the Netanyahu government decides to take a course of action different than the one being pursued now, that is their sovereign right... That is not our choice.

GS: But just to be clear here, if the Israelis decide Iran is an existential threat [and] they have to take out the nuclear program, militarily the United States will not stand in the way?
Biden: Look, we cannot dictate to another sovereign nation what they can and cannot do... if they make a determination that they're existentially threatened and their survival is threatened by another country.

GS: You say we can't dictate - but we can, if we choose to, deny over-flight rights here in Iraq. We can stand in the way of a military strike.

Biden: I'm not going to speculate, George, on those issues, other than to say Israel has a right to determine what's in its interests; and we have a right and we will determine what's in our interests.

BIDEN HAS been known to commit the occasional faux pas. But the Israeli consensus is that he was sending a message from President Barack Obama. Is live television the best way for two allies to communicate on a matter of such import? Yes - if the goal was to instantly "reward" Binyamin Netanyahu for uttering the magic words "two states for two peoples" at Sunday's cabinet meeting.

Or could Biden have been signaling the Iranians that Washington would unleash the Israeli military if the mullahs continue to drag their heels on engagement? Unlikely.

After Biden's remarks, however, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, implied he doesn't think an Israeli bombing is preferable to an Iranian bomb.

ISRAELIS FEEL little appreciation for Biden's signal. Not to sound churlish, but we don't really need his confirmation that we are a sovereign country. Moreover, president George W. Bush's April 2004 letter to Ariel Sharon - the one Obama studiously ignores - already supported Israel's right "to deter and defend itself, by itself, against any threat."

So rather than subcontracting the safeguarding of American, Western and Arab interests in keeping the bomb out of Iran's clutches - and being left to eventually face down Iran on our own - what Israelis would prefer is concerted US leadership now.

The administration remains committed to reaching out to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Fearing it would upset the mullahs, however, Obama's has been reluctant to adequately prepare for the likely possibility that the Iranians will not even discuss their nuclear program, or will use any talks to stall for time.

The Europeans - even as they conduct billions of dollars' worth of trade with Iran - are belatedly turning to Washington for leadership on genuinely meaningful sanctions, the kind that would get Khamenei's undivided attention, should engagement fail.

Though even its most hardcore Western apologists have stopped making excuses for the Iranian regime, the Obama administration appears hesitant to see it for what it is.

Obama will have an opportunity to prove our assessment wrong later this week, at the G-8.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Ultra-Orthodox riot while the Arabs shoot it out

Unquiet weekend

For 2,000 years, the Jewish people yearned to be sovereign and free in "the land of Zion and Jerusalem." That wish has not been completely realized, as two violent disturbances in the capital over Shabbat hammered home.

The first involved anti-Zionist Eda Haredit rioters - joined by other, non-Zionist haredim - protesting the Sabbath opening of a parking garage near the Old City's Jaffa Gate. The second reflected an abrogation of responsibility by authorities as Arab clans shot it out in Silwan.

Arab residents who called police say they hesitated to respond for long hours, and that ambulances were not given armed escorts (necessary when entering Arab neighborhoods), anxious calls for medical assistance notwithstanding.

THE HAREDI protesters violated the sanctity of the Sabbath they claim to be defending by forcing the deployment of large numbers of security forces - including helicopters, mounted police, and observant officers - at whom they hurled rocks and invective ("You will burn in the fire of hell," "Nazis," and - to policemen wearing kippot: "half-breeds.")

Other haredim opened a second front, throwing stones at cars traveling along Route 9. As night fell, louts set fire to trash bins in Mea She'arim.

Police reacted with questionable restraint, making just one arrest - compared to 60 last Saturday. It remains to be seen whether this approach will boomerang. Haredi elders did discourage overheated adolescents and children from participating in Saturday's unrest.

Police pledge to press for indictments of the 60 arrested, even as they continue to hold 10 of the worst offenders. The extremists are apparently divided, some wanting to up the ante by holding midweek protests that include many children.

The haredi claim that the car park upsets the religious-secular status quo is nonsense. The facility, in a non-haredi tourist area, is free and staffed by non-Jews to accommodate vehicles that would anyway have been driven into town and left, helter-skelter, to block streets and sidewalks.

One way for Diaspora Jews to register their censure of such extremist behavior is by insisting that Mea She'arim-based institutions seeking their support go on record as denouncing such Shabbat riots.

We are also waiting for leading non-haredi Orthodox rabbis to echo former chief rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau and challenge the pernicious idea that it is halachically permissible to assault security personnel of the State of Israel - much less on the holy Sabbath.

SILWAN IS located below and to the south of the Old City walls. It is home to some 45,000 Palestinian Arabs - tax-paying residents of Jerusalem who carry standard blue Israeli ID cards - and a small enclave of national-religious Jews based in the City of David.

The terrifying outbreak of night-long mayhem between the Rajabi and Udan-Gawani clans, reportedly involving automatic weapons and grenades, left two dead and up to 10 wounded. A number of Arab homes were set ablaze. Repeated calls for calm over mosque loudspeakers were ignored - which only added to the sense of chaos and abandonment.

City of David residents said their calls to the police were ignored; Arab residents said they called for ambulances which never came. A Magen David Adom spokesman said police would not escort MDA ambulances, so the Red Crescent was told to bring the wounded to the entrance of the village. Instead they were taken to an Arab hospital.

Yakir Segev, a Jerusalem municipal councilmen, told Israel Radio that police have essentially abdicated their responsibilities in the Arab sections of Jerusalem. "The chance of seeing a regular police cruiser is close to zero," lamented Segev. Unconfirmed Arab reports say that the police allow Palestinian Authority operatives (who are officially barred from the area) to deal with clan violence.

The police say complaints of abandonment by both Arab and Jewish residents of Silwan/City of David are unwarranted. They say a number of Border Police jeeps entered the area when the shooting was first reported, and returned when it resumed after midnight. They point to three suspects arrested.

Silwan is not located in Hamas-controlled Gaza nor in the Fatah-dominated West Bank, but within walking distance of the Western Wall, within Jerusalem's municipal boundaries. The police must act accordingly.

Sovereignty comes with responsibilities. When the latter is abdicated, so is the former.

Friday, July 03, 2009

A visit from Congressman Wexler with a message from President Obama

'Calling their bluff'

One of President Barack Obama's earliest backers, US Representative Robert Wexler, was in Jerusalem this week trying to persuade Israelis that a settlement freeze would be a win-win proposition.

"I want to call their bluff," Wexler told The Jerusalem Post, referring to the Arab countries.

"I want to see, if Israel makes substantial movement toward a credible peace process, whether they are willing to do it. And if they are not, better that we should find out five or six months into the process, before Israel is actually asked to compromise any significant position."

Wexler added: "And if the Arab world fails to deliver, you can rightly say that all bets are off."

The Democrat from south Florida told the Post that the Obama administration was placing America's Arab allies under heavy pressure to take substantial steps toward normalizing relations with Israel, in return for a settlement freeze. He said they were being lobbied to establish trade offices, economic links, and cultural and educational exchanges; and to permit Israeli airliners to traverse Arab airspace.

Wexler added that the US was "open to suggestions from the Israeli side" for "different indicators of normalization that would… create credibility among the Israeli public."

IT IS notable that otherwise savvy Israeli and Western politicians have found themselves repeatedly out-maneuvered in attempting to "call the bluff" of their Arab interlocutors. The assumption is that if their ostensible demands are met, the Arabs will be painted into a corner and have no choice but to be accommodating.

Ehud Barak thought he had called Yasser Arafat's bluff at Camp David in 2000, offering roughly 90 percent of the West Bank, all of the Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem.

Arafat said it wasn't enough - and launched the second intifada.

In 2005, Ariel Sharon unilaterally uprooted all Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip and pulled the Israeli army out totally. He told the Palestinians: "To an outstretched hand, we shall respond with an olive branch."

They replied with an onslaught of Kassam rockets against the Negev.

In 2008, Ehud Olmert thought he had called Mahmoud Abbas's bluff by offering him the equivalent of 100% of the West Bank, plus international control of Jerusalem's Holy Basin. Abbas retorted: Make me a better offer.

When Binyamin Netanyahu took office, Abbas came up with a new bluff: The Palestinians would return to the negotiating table only in exchange for a settlement freeze.

Of course, had Abbas said yes to Olmert, the settlement issue would have become moot. All Jewish communities situated within the agreed boundaries of "Palestine" would, in all likelihood, have been uprooted.

At any rate, the Obama administration is, Wexler tells us, presently concentrating on calling the Arab states' "bluff," saying, in effect: "If we get you a settlement freeze - and you do keep insisting settlements are the stumbling blocks to peace - what sort of minimal moves toward normalization with Israel will you offer in return?"

To date, the Arabs have told the White House: "Have a nice day."

BUT SAY Netanyahu was prepared to call the Arabs' bluff (again) by agreeing to a freeze on construction outside the strategic settlement blocs. What reciprocal moves would mainstream Israelis want as a credible indication that the Arabs were on the way to normalization with Israel?

Some suggestions:

# Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States should establish interest sections at the Egyptian or Jordanian embassies in Tel Aviv and staff them with their own diplomats.

* The Arab states should declare a complete and immediate freeze on all anti-Israel agitation at the UN and associated bodies.

* Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and King Abdullah of Jordan should pay official visits to Israel.

* The Saudi king should meet with President Shimon Peres in a third country.

Wexler said that the Israeli press seemed oblivious to the administration's pressure on the Arab states to show signs of normalization with Israel, and that the Arab media wasn't publicizing these efforts either.

That can be remedied. Let Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Special Envoy George Mitchell make their normalization calls on the Arabs publicly, and with the same zeal that has characterized their calls for a settlement freeze.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Sarkozy sideshow...what really matters to Israeli foreign policy

Last week in Paris, French President Nicolas Sarkozy told Prime Minister
Binyamin Netanyahu to replace Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman with Tzipi
Livni. "I'm telling you," he reportedly said, "you need to get rid of that

That might have been a propitious moment for Netanyahu to recommend that
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner be replaced by Martine Aubry, head
of the Socialist Party. Instead, the premier replied, somewhat
mealy-mouthed, that Lieberman was actually a nice chap ­ once you got to
know him.

No doubt, were Sarkozy directeur des ressources humanines at our Foreign
Ministry, the place would take on a different political orientation. Would
Golda Meir have gotten his nod? Ariel Sharon? Moshe Arens? Yitzhak Shamir?

But it's easier to be contemptuous of Sarkozy¹s behavior than to address the
bigger problems besetting foreign policy under Netanyahu¹s stewardship.
When he took office in March, he promised a reassessment of Israel¹s stance
vis-à-vis the Palestinians. Yet he arrived at the White House in May without
a plan; and didn¹t articulate one until his June 14 Bar-Ilan address. In
contradistinction to an Obama administration which knew exactly what it
wanted, the PM¹s three months of dawdling proved costly to Israeli

Secondly, Netanyahu appointed a foreign minister with a not-undeserved image

This newspaper was unenthusiastic about Lieberman's appointment. We strongly
urged Tzipi Livni to put country first and join a Netanyahu-led coalition as
foreign minister. It was not to be.

SOME Israelis suspect that when journalists rush to characterize Lieberman
as an "ultra-nationalist" and a "settler," or when foreign leaders maintain
their discreet boycott against him, they are motivated less by revulsion
over the positions of his Israel Beiteinu Party than by the sense that he is
a tough negotiator. Yet Lieberman embraced the road map and Netanyahu¹s
Bar-Ilan speech endorsing a two-state solution, and nothing about his
policies merits disdain. Moreover, if a security or settlement policy
doesn¹t gain Lieberman¹s support, chances are it won¹t fly with mainstream
Israelis either.

For all his bombast and past demagoguery, Lieberman is a remarkably
pragmatic politician.

So Netanyahu needs to be emphatic that Lieberman is a "fact on the ground" ­
and he made a good beginning on this before the European ambassadorial
delegation to Israel on Tuesday. The premier must do nothing to facilitate
foreign leaders going around Lieberman and dealing with Netanyahu directly.
A third problem is that there are too many players engaged in high-stakes
foreign policy-making. For instance, we find it curious that Defense
Minister Ehud Barak ­ rather than Lieberman ­ was tasked with negotiating
with US Special Middle East Envoy George Mitchell in New York. After all,
the foreign minister met with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in
Washington last month, and acquitted himself well. Certainly, Mitchell¹s
constitution is no more delicate than Clinton's.

Lieberman could have been accompanied by experts from the Defense Ministry
to help with any security issues that might have arisen. But the controversy
over a total and unconditional settlement freeze is in the purview of
foreign, not defense policy. Indeed, it was the Foreign Ministry that
disseminated the rather hollow joint statement following the meeting.
Nor, anyway, did Barak¹s presence ­ as opposed to Lieberman¹s ­ charm the
pants off Mitchell. A senior White House official told The Washington Post,
bluntly: "We have not changed our position at all... Nor has the president
authorized any negotiating room."

Israel recently appointed the highly capable Michael Oren as its ambassador
to Washington. His accreditation is in its final stages. Once that goes
through, it would be wise for visiting Netanyahu confidantes to steer clear
of meetings with Obama administration officials. It is essential that Oren
be recognized as Israel's paramount voice in the American capital.
Israelis' splenetic reaction to Sarkozy¹s meddling is understandable. Let it
not distract us, however, from far more serious challenges.

We need decisive, coherent foreign policy leadership at a time when
President Barack Obama seems intent on testing the special relationship
between the US and Israel. And Netanyahu needs to work with Lieberman in
explaining why ­ for all its good intentions ­ the administration's approach
is bad for both countries.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Mercy has its limits -

Vengeance & Bernie Madoff

When Bernard Madoff's attorney, Ira Lee Sorkin, appealed to US Federal District Court Judge Denny Chin to go easy on his client just before the Ponzi-scheme king was sentenced on Monday, his argument was: "Vengeance is not the goal of punishment."

There is no way of knowing what the judge thought of that. What we do know is that after labeling Madoff's 20-year crime spree an "extraordinary evil," Chin sent him to prison for 150 years. Granted, Madoff showed - if not remorse - then self-awareness, admitting that his $65-billion racket had caused "a great deal of suffering and pain… I live in a tormented state now… I've left a legacy of shame." Indeed, his wife, who absented herself from the courtroom, claims to have known nothing of the plot which left her "embarrassed and ashamed."

Just as "Quisling" has become synonymous with "collaboration"; "Churchillan" with "eloquence" and "Freudian" with "analysis," the name Madoff will henceforth, as The New York Times aptly put it, "become synonymous with greed and fraud."

It will be years before the Nobel Prize winners and baseball heroes; the foundations, hospitals and yeshivot; the universities and charities - and the thousands of pensioners and civil servants (who didn't even know their savings had been funneled to Madoff's operation by the firms they invested with) - know whether any of their losses can be recouped.

The number of lives Madoff shattered will never be known; nor the total number of potential medical breakthroughs his crimes aborted. The harm he caused to countless, anonymous individuals is incalculable.

From a Jewish perspective, Madoff has brought shame upon our people and disrepute to Judaism. He has desecrated God's name - a hillul Hashem. That the religion and ethnicity of non-Jewish criminals is seldom made an issue of is beside the point. It is our tradition, and not what the Gentiles may say, that makes Madoff's Jewishness pertinent.

THIS BRINGS us back to the issue of vengeance. Avraham Feder, rabbi emeritus of Beit Knesset Moreshet Yisrael in Jerusalem, notes that in the 1790s, after European Jews were emancipated, various ancient Hebrew ideas fell out of favor. With modernity, vengeance came to be seen as unethical and even un-Jewish. Jews began to embrace the Christian tenet of turning the other cheek.

In fact, in Jewish tradition, going back to ancient times, vengeance is closely associated with justice. The Psalmist calls upon the Creator: "Pour out your wrath on the nations that do not acknowledge you, on the kingdoms that do not call on your name; for they have devoured Jacob and destroyed his homeland."

Feder points out that while vengeance is the Lord's, the collective is occasionally empowered to exact retribution or vindication, as in Chapter 8, verse 13 of the Book of Esther, when the Jews are told to be ready "to avenge themselves on their enemies."

Rabbi Jacob Chinitz, a noted Jerusalem educator, has argued that vengeance is justice by another name - and justice is vengeance, so long as it is carried out lawfully, and sanctioned by society. Vigilantism by individuals is not justice and, if rampant, would send civilization back to a Hobbesian state of nature.

Elwood McQuaid, a leading Protestant clergyman and Christian Zionist, cites Romans 12:19 in defining his tradition's attitude to vengeance: "Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath: for it is written, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay,' says the Lord."

McQuaid: "What's interesting, and I believe clarifying here, is that the passage bases its authority on Deuteronomy 32:35. In the following passage, Romans 13, the justice/vengeance issue is left in the hands of the 'governing authorities,' with a strong admonition to obey and support those laws. Therefore, in cases like the Madoff fiasco, Christians would support whatever terms of justice/vengeance the law imposed. The prohibition is against executing personal vengeance, but supportive of the law of the land - justice."

So to attorney Sorkin, we say: Vengeance is indeed an acceptable goal of punishment, certainly in such a case. You might more credibly have appealed for mercy, which the Judeo-Christian tradition, and American jurisprudence, provide when justice makes a petitioner undeserving of leniency.

But even mercy has its limits.

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