Category Archives: Israel

Comical Comparison

Have you read about how Ukrainians in Russia have planted bombs in public places, how they terrorize and murder Russian civilians, jumping unsuspecting Muscovites and viciously stabbing them? How they preach hatred for all Russians? How they declare their wish to push them all into the Arctic Ocean?

No? Well, that’s probably because, needless to say, nothing of the sort is remotely true.

And not all Molotov Cocktails are alike.

To read what I mean, please click here.

Blood in the Snow

Culture is a powerful thing. And Palestinian culture seems to embrace, or at least have an unhealthy tolerance for, violence.

Not only against Israelis or Jews but within Palestinian society as well.
To read what I mean, click here.

Help Preserve the Kotel’s Kedusha

The push to balkanize the Kotel Maaravi is, as its proponents readily admit, intended as a step toward legitimizing American-style “Jewish religious pluralism” in Israel. That would be a disaster, not only because of the notion’s inherent falsehood — that there are different “Judaisms” — but demographically too, since non-halachic “conversions,” “divorces” and the like have wreaked havoc on the unity of American Jewry.

What is more, the Kotel has always served as a unifier of Jews, whatever their backgrounds or beliefs — probably the only place on earth where so many different kinds of Jews pray side by side.

If you wish to register your chagrin at the plan to partition the Kotel, you can do so easily by visiting:

www.OneKosel.org

There is no charge for doing so, and, by sending the letter (or one of your own crafting), you can help show that a good part of “American Jewry” wants the status quo at the Kosel to be retained.

Tizku limitzvos.

Loud Loutishness: Decibels Aren’t Arguments

Anyone with the unfortunate habit of listening to talk shows may have noticed the inverse relationship between loudness and logic.  Or as Leonardo da Vinci is said to have said, “Where there is shouting, there is no true knowledge.”

It’s true in daily life too. Some people seem to imagine that decibels are arguments, that screaming angrily is a good-enough stand-in for persuasion — even for facts.

Last week, across the big pond to the east, the Israeli ambassador to Great Britain, Tzipi Hotovely, after speaking and taking questions at the renowned London School of Economics, was set upon by a screaming crowd of Arab and Muslim students. Egged on by social media to “smash her car window,” members of the mob loudly shouted slogans, curses, “shame on you” and other rational arguments.

Security officers and bodyguards bundled the ambassador into a car while police clashed with the shouting mob. 

(British Home Secretary Priti Patel tweeted that she was “disgusted by the treatment of the Israeli Ambassador.” Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and Nadhim Zahawi, Secretary of State for Education, expressed similar reactions.)

The mob’s screaming was a stark contrast to the sort of reasoned give-and-take that had just taken place inside the building. And further evidence of the loudness/logic inverse relationship.

Because the screamers, at least the smarter ones, likely know, deep down, that Israel does not, as they chant, target civilians when responding to Hamas terror attacks or seek to oppress its Arab citizens. So all that’s left to “make their case” is yelling.

But beneath the baseless charges of baby killing and subjugation lies a broader, equally baseless charge made by many anti-Israel “activists” (if slander can be described as activism).

That larger untruth is the very “Palestinian narrative,” the contention that the Jewish return to Eretz Yisrael was a colonial venture, the displacement of a native population by foreign usurpers.

It makes for a great shout, and shouted it is, at rallies and protests around the world, often encapsulated as “From the River to the Sea, Palestine Will Be Free!” (Translation: “Kill or expel Jews from the land.”)

And shouting is the only way to promote the narrative, the only means of allowing it to obscure the facts of history.

To be sure, Arabs have lived in Eretz Yisrael for centuries, but the land has never been Judenrein. Jews were a presence in the land since Yehoshua’s time, even after the destruction of the Second Beis Hamikdash and the expulsion of most of Klal Yisrael from their land. 

And, of course, millions upon millions of Jews have, over the centuries since 70 C.E., prayed thrice daily for divine mercy to allow them to return — return — to their land — their land.

What’s more, the Arab presence in 1948 Palestine was anything but indigenous. Many who call themselves native “Palestinians” are in truth descended from successive waves of people who came to the area from other places. 

Like Egypt, the source of successive waves of immigrants at the end of the 18th century, fleeing famine and government oppression at home.

The 19th century saw Arab immigration to Eretz Yisrael from Algeria and what is now Jordan. Bosnian Muslims, too, came in significant numbers.

Later on, after Jews began returning to the land, opportunities drew even more Arab immigrants. As Britain’s Peel Report noted in 1937, “The Arab population shows a remarkable increase ….. partly due to the import of Jewish capital into Palestine and other factors associated with the growth of the [Jewish] National Home…” 

So, when Israel declared its statehood in 1948, there was a sizable Arab population in Eretz Yisrael. And the desires and aspirations of that population and its descendants in the land should not be ignored. But many, if not most, were not native to the land. And the forebears of Jews, if millennia matter, were.

Arabs residing in the country or the West Bank or Gaza could realize their hopes for better lives, if only they acknowledged those truths. Then, good-faith, civil discussion could ensue.

It is an unlikely development, I admit, but one thing is certain: Shouting is no replacement for talking.

© 2021 Ami Magazine

AOC’s Unconcern With Jewish Lives

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez offered an apology last Friday, but it was the wrong one.

She had decided at the last minute to vote “present” instead of “no” on a resolution to provide  $1 billion in new funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system. And then reportedly had a crying spell after which she expressed regret for not actively opposing the resolution.  

Her apology, instead, should have been for having even considered depriving Israel of the ability to protect innocent men, women and children from Hamas rockets.

The measure passed 420 to 9, but the handful of nay- or “present”- sayers showed some true and truly ugly colors. 

Back in 2018, I defended Representative Ocasio-Cortez when she was under fire for comments that were construed as insensitive to the memory of the Holocaust. And defended her again, when, with regard to Israel, she was lumped together on no evidence with Israel-hating, antisemitic trope-spewers Representatives Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar.

I had hoped that Ms. Ocasio-Cortez wouldn’t slip into the Tlaib and Omar mud pit and buy into the anti-Israel propaganda that has crazily come to be part of some progressives’ agenda (though not of responsible ones like the impressive Ritchie Torres).

Alas, my hopes were dashed.  

She has repeatedly referred to Israeli security measures as “apartheid,” an accusation that distinguished South African Judge Richard Goldstone, who was charged by the U.N. Human Rights Council to lead an investigation of Israel/Hamas hostilities in 2008-2009, dismissed as defamatory. “In Israel,” he wrote in The New York Times, “there is no apartheid. Nothing there comes close to the definition of apartheid.”

And, after this past May’s Hamas attack on Israel, after which the Jewish state dared to retaliate by destroying terrorist bases and tunnels (and taking precautions to protect noncombatants that are unparalleled in any other military), Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez blasted Israel for its “disproportionate” response, since there were more casualties, overwhelmingly terrorists, in Gaza than, thankfully, in Israel.

All that was emetic enough.  Now the congresswoman is weepily apologizing for not voting to deprive Israel of an entirely defensive weapon.  The Iron Dome system doesn’t threaten people; it destroys rockets aimed at people. And it has done so repeatedly, saving countless Israeli citizens’ lives. If ever there was a no-brainer when it comes to legitimate military assistance, this was it.

The problem is that Ms. Ocasio-Cortez has brains, plenty of them. Her opposition to a measure that can only save innocent lives must come from somewhere other than intelligence. Such irrationality is a regularly observed characteristic of antisemites.

I cannot know if the hearts of  Ms. Ocasio-Cortez or the others who didn’t vote to approve the funding in fact harbor visceral hatred for Jews. But what I can know, based on their votes, is that they have something less than concern for Jewish lives.

A Welcome Win in a Political Proxy War

Should anyone still need convincing that “progressive” stances on Israel are at times tainted with… something less than enthusiasm for Jews… former Ohio state senator Nina Turner’s concession speech should do the trick.

The race that Ms. Turner lost on August 3 was in a special Democratic primary bid to fill an open House seat in Ohio’s 11th congressional district, which includes much of Cleveland.

The contrast between Ms. Turner and the come-from-behind winner, Shontel Brown, was stark.

And Israel was very much a point of contention between the two candidates.

To read my commentary on the election, which was my Ami column last week, click here.

The Non-Tragedy of Artem Dolgopyat

Israeli Artem Dolgopyat won a gold medal in the men’s floor exercise at the 2020 Tokyo Games, making him Israel’s second-ever Olympic gold medalist.

Amid the celebration, though, was some grumbling, over the fact that the medalist is not Jewish according to Jewish law.

That, of course, is of no consequence in the context of the games – or, for that matter, of Israeli society. Israel’s citizenry includes Jews, Muslims, Christians and Druze.

But Mr. Dolgopyat’s status according to halacha, or Jewish religious law, prevents the medalist, who immigrated to Israel from Ukraine in order to further his career, from marrying a Jewish woman in Israel.

Mr. Dolgopyat’s mother, Angela Bilan, who isn’t Jewish but clearly evidences a stereotypical Jewish mother’s sensitivity, told a local radio station interviewer that “For [me to have] grandchildren, he needs to get married. The country doesn’t let him get married.”

What she was referring to is the fact that, as is the case in Egypt, Jordan, Indonesia and several other countries, there is no option of civil marriage in Israel. As in those other nations, only religious unions sanctified by clergy — of one or another religion — are recognized in Israel. And Jewish marriages there can only be effected between two Jews, and overseen by rabbis recognized by the Israeli central Rabbinate, which hews to halacha.

Israeli Knesset member Gilad Kariv, a former director of the Israeli Reform Movement, which does not consider halacha the arbiter of Jewish practice, shared in Ms. Bilan’s chagrin, tweeting: “Artem, you, a champion, will continue to bring medals, and we will continue to fight strongly to bring you free choice in marriage and divorce.”

For a informed take on the issue, though, some historical background is necessary.

We Americans have an almost instinctive affinity for the concept of church-state separation. Religion in the U.S. is a private matter, and government institutions do not – may not – entangle themselves with religion. 

But many countries in fact have official religions. There are, of course, Muslim countries like Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Jordan Kuwait, Malaysia, Morocco, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Tunisia and Yemen.

But also Christian ones. Like Costa Rica, Liechtenstein, Malta, Monaco, Italy, Argentina, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Paraguay, Peru, Poland, Greece, England, Denmark, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Finland and Sweden.

Even several Buddhist ones, like Bhutan, Cambodia and Sri Lanka.

Israel is, of course, a Jewish one, the only such country on the globe. And, like most of the above, it is not a theocracy but a democracy. Nevertheless, it respects its claim to Jewishness in certain limited ways.

On June 19, 1947, shortly before Israel declared its existence, Ben-Gurion and other officials of the Jewish Agency signed what came to be known as the “Religious Status Quo Agreement.”  In the words of the late University of Pennsylvania Professor of International Law Harry Reicher, the agreement was “for significant elements of the religious population… the inducement to their participation in that creation [of Israel], and… was quite fundamental to the character with which the State was stamped at its birth.”

That foundational document, which was addressed to representatives of the Agudath Israel movement (whose American arm I work for) declared the nascent state’s guarantee of religious freedom for all its inhabitants, but, in order to honor the word “Jewish” in the phrase “Jewish State,” pledged state observance of the Jewish Sabbath as the official day of rest, provision of only kosher food in government kitchens and the option for citizens to choose a system of traditional Jewish religious education for their young. 

It also addressed Jewish “personal status” issues like marriage, divorce and conversion, assuring the religious community that “everything possible will be done [to] avoid, Heaven forbid, the splitting of the House of Israel into two.”

What Israel’s first Prime Minister recognized was that multiple personal-status standards will inevitably result in multiple “Jewish peoples.” 

And if “Jewish State” was to be more than a slogan, Ben-Gurion understood, in matters like marriage, divorce and conversion, some standard must be established.  The logical standard to choose was the one that had maintained the Jewish people for centuries: halacha.

And so, it is that standard that currently prevents Mr. Dolgopyat from marrying a Jewish woman in Israel. It has not been reported whether his Belarusian girlfriend is Jewish. But for their marriage in Israel to be formally recognized by the state, they would have to be married in a religious ceremony of some sort.

In any event, there is another option for Mr. Dolgopyat and his intended. It is an option that is taken by some 9000 couples each year. Israeli civil law fully recognizes marriages of any sort that have been entered into in other countries.  And so, Israelis and citizens of other countries without civil marriage options can travel to places like Cyprus, a short flight (160 miles) from Israel to marry in a civil ceremony and, at least in the case of Israel, have their marriages entered into the state registry.

That back-door approach will not make Mr. Dolgopyat Jewish in the eyes of the Rabbinate or of anyone who considers halacha the arbiter of Jewish status. Only a sincere conversion to Judaism could do that.

But it should at least make his loving mother happy.

© 2021 Rabbi Avi Shafran

Cowardice Or Wisdom?

That any sane person could castigate Israel for her response last month to Hamas missiles is astounding.  

Hamas, after all, has sent booby-trapped party balloons across the border into Israeli towns in an effort to kill Jewish children, and began the recent war by aiming its rockets at civilians, rejoicing at every Israeli casualty. The Israel Defense Forces, by powerful contrast and as usual, sent messages by texts, phone calls and leaflets warning civilians to evacuate premises housing terrorists or weapons caches before bombing the buildings.

Astounding, but not surprising, of course. We’re still in galus, after all, and where Jews are concerned, common sense often goes missing.

Israel’s reaction to the recent attack on her, moreover, was widely called “disproportionate.” But that judgment presupposes that her goal was punishment. It wasn’t. 

The Hamas rockets were merely a pretext for Israel to undertake something more important than teaching terrorists a lesson. They were an opportunity to destroy as much of the murderers’ weapons and tunnels as possible, to prevent further attacks on Israeli civilians in the near future. To speak of “proportionality” in such a mission is incoherent.

Hamas, moreover, started the recent war on a pretext of its own, invoking police actions on Har Habayis and a reclamation of Jewish property in Yerushalayim’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood as the reasons for their attack. But those were just convenient excuses. The terrorists’ true aim, as always, was just to kill or maim as many Jews as possible. 

So both Hamas and Israel seized chances to do what each already wanted to do: the former, to kill innocents; the latter, to protect them.

But the fact that good and evil here are easily identifiable begs an uncomfortable question: Could Hamas have been — or might it in the future be — deterred from attacking (and, after Israel’s understandable reaction, garnering the support of Israeli Arabs, mendacious media and credulous Congresspeople) by depriving it of pretexts?

The hashkafah that is part of my chinuch has it that the Jewish presence in Eretz Yisrael is a brachah, but not one that changes the harsh reality of galus.

And so, while some Jews, swelling with pride born of Israel’s accomplishments, feel that the Jewish state needn’t pay regard to other nations’ wrongheaded stances, to me, a true understanding of the meaning, challenge and mandate of galus counsels, at least to a degree, deference to the Arabs and the umos ha’olam.

Such concern for so often hostile others is seen by some as weakness or abandonment of Eretz Yisrael. But it is nothing of the sort. It is a simple recognition of reality, and a rejection of the attitude of “kochi v’otzem yadi asah li es hachayil hazeh.”

To be sure, Israel has not only the right but the responsibility to do what is necessary to protect her citizens. But it can’t be ignored that there are actions that go beyond that, and which, even when entirely justified by law and reason, may not be justified by wisdom. 

Several weeks before the first rockets were launched from Gaza last month, Israeli police reportedly entered the mosque on Har Habayis and cut the cables to loudspeakers that broadcast Muslim prayers. It was Yom Hazikaron and the move was intended to allow Israel’s president to make a speech at the Kosel. It was also, though, the first day of Ramadan. Was the pre-emptive move justified? Perhaps, yes. Wise? Perhaps not.

Likewise, Jews with claims to homes in neighborhoods like Sheikh Jarrah have every right, both ethically and by law, to reclaim their land. Is their claim justified? Absolutely. Wise? Arguable.

Last month, to its credit, the Israeli government, at the last minute, just before Yom Yerushalayim — when Jewish nationalists traditionally march through the Muslim Quarter and ascend Har Habayis — barred Jews from entering the compound, and rescheduled the march; and the Israeli Supreme Court postponed its hearing in the Sheikh Jarrah eviction case. But it was too late. Arab passions were in a state of frenzy by then, and Hamas took advantage of the anger and made its murderous move.

On Tuesday, the rescheduled march took place. Thousands of Israelis carrying flags assembled at Sha’ar Shechem, singing “Am Yisrael Chai,” before marching through the Old City.

“Take a good look at our flag. Live and suffer,” one marcher shouted in Hebrew through a megaphone at Arab merchants on the other side of police barriers. There was a catcall of “Death to Arabs!”

We are approaching the weeks of the Jewish year when we directly acknowledge, and bemoan, the fact that we’re still in galus.

And, in that state of yet-unfulfilled history, the Israeli government and nationalist Israelis would do well to reflect on the fact that Mashiach has not yet arrived, and that, while there is often a need to act militarily in defense of the populace, in political and social realms, restraint, respect and measured compromises might reflect not cowardice but wisdom.

© 2021 Rabbi Avi Shafran