Monday, April 4, 2022

Never Again?

 "Both the fighters and the ordinary civilians, they kept looking up at the western sky. . . They were looking for the American warplanes that they felt sure were coming to help them.  All that week, when people realized I was an American journalist, they would grab at my jacket:  'When are the Americans coming?  They told us they were coming.'"

"There was all this shooting going on, people were in despair, and they knew the end was coming, and all of a sudden, this cheer goes up.  And it spreads.  Even over the gunfire, you could hear this cheering.  I finally asked someone what was going on, and they said, 'the Americans have arrived at last, they are on the outskirts, but they're coming this way.'  So this rumor had started. . . Well, this was a very difficult thing to hear."

Timothy Foote, a Time-Life journalist, as quoted in Scott Anderson's The Quiet Americans p. 451-2, describing Budapest in 1956.

Perhaps history does not repeat itself exactly, but sometimes it comes hauntingly close.

If tyrants could be stopped by the number of reports of the spotting and siezing of oligarchs' yachts, Putin would be six feet under by now.

If wars were won by talking about how strong and comprehensive sanctions are and how unified NATO is, white flags would be flying from the Kremlin.

But wars driven by expansionist ideology and dreams of an empire are not deterred or beaten by sanctions.  And, besides, Germany and several other European nations are still paying Russia for substantial parts of their oil supplies, and two countries representing 2.8 billion people are not imposing sanctions.

Every former and would-be general doing commentary on the war is enthusiastically exclaiming their astonishment at just how bad the Russian army is performing.

(Continue at https://www.edelsteinrandomthoughts.com/2022/04/never-again.html)

Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Is Israel standing up enough?

David Horovitz makes a persuasive case for Israel taking a full-throated stand in support of Ukraine and making an explicit condemnation of Russia's egregious invasion.

In an ideal world, that is what any democratic country that respects sovereignty and independence should be doing. Of course, in an ideal world, an oppressive regime should not exist and certainly should not be engaging in naked, unprovoked aggression against its neighbors.

The world's only Jewish nation, its people imbued with a history of oppression and powerless against evil forces, of course feels instinctively that standing with the victim is the right place to be.

And yet there is consternation over an apparent hesitation by Prime Minister Bennett to specifically condemn Russia. There is a debate over whether Israel is doing enough.

It is interesting that Israelis are having this debate among themselves. Are there many non-European countries that are having internal debates about their level of support for Ukraine? It is also interesting that citizens of other countries, including the United States, are asking what Israel is doing. And, of course, there are some who are saying Israel is not doing enough.

Why are Israelis and others having this debate, asking these questions, making these criticisms?  Is it because of the Jews' long history of being the victims and their long identification with the underdog?

Is it because Israel takes pride in and often speaks of its status as the "only democracy in the Middle East? Is it because Israel has a special relationship with and receives unparalled support from the the United States, the "leader of the free world" that is leading the non-military effort to repel Russia?

One might argue that at least some of the criticism comes from a disproportionate focus on Israel's alleged faults, and from a desire to take any opportunity to discredit Israel. From the same motivation that causes the U.N. to pass 14 resolutions against Israel in 2021 while passing only four against all the other countries on earth.

From the same unending hostility that causes the U.N. Human Rights Council to make Israel the only nation with a permanent agenda item, and that causes the U.N Human Rights Council to choose Israel as the only country to be subject to an open-ended and effectively permanent inquiry into alleged war crimes.  You don't have to be much of a cynic to believe that at least some critics are motivated by a deep-seated animus toward Israel and/or Jews.

The fact is that Israel has drawn lines, has balanced competing interests, has considered both moral and practical factors in doing and saying what it has done and said about Ukraine.  In that regard, it is like every other country, including the U.S. and the nations of Europe.

Among other things, those nations have considered their dependence on Russian energy, their desire to avoid a direct military confrontation with Russia, their businesses who rely on Russian customers and suppliers, and they have weighed those considerations against the moral and practical reasons for confronting Russia.

None of those countries have chosen to jeopardize the lives of their soldiers or civilians in their stand against Putin's naked aggression against a sovereign country that wishes to be a part of Europe.

One can argue with Israel's conclusion, but one cannot argue that Israel isn't like every other country in weighing carefully all of its interests when determining how to support Ukraine.

What has Israel done regarding Ukraine?

1. It has come out in support of Ukrainian sovereignty. Foreign Minister Lapid specifically mentioned Russia in his condemnation while Prime Minister Bennett has not.

2. Israeli doctors have flown in to assist.

3. It has provided 100 tons of humanitarian aid.

4. It voted in support of the UN General Assembly’s resolution condemning the invasion.

5. While not directly supportive of Ukraine, it is noteworthy that Israel is helping citizens of countries that wish its destruction leave Ukraine.

Israel’s statement in support of Ukrainian sovereignty and Lapid’s mention of Russia caused Russia to attack Israel for controlling the Golan Heights.

What has Israel not done:

1. The Prime Minister did not specifically condemn Russia.

2. Israel did not co-sponsor the UN Security Council condemning the invasion, a resolution that was doomed to defeat at the hands of Russia's veto.

Any person who supports democracy and freedom would like to see Israel, as well as many other countries, be even more vociferous and more generous in their support of Ukraine.  However, there are reasons with life-and-death implications behind Israel's approach. Horovitz makes mention of the situation with Russia in Syria, but then somehow disregards it in arriving at his conclusion.

Because of decisions by both Presidents Obama and Trump, Iran and Russia both have a military presence in Syria, with Iran supporting Hezbollah and other terrorist groups in efforts to attack Israel and to install sophisticated precision missiles aimed at Israel, like the 140,000 installed in Lebanon (often embedded amongst civilians) despite UN resolution 1701 assuring that, except for the Lebanese Army,  southern Lebanon would be demilitarized.

Israel has an arrangement with Russia that allows it to prevent Iranian entrenchment in Syria, but Israel has to coordinate closely with Russia’s military there. One mistake that causes a Russian casualty or death, and Israel is toast.

This is not theoretical geopolitics. If Israel cannot operate in Syria, Iran and Hezbollah will become entrenched there and will use it as a base to harass and kill Israelis. If Russia does not allow Israel to operate in Syria, and/or does not coordinate with it, Israeli pilots and other soldiers will have a much tougher job and be at much more risk as they attempt to defend the north.

The importance of Israel's need to manuever in Syria becomes magnified if the reports of the resuscitation of the Iranian nuclear deal prove true.  The deal, negotiated by nations outside the region, will reportedly do nothing to impede Iran's ability to support terrorism, to destabilize other nations, and perhaps to slow Iran's development of ballistic missles capable of carrying nuclear weapons.  It will undoubtedly put more funds at Iran's disposal.

There is another risk:  About 200,000 Jews live in Russia.  While times have been relatively good as of late, Russia and many Russians have a deep, historic "tradition" of vicious, often violent anti-Semitism.  While it may not be the overriding factor,  Israeli leaders are always mindful of the jeopardy that Diaspora Jews may be in as a result of Israel's foreign policies.

The question is if the upside of an explicit condemnation by Prime Minister Bennett and the comparatively small amount of military aid it could contribute outweigh these real, potentially deadly risks.

Many of the people in the West who think Israel should say and do more despite the life-and-death risks that may result live in countries, including ones in Europe, that will not commit their soldiers to fight for Ukraine. They will not even establish a no-fly zone.  And yet they would have Israel make statements that could very well have deadly consequences for Israel. It seems just a bit hypocritical.

Ironically, President Zelensky asked Israel to host and mediate peace talks because he is of the view is that Israel is one of the few countries that has decent relations with both Russia and Ukraine. Putin rejected the idea.

While Zelensky's proposal was is flattering and shows the value of Israel's relationship with Russia, Putin's rejection was probably a good thing. Bennett and Lapid have enough trouble mediating between their coalition partners. It's doubtful they needed additional work.

 (Originally published in The Times of Israel)

Friday, February 25, 2022

Ukraine, Israel, and the nuclear bomb

Virtually every democratic leader has declared Putin's invasion of Ukraine an unadulterated, unjustified attack of a tyrant against a free and independent country.  They have declared that such aggression cannot stand, that might does not make right.

President Biden stated that "America stands up to bullies.  America stands up for freedom."

Retired General Petreaus has called Putin's actions "An assault on democracy."

What is the response of the free democratic world to this naked aggression?  To this violation of sacred sovereignty?  How does America and its allies stand up to bullies?  How do they stand up for freedom?

Apparently, by imposing some financial penalties.  But not by meeting military aggression with military might.

The minute the Biden Administration and NATO made it clear that NATO would not use military means to defend Ukraine, they assured that Putin would move against Ukraine and, if not stopped, ultimately against other nations.  His history bears this out.  The history of dictatorial tyrants bears it out.

Why have America and its allies not stood up militarily for Ukraine.  I have heard two reasons: 1) Americans and Europeans are tired of endless wars.  2) Ukraine is not part of NATO.

The answers: 1) Anyone who thinks allowing this invasion to proceed without a military counter by democracies will prevent future fighting that will involve the U.S. and NATO  is living in a fantasy land.  They obviously do not read history.

Sunday, December 12, 2021

The Kotel: The deal that wouldn't happen

 Just after Prime Minister Bennett and other members of his government repeated what has become a mantra for them—how Israel is for all Jews, how they want all streams of Judaism to feel welcome, equal and appreciated, etc. etc.—and not long after pledging once again that they would pass the long-delayed Kotel agreement negotiated during Prime Minister Netanyahu’s tenure, a deal Netanyahu reneged on under pressure, the Bennett government demonstrated  a similar modicum of backbone when it comes to keeping its pledges and backing up its lovely words about Israel’s approach to non-Orthodox Diaspora Jews:  It announced that it was breaking its pledge.

Bennett and several of his coalition partners, as well as President Herzog, have put relations with Diaspora Jewry, and particularly with American Jewry, at the top of their stated priority list.  If they do not already know, they will soon learn what anyone familiar with non-Orthodox American Jews knows:  that for a large majority of the 90% of American Jews who are not Orthodox, feeling that they are not treated as equals by Israel will forever be an obstacle to them identifying with and feeling as close as they might to Israel.

To a great majority of that majority, the Kotel represents a tangible and visible sign of the lack of equal treatment and equal status.  While they may not visit Israel often, and while many never visit, for those that do come the Kotel is at the top of their list, and it is often among the most meaningful and emotional stops on their visit.

In case someone is tempted to disregard these Jews as alienated malcontent lefties marching with IfNotNow as they shout anti-Zionist slogans, I suggest counting the number of AIPAC conference attendees not wearing kippot.  On second thought, it will be easier to count those wearing kipot.

I’ve spent a decent number of hours explaining to Israelis why the Kotel, a wall seldom if ever visited by a great number of American Jews, located in a country seldom if ever visited by them, is such a lightening rod, such an important symbol of acceptance, equality, and appreciation to those Jews.

As mentioned above, the Kotel and, specifically, the Kotel deal, has become a symbol of how Israel looks upon and treats non-Orthodox Jews.  And, for those Jews who look further, the problems they see with the symbol reflect reality:  rabbis not recognized, marriages not recognized, funding not equal by a long shot.  And the list goes on.

I’ve spent an equal number of hours explaining to American Jews why, despite the fact that there are so many non-Orthodox “secular” Israelis (a very misleading term—see Shmuel Rosner and Camil Fuch’s “#IsraeliJudaism: Portrait of a Cultural Revolution” for a picture of how Israelis do their Judaism), they are not demonstrating about and voting on this issue.

For most of these non-Orthodox Israelis, it is an occasional irritant:  weddings, divorces, and death.  Security, education, economics, transportation are the issues that stare them in the face daily.  Many of them seldom if ever visit the Kotel, viewing it as an Orthodox synagogue.

Friday, October 29, 2021

Their house burning, American Jews take a hose to Israel?

A relative (I’ll call her Melanie) recently asked me what I thought about a notice from her Reform Synagogue in the Western U.S. announcing a program exploring the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. The program promised to hear all voices, get new perspectives, not place blame, discover creative solutions, and other well-intentioned platitudes comfortingly explored thousands of miles away from the scene.

After responding to Melanie’s question with some platitudes of my own about the benefits of gaining more knowledge and hearing from a variety of perspectives, as well as something about the need to understand history and context, I then wrote much more than Melanie asked for:

On a more general note, the program raised something I have been thinking a lot about lately: When we first started coming to Israel frequently, I would often bring up my concerns about how Israel related to and was perceived by the American Jewish community. I did this because I recognize the importance of that community to Israel and to the future of the Jewish people.

Many of the Israelis I met, including people who made Aliyah from the U.S. and other countries years ago, would often just shrug in seeming resignation, or they would make some dismissive comment.

They seemed to be resigned to American Jews having problems with and not understanding Israel, and to being unable to convince American Jews of Israel’s positions and concerns. Some even seemed to be contemptuous of the American Jews expressing their concerns about Israel’s actions or positions. I could not understand how they could be so dismissive.

Now, after having lived here in Israel a good part of the last decade, I am more understanding. People living here, including me, my wife, and our daughter, have dealt with periodic wars, taking shelter from missiles, sending kids off to battle, cars and trucks driving into bus stops, knifings, and other life-threatening and certainly traumatic events.

In between these “incidents,” people here are living lives just like others in the world: Putting kids through school, dealing with elderly parents, fighting traffic, doing their jobs, trying to afford apartments, shopping for groceries, complaining about prices, enjoying good wine, booking weekends at hotels, listening to music, dealing with Covid, and even, occasionally, arguing and complaining about politics.

They live in a country which, like many other countries, has challenges and things to complain about. But, overall, given the history of the country and the neighborhood we are in, Israelis live in a rich, resourceful, fun, rewarding, meaningful country. They (or we) have much to be proud of.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

My arteries and the territories--The Ben & Jerry's boycott

While my arteries may be happy, it pains me to say this:  I will be boycotting Ben & Jerry's and, to the extent I can keep track of their myriad holdings, the ice cream company's parent company, Unilever. I will be urging others to do the same.  (Ben & Jerry's is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Unilever.  In an unusual arrangement, Ben & Jerry's is run by its own "independent" board.)

Ben & Jerry's announced that it is boycotting the "Occupied Palestinian Territories."   It's announcement is vague and confusing, which probably reflects the lack of in-depth knowledge and the confusion of those making this ill-advised decision.

Does the announcement apply to every inch of the land beyond the 1949 armistice lines, including Jewish neighborhoods and communities that, until the Obama Administration referred to everything beyond those lines as "settlements," everyone, including the Palestinian Authority, understood would be included in Israel under any two-state agreement?

Does it include Jerusalem neighborhoods to the north and south of the city center that straddle the "Green Line" and that were established to provide a buffer after travelers on the road into Jerusalem were constantly harassed and bombarded by Jordanian forces when they controlled the hilltops surrounding the narrow corridor pre-1967?

Does it include Gaza, the territory Israel withdrew from in 2005 but which the anti-Israel/pro-boycott choirs now applauding still refer to as "occupied?"

Does it refer to all of eastern Jerusalem, or just the shops and apartments with mezuzahs?

Does it mean that the shops in that part of the Jerusalem neighborhood of Abu Tor that are on the west side of the 1949 armistice lines (which no one recognized as a final border) go on selling Ben & Jerry's while those on the east side of the line do not?   Same question regarding Beit Safafa and Talpiot and a host of other neighborhoods.

If so, watch out for a Saturday night stampede. Funny--I can continue to buy my car tires in Beit Safafa, but not my Ben & Jerry's sugar rush.

Does it mean that all of the Palestinian neighborhoods, towns and shops, and millions of Palestinians, the great majority of whom are under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority, will no longer be able to buy Chubby Hubby and Chunky Monkey?

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

The election: relief, hope, and realism

 Friends keep asking:  How do you feel?  What do you think?

Me: I feel relief.  I’ve got some hope.  I’m sober and realistic.

Relief:

That Bibi Netanyahu is no longer Prime Minister.  Despite what many in liberal quarters think, he did some good things.  He kept Israel relatively safe.  He resisted pressure and temptation when Israel could have acted militarily more aggressively and, perhaps, recklessly.  He made diplomatic inroads around the world.  He solidified Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.  He kept Israel economically healthy and vibrant.  He vanquished a deathly virus.

He even was the first right-wing Prime Minister to say, albeit with not unreasonable caveats, that Israel would accept a two-state solution.  Yes, he later backed away from that for political reasons.  But, if the Palestinians had grabbed the opening and worked to build a state, Netanyahu may have had no opportunity or reason to back away from his statement.

Despite that record, Netanyahu could not put together a 61 member coalition over the course of four elections in two years.  Why?

Because he became poison.  He became destructive.  He alienated allies who he felt might compete for leadership of Likud.  He broke promises left and right.  He and his family began to think of themselves as entitled to the position.  One post-election symptom of that feeling of entitlement:  they apparently don’t have plans to immediately vacate the Prime Minister’s residence.

Politicians who largely agree with his policies refused to join a coalition with him because he either lied to them, excluded them, or plotted against them.   They opted for the “change” coalition despite serious ideological differences with several of its members.

Indicted for serious crimes from trading government policy for favorable press treatment to just feeling entitled to receive expensive wine and cigars, he attacked law enforcement and the judiciary, including his own appointees.  He attacked the institutions of a democratic and free society.  At the very end he wasn’t even original, throwing about completely bogus charges of election fraud and the deep state.

He made alliances with or appointed unqualified lackeys to important positions, several of whom have been indicted or are under investigation for various crimes.  He held up budgets so as to invalidate an agreement to transfer the prime ministership to a colleague as promised.  In the interest of staying in power, he legitimized racist individuals and parties long persona non grata in Israel’s politics and society.

The Knesset session during which the new government was elected illustrates the level of conduct to which Netanyahu’s supporters and associates stooped.  Rather than respectfully listen to the speech by the soon-to-be elected Naftali Bennett, they deliberately disrupted the proceedings, interrupting repeatedly with demeaning and disturbing charges.