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Posts Tagged ‘identity’

Wake up Jews!

Friday, September 28th, 2012

No doubt, it’s hard for people to give up their lifelong attachments and identity.  But there are moments in history when a turning point arrives, and those with eyes to see and ears to hear recognize it.  Many Jews have made political liberalism their religion and personal identity and the Democrat Party their unexamined home and comfort zone.  But everything changed early September.

Rarely do modern-day political conventions startle.  The Democratic National Convention, however, was earthshaking and a warning to Jews to wake up.  Democrat delegates decided to stick it to Israel.  We no longer care, they roared, if Israel remains a Jewish state; flood her heartland with millions of so-called Palestinians whose goal is to make the state Islamic.  We will not condemn Hamas for targeting Jewish population centers with rockets.  Jerusalem is not Israel’s indivisible capital but should be divided, like Berlin was.  Such was the undeniable sentiment of the delegates at the Convention.

After objections from outside the Convention, the chairman reinstated support for Jerusalem.  But he was resoundingly booed.  The world saw how those boos far outweighed the yeas.  My fellow Jews, the boos were for you; those boos were for Israel, a successful Israel that sticks in the craw of a leftist, socialist mindset that sees Israel not as the beacon of freedom and accomplishment she is, but as something outside the leftist ideological orbit.  Sure, they will take your contributions and your votes, but they don’t want your Israel, and they expect you to forgo distinctly Jewish needs on the altar of leftism.  We saw not liberalism, but hardcore leftism, and we saw a home where the welcome mat is quite conditional and worn out.

The prophet Daniel saw the writing on the wall.  All too often throughout our history, we Jews, and especially heads of major Jewish organizations, have failed to see the writing on the wall.  We are afraid to see that which is a game-changer, and so we deny events we wish were not happening.  After all, who wants to change the comfort zone?

It was a convention, like the last four years of the Obama administration, reveling in class warfare.  Class warfare, like Occupy Wall Street and other scapegoating calls, has never been good for the Jews.  We are often the scapegoat of those envious.  Knowing this, Ahmadinejad scheduled a meeting with Occupy, a movement endorsed last year by many bigwigs in the Democratic Party and even President Obama himself.  Jihadists and much of Islam want to delegitimize the concept of a Jewish state by tarnishing Jews as “those rich capitalists” unworthy of a state among the community of nations.

Too often, we Jews have been beguiled into believing that Jews in positions of power have our interests at heart.  Debbie Wasserman Schultz is but the latest who would have us think she is “doing what is good for the Jews” when, in fact, she is doing and will continue to do what is good for Debbie and her power base.  Similarly, the heads of the major Jewish organizations have been conspicuously silent — a silence that would not prevail if a Republican were doing the things to Israel Obama is doing.

Job openings are way down; 50% of college graduates, our children, can’t find jobs; and Mr. Obama will continue to weaken national security and thus the safety of our families…and continue to make it more difficult for Israel to survive.  For many, all this is secondary and expendable for their more important agenda of abortion on demand and gay marriage.  How frivolous; how irresponsible!

We can determine what truly is important to a person when he is forced to choose between two values.  Since when is it a Jewish value to condemn Israel to misery just so one can be assured of abortion at any time, under any circumstance?  Most of your grandparents would have chosen Israel over abortion and gay marriage.  As our sages tell us: “The wages of immorality are further immorality.”

President Obama has time to meet with Muslim Brotherhood Morsi of Egypt, who has declared his intention to get rid Israel, but Mr. Obama has no time to meet with Israel’s Netanyahu, whose country is under imminent nuclear threat from Iran.  Israel’s concern about a possible nuclear Holocaust is, for Mr. Obama, dismissed as mere noise, while his delegates at the U.N. on Sept. 24 are ordered to sit and listen to the vile noise of the Holocaust-denier and Iranian Jew-hater-in-chief.  It is clear that Mr. Obama’s underlying sympathy is with the Muslim Brotherhood and its spread and influence around the world.  He is coaxing us to accept Islamic attitudes and norms.  This speaks volumes — to those willing to see the facts as they truly are.

Identity, Meaning And Liberty

Wednesday, September 5th, 2012

If it wants to survive and thrive, Israel must base itself upon three key concepts: identity, meaning, and liberty.

Identity: This means asking ourselves who we are. Jews? Israelis? Just partners in a large insurance firm called the State of Israel? What is our shared narrative? Do we have a shared founding ethos? What is the significance of the fact that we are a Jewish state? Do we even have a common identity? Is it right to search for it and to attempt to shape it?

For some, it is enough that we all speak Hebrew. For others, that is not even the beginning of a common identity. To me, there is no such thing as a Jewish state without a clear and solid Jewish identity – not a religious identity, but a cultural identity.

I oppose religious legislation, instead preferring to allow our Jewish cultural common denominator to develop freely. While there is no Israeli law that requires new parents to circumcise their child according to Jewish law, the vast majority of Israelis still do so. It follows that we do not also need other religious legislation. Ultimately it is the community – not the state – that must decide on its religious character.

If the community chooses, it will have privately-owned public transportation within its parameters on Shabbat. If it chooses otherwise, the buses will not run. If the community chooses to open businesses on Shabbat, they will open. If not, they will remain closed. I trust the Jews, over 80 percent of who are deeply connected and committed to their Jewish identity. I also know that coercion will boomerang.

In short, I wish to emphasize and empower our Jewish identity by removing the fear and coercion, allowing the public’s true will to emerge as the guiding force behind our Jewish national identity.

Meaning: Does Israel have a goal? Or is it solely interested in ensuring that there will not be another Holocaust? Do we have a Holy Temple somewhere out there on the horizon? Or is our Holy Temple the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial? And if we understand that we need a positive destiny and that the world is already tired of our self-pity, then what is our real purpose here? What gives us the right to live in Sheikh Munis (Ramat Aviv in northern Tel Aviv), Haifa, Acre, Yafo and Tiberias – on the lands of expelled Arabs?

A Jewish state cannot exist without establishing a clear purpose for the younger generation, as it is only from our positive destiny that we draw our right to exist as a nation. In my view, the destiny of a Jewish state can be none other than our historical Jewish destiny.

“We gave you a country because we thought that when the people of the prophets return to its land, a new bible or a new ethical code will be written in the land of Israel for the world as a whole. We had expectations – and look what you have done.” This is how a group of British intellectuals described their disappointment with Israel and the reason that they no longer see Israel as legitimate.

I can buy into the definition of the British intellectuals. In our sources we call it “perfecting the world in the Kingdom of the Almighty.”

Liberty: Liberty means fighting against coercion of all kinds: religious, anti-religious, economic, cultural, educational, and more. Liberty means allocating state land to the citizen. It means privatization of government firms to the public and not to core shareholders.

Liberty means liberalized communication – broadcast license, not broadcast franchise. If you wish to start a television or radio station, buy a wavelength and broadcast as you please within the framework of the law. Liberty means restoring the responsibility for education to parents, using the education coupon method.

Liberty means a gradual transfer to a professional volunteer army. It means prohibiting biometric databases or any other type of human designation. There is no difference in principle between sophisticated biological marking and tattooing an ID number; both turn our identities into the property of a third party. In both scenarios, we lose our freedom.

Simply put: We have one God above us and we should not be enslaved to another person or mechanism. The state is ours and under no circumstance is the opposite true.

The Scarecrow of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

Tuesday, August 21st, 2012

http://sultanknish.blogspot.co.il/2012/08/the-scarecrow-of-1600-pennsylvania.html

It is not completely impossible that in a moment of electoral desperation, Joseph Robinette Biden Jr will be called into a private meeting with Valerie Jarrett and David Axelrod and told that it’s time for him to announce that he wants to spend more time with his family. But it’s not very likely.

The chief function of a Vice President is making the President look good and by that measure Joe Biden is one of the best vice presidents who ever lived. The rule of thumb is that the more incompetent the man at the top is, the more of a buffoon the man just below him needs to be to make him look good. And again Biden does this job brilliantly.

James Monroe put as many political rivals in his cabinet as possible, but Barack Hussein Obama and the people around him are too insecure and paranoid to do such a thing. Monroe might have presided over the Era of Good Feeling, but the age of O is the Era of Bad Feelings. Hillary Clinton was never going to be on the ticket. Even giving her the Secretary of State position would never have been an option if it had not been a matter of pure survival, with the Obamas terrified of losing moderate Democrats to McCain.

Joe Biden, never a serious candidate, was the perfect match for Obama. A dumb old white man, to confirm all the dirty impulses of the left, while mockingly giving mainstream Democrats someone they could relate to. Biden’s gaffes aren’t an embarrassment, they are the whole point, signaling the end of the old American era of leadership. Their implicit message is that you can choose a McCain or Biden, another old white man, or the savvy multicultural representative of a new generation that looks like the America of 2050.

Obama and Biden are both symbols of the Post-American America. Biden represents the outgoing American administration and Obama represents the incoming Post-American administration. It is vital to make the American administration look weak, foolish and useless so as to affirm the right of the Post-American administration to seize power from it.

Biden’s ego has made it impossible for him to understand the uses he has been put to. And that is part of the joke. Joe Biden wasn’t selected despite his penchant for saying stupid things in public. He was selected because of it. He is there to project incompetence in order to make Obama look better. He is there to make the idea of white male leadership look like a joke. That is his one and only job and he has succeeded at it.

Biden is the successor of every dumb white male father figure on TV gawping at the screen, tumbling over chairs and down the stairs, scratching his head cluelessly at the wiser new generation around him. He is every man in a commercial who can’t figure out how to start a car, make coffee or clean the house until his wife or a helpful minority figure shows up and explains it to him.

Doofus Dad is no longer just unable to perform simple tasks in a commercial, rubbing his eyes to the sound of canned laughter. He is the Vice President of the United States who was chosen to live up to that calculatingly manufactured stereotype. And he is rubbing his eyes and saying stupid things to the sound of canned laughter at press conferences.

No halfway responsible man would have deliberately chosen an idiot as his potential replacement. But an administration that has done the things to America that this one has done is not in any way responsible. If you step into Obama’s head for a moment, you realize that he does not care at all what happens if he should die. A man who can’t be bothered to take care of his own extended family is not likely to care one way or another what happens to a country of several hundred million, most of whom are not even related to him.

Obama truly is a post-racial candidate. His tribalism is a feint. While African-Americans saw him as one of theirs, he has never seen himself that way. His racial identity is as much a scam as anything else about him. Obama has done as much for African-Americans as he has for his half-brother who is calling strangers to help pay his medical bills. Obama dispenses group privileges only when it suits his needs. He exploits accusations of racism, but race means very little to him. Racial identity, like national identity, is a pose that he adopts on the appropriate occasions.

Justice for the Kurds?

Tuesday, August 21st, 2012

Much ink has been spilled about the desirability or even the inevitability of a separate State for Palestinians, whose identity stems from the middle of the 20th century, but what has been much less discussed by the international community — and for the most part ignored — is a similar claim by the Kurds, a people with a truly separate ethnic identity as well as a long history.

A Palestinian state would encompass 5 to 6 million people, the separate identity of whom stems only from the middle of the last century. Until that time those living in the area of Palestine did not consider themselves Palestinians, but as part of the Pan-Arab or Pan-Islamist movement. A Palestinian identity was not regarded as distinct from the identities of other Arabs who inhabited adjacent regions. The concept of such a separate identity arose, among other reasons, partly as a response to the Zionist movement and the establishment in 1948 of Israel, which until then was called Palestine: all citizens, including Jews, had on their passports that their country of origin was Palestine. There is now a demand for a Palestinian state separate from that of other Arabs.

The Kurds, on the other hand, are a frequently forgotten people, numbering over 35 million, who have a distinct identity and who have been pleading, fighting and dying for an independent state of their own since the 19th century.

The Arab League with its 22 members, along with Turkey, and many countries and groups in the international community have passionately advocated that part of the disputed land in the formerly Palestine area become a Palestinian state. The same individuals and groups, however, have opposed the creation of a Kurdish non-Arab state, on territory it claims as its own, and with it is unwilling to cooperate in sharing, even as they discount Israel’s claims – from 1800 BCE, up to the Balfour Delaration, the British White Paper and UN Resolution 242 — to all or part of what they want as Judenrein [with no Jews] Palestinian land.

By any reasonable and objective historical and cultural criteria, however, the claim of the Kurds for political sovereignty is infinitely stronger than that of Palestinians. In contrast to the Palestinians, the Kurds have few friends in the international community. Kurdish nationalism emerged a century earlier than did Palestinian nationalism. Collectively the Kurds, who are not Arabs, live in an area usually referred to as “Kurdistan,” despite its uncertain borders. The Kurds make up a significant ethnic group that speaks its own language, part of the Indo-European language group.

During the late 19th century the Kurds made demands, mounting uprisings, and pressed for political autonomy in the areas in which they lived or independence free of any control by the Ottoman Empire or Persian authorities, each of which ruled Kurdish areas. Although the uprisings for an independent state in 1880 were particularly fierce, the Ottomans and the armies of Qajar Persia suppressed them.

After World War I, the Treaty of Sèvres in August 1920, the peace treaty between the Ottoman Empire and the victorious Allies of the war, dissolved the Empire and replaced it with a number of new nation-states — Iraq, Syria, Kuwait and Turkey — but not by a Kurdish state. The newly created Turkey renounced all rights over Arab Asia and North Africa. Two Articles in the Treaty were relevant to the issue of the Kurds. Article 62 of the Treaty suggested the creation of an autonomous region for Kurds in the new Turkey. Article 64 proposed the later possibility of an independent Kurdish state “inhabiting that part of Kurdistan which has hitherto been included in the Mosul vilayet(of the Ottoman Empire).”

However, the Treaty of Lausanne, signed in July 1923 and put into effect in August 1924, ended the continuing state of war between Turkey and a number of the victorious Allies. Between the time the two treaties were signed, the monarchy in Turkey had been overthrown and a republic establish under Kemal Ataturk. The new Treaty defined the borders of the modern Turkish state and ignored the earlier proposal for a Kurdish state. Political machinations, particularly by the British who were concerned with the threat of Communist Russia, led to decisions by which the territorial integrity of Iran, Iraq, and Turkey were heightened to counteract that threat.

Islam’s Threat to Diversity

Tuesday, July 17th, 2012

Egyptian identity, like so many others made up of several layers, begins in Ancient Egypt, a civilization that flourished for nearly thirty centuries. Further layers derive from the Coptic Age, when Egypt in its entirety was an Eastern Christian society. Then there are countless layers from the Islamic and Arabic-speaking Egypt. There are still more layers deriving from modern Egypt, the founder of which, Mohamed Ali, ruled from 1805 to 1848, and whose kingdom continued for over a century after his death.

Finally, there are the many layers produced by Egypt’s geographical location as a Mediterranean society, more specifically, as an Eastern Mediterranean country with its opulent diverseness from trade.

This complex construct, which formed over millennia the rich and multi-layered Egyptian identity – a product of fruitful interaction and cross-fertilization among different civilizations and cultures – is today in grave peril, facing as it does systematic and deliberate attempts to destroy its very essence as represented in the many layers that make up its variegated character.

It is these layers that distinguish Egyptian society from various surrounding societies which seem to have a less-developed civilizational and cultural formation as a result of their one-dimensional composition.

The trend of political Islam is exulting as it stands poised to take over the reins of power in Egypt. However, the domination by this trend over the country’s political and cultural landscape poses a real danger to the multi-layered nature of the Egyptian people.

Because of the grip the conservative schools of thought have acquired over the minds of most Muslims today — with the rampant spread of the ideas of ibn-Hanbal and his disciples, ibn-Taymiyah, ibn Qaiym Al-Juzeya and all the Salafi schools – the spread of a cultural wave that is opposed to the non-Islamic dimensions of the Egyptian identity is a likely – and exceedingly dangerous – development. We are already hearing ominous mutterings about the ungodliness of “pagan” relics of Ancient Egypt, and threats to destroy the pyramids and other splendors of one of the most glorious civilizations in history.

We are also likely to see the spread of values opposed to the Other — whatever form “otherness” may take — representing yet another very dangerous threat to Egyptian diversity.

There is also the serious fear that the Islamic trend will redesign educational programs to promote the Islamic and Arab dimension at the expense of the other layers that make up the luxuriance that is Egypt.

This possibility is far from remote in the context of a legislative assembly dominated by a single trend. The mindset of the Islamic lawmakers who preside over the education committee is certainly opposed to religious or cultural diversity. There is no doubt that this trend will focus on magnifying the importance of the Islamic and Arab dimension while downgrading all the other dimensions that make up the richness of Egyptian identity. This is all that can be expected from a theocratic Parliament claiming a divine commission.

Unfortunately the trend to foster a one-dimensional identity actually began some years back as Islamic religious thinking came to permeate the minds of those responsible for the all-important sector of education in our society. Nowhere is the success of this trend more apparent than in the way the Arabic language and the Arabic literature curricula have evolved over the last few years. Instead of presenting literary masterpieces by such luminaries as Ahmed Lotfy el-Sayed, Taha Hussein, Abbas el-Aqqad, Abdul Qader el-Mazny, Salama Moussa, Tewfik el-Hakim, Naguib Mahfouz, Youssef Idris, Nizar Qabbani, Badr Shaker el-Sayab, Mikhael Na’ema an others, Arabic language and literature courses are now virtually indistinguishable from religious courses.

The well-known Lebanese author and intellectual, Amin Maalouf, rightly describes any one-dimensional identity as “destructive.” For in this day and age, a monolithic identity that attributes itself to a single source is bound to clash with the values of pluralism, diversity, analytic thinking, critical questioning, and acceptance of the Other, not to mention the recognition that the various civilizations and cultures have all contributed to the higher ideal of a common humanity.

There are those who claim that the Islamization of Egyptian society reflects “the will of the people.” But history teaches us that the will of the people is not always beneficial. Eight decades ago, the will of the German people brought Adolf Hitler to power, plunging mankind into genocidal wars and massacres that claimed more than fifty million lives. This example allows us to criticize the current cultural wave sweeping over Egypt – one that threatens to sweep away the non-Islamic components of Egyptian identity and to transform us into a society with a one-dimensional identity, like the desert societies that surround us. Even if the present state of affairs came about by “the will of the people,” we would do well to remember that, as Voltaire said: Even if repeated by a thousand people, a mistake is still a mistake.

God Bless America: A Response

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2012

I’m writing this as a short response to Tzvi Fishman’s (“Felafel on Rye”) recent blog posts on the 4th of July and Jewish identity.

Tzvi,

I want to start off by saying I agree with much of what you’ve written about Jewish identity and America. American Jews do face serious assimilation and identity issues as they waver between whether they are Americans or Jews first, and all that implies.

In the arguments I saw you have offsite about this, it is abundantly clear that some Jews seem to no longer identify with our daily prayers to return to Israel and to regain our national independence. But consider this, even in Yetziat Mitzraim (Exodus) only 20% of the Israelites left – obviously we should aim for more.

My criticism lies in that I don’t believe you offered enough ‘Hakaras HaTov” (acknowledgement of the good) for what America has given the Jews, and that bothered me.

My grandmother told me that we have to thank God for America, and for all it’s done for us.

Not that it hasn’t done bad by us at different points, or made mistakes, just look how its shamefully using Jonathan Pollard as a loyalty warning to Jews; but still, there have only been a handful of countries that have consistently been good to us and offered us refuge and freedom, and the USA is one of them.

Yes, being in an open society has exasperated the challenges that the Jewish community already faced. But it didn’t create them. It’s not responsible for them. The Enlightenment and assimilation weren’t created in America, it just more easily continued there.

If non-Torah observing Jews are assimilating and disappearing at super-fast rates, they need to consider why (though this sentence does answer the question). While Orthodox Jews need to ask themselves, why have they given up on our 2000 year dream to return home to Israel, while short-sightedly ignoring the very blatant lessons of Jewish history?

The Lubavitch Rebbe, in an answer to a question once said that the US could turn on the Jews overnight.

As strange as it sounds, for a period of time even Poland was once a place of refuge and religious freedom for Jews.

Just like in every other country, no matter how long we’ve been there (particularly ironic if you subscribe to the theory that Columbus and much of his crew were Jews), and how much we’ve given back, we’re still considered guests by our hosts.

So Tzvi, you’re right, America is not the permanent home of the Jews. And our identity is a very different one than America’s.

But also consider this, the Midrash tells us that Moshe Rabeinu refused to strike the water to bring about the plague, because the river has protected him as a baby.

All the more so, America, which has given us the freedom to keep Judaism – even if not all Jews were up to the challenges freedom brought with it.

On July 4th, I will have my frank and beer and proudly say “God Bless America” (TM Irving Berlin) – while I’m at home in Israel.

The Soul of the Stranger

Sunday, July 1st, 2012

Israel faces a genuine dilemma about the best way to handle the influx of African refugees and migrants. Many people are already debating the policy decisions that will need to be made in this regard.

Of greater concern to me than the specific arguments in this debate, is the shocking naked racism and hatred for Africans that it has exposed across all levels and sectors of Israeli society. From elected officials to people in the street, from the highly educated secular upper class to yeshiva students to the working poor, numerous Israelis seem to share a lexicon and intellectual framework which denigrates and dehumanizes Africans, belittles their suffering, and trivialized their plight. This in and of itself should sound an alarm for all of us that something is seriously amiss in the core of our culture and society. When the tone set by such speech boils over into outright acts of physical brutality, how can we fail to realize that we must, as a society, engage in introspection and self-evaluation?

I hesitate to write the following lines because I believe everything I have to say should be self-evident. There is something inappropriate about writing a formal religious discourse about a matter of values that should be so elementary as to require no explanation. In light of the apparent need for this article I have elected to compose it; I do so with a heavy heart. I also regret that I have little novel to write. Most of what can be said on this subject should be familiar to anyone with a passing familiarity with Jewish texts.

The Torah tells us that God chose Abraham because he was confident that he would instruct his descendants to follow a path of righteousness and kindness (Genesis 18:19). The midrash (Devarim Rabba 3:4) takes this further, and says that there are three distinctive characteristics of the Jewish people: they are meek, merciful, and perform acts of kindness.

The Torah reiterates on many occasions that Jews should be especially sensitive and caring towards the stranger in their midst, for we ourselves were once strangers in the land of Egypt. Rashi (Exodus 22:20) understands that the salient feature of a “stranger” is that he is displaced from his homeland. That is why he is deserving of special compassion, and that is the basis of the comparison between strangers in Israel and the Jews’ status in Egypt. Other rabbinic interpretations focus this message on the convert to Judaism, but Rashi’s simple reading of the verse stands: in a majority Jewish country, we must be especially sensitive to the rights and feelings of minority groups, because of our own unique history of oppression in alien societies.

Performing acts of kindness in a discriminatory manner is seen as a sign of corruption. The chasida (commonly translated as stork) is singled out as a non-kosher bird, even though its name means “the kind one,” because, according to our rabbis, it is kind only to its own species. The kindness for one’s own species is transformed into a perverse act when it is part of a pattern of abuse towards outsiders.

Above and beyond imploring us to perfect our actions, our rabbis were concerned with the nature of our speech. They repeatedly implored us to speak respectfully to, and of, every person. In tractate Avot, they reminded us to greet every person first and with a welcoming face, and that the most honored person is the one who accords others honor. The right path that a person should choose, they instructed there, is one which engenders the respect of God by those who observe it.

In tractate Yoma (86a) they went much further, singling out the public disgrace of God’s name as one transgression that cannot be atoned for, even through repentance on the Day of Atonement. What constitutes such a transgression? A person known to be devout and pious, who does not speak gently with others and conduct his affairs with integrity. Outrageous racist statements, parroted from the most disgraceful historical antecedents, certainly run afoul of this teaching.

Building Israel as a utopian Jewish nation should not entail inflicting suffering on others. Rambam (Hil. Melachim 12:4) writes that the sages and prophets did not desire the messianic era of Israel “in order to conquer the entire world, or to oppress the gentiles…,” rather only “to be free to study the Torah and its wisdom without persecution and interruption, and thus merit the world to come.”

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/analysis/the-soul-of-the-stranger/2012/07/01/

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