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Posts Tagged ‘Israeli politics’

Recognizing Positive Haredi Values

Wednesday, May 29th, 2013

Upon reading Jay Michaelson’s description of Haredi society in the Forward, I had a very uneasy feeling. Not because he didn’t quote examples of a great many problems in that world. The fact is that many (but certainly not all) of his descriptions are true. They are things I talk about here all the time.

What’s troubling me is that throughout his essay he weaves the idea that Haredi-ism is all about negatives and not in the slightest about the positives. He paints the entire Haredi enterprise in monolithic tones as if they are all guilty of the crimes of the few… or at least tolerate them. One would think that all yeshivos in America are ethically challenged… that they all use devious means to gain federal funding.

Israeli Haredim put American Haredim to shame, he says, in their ability to do that in Israel. He also goes into a litany of negative stereotypes painting all Haredim with the same broad brushstrokes and then calls for a virtual financial war against them – with the intent of de-funding them and ultimately destroying them.

What Mr. Michaleson does not understand – or chooses to ignore – is that the vast majority of Haredim are moderate. They are the mainstream. They are as opposed to the negatives as he is. But their philosophy is still Haredi in that they support full time Torah study and tend to be more stringent in various Halachos that allow for leniencies (like halav yisroel). Many also tend to have good jobs and often get professional training and become professionals themselves. There are plenty of successful Haredi businessmen, attorneys, accountants, doctors, dentists, and even university professors. At least here in the U.S.

Israeli Haredim do not generally have professions unless they are immigrants who’ve had a decent secular education. That is one of the problems I harp on constantly here. But even so, they are not the evil unethical people that Mr. Michaelson makes them out to be.

In response to Mr. Michaelson’s article, Jonathan Rosenblum does a good job in describing the good in the Haredi lifestyle. One which he joined by choice. Although he does not address the problems listed by Michaelson in this article, he has addressed them all in many separate articles. He acknowledges many of the problems Mr. Michaelson brings up… and has even at times been criticized for it by members of his own community.

Jonathan Rosenblum is one of those Haredim that I call moderate. I believe that his views reflect the views of most Haredim. While I don’t agree with him on everything, I respect his views as legitimate in an elu v’elu sense.

He actually sympathized with me in an e-mail exchange when I lamented the fact that there are no limudei hol (secular) studies in Israeli high schools. He had defended the Israeli educational system but conceded that he placed great value on the education he received at Yale – and he draws upon that knowledge quite often. I sensed that he feels it would not be the worst thing in the world if Haredim did have a bit of limudei hol in their curriculum – although he did not actually say so. He has often expressed understanding if not agreement with all those who advocate ‘sharing the burden’.

It is also interesting to note that Jonathan Rosenblum who puts himself foursquare in the Haredi camp – is an adherent of classical Hirschean “Torah Im Derech Eretz”  (TIDE). He has said so many times and has written articles defending and supporting it in debate with those of us who believe in Torah U’Mada (TuM).

He is not the only Haredi who sees TIDE as the optimal way for a Jew to live. Although there are ideological differences between TIDE and TuM, I do not see all that much practical difference between them. I would be more than ecstatic if all Haredim would buy into TIDE for their hashkafas hahaim… their outlook on life.

The point of Jonathan’s retort to Mr. Michaelson’s is not to refute his allegations point by point. I’m sure that he would even agree with many of them. It was to counter the purely negative description by explaining why he bought so strongly into the Haredi lifestyle.

I agree that the Haredi world – even some of the more extreme segments of them – are very altruistic about their ideals. Those that are sincere and spend full time in yeshivos do spend the majority of their day studying Torah diligently. They probably work as hard intellectually as any secular scholar (or maybe even harder).

If one steps into the Mir at any given time of the day, one will see a Beis HaMedrash full of Bnei Torah in intense study – either with a havrusa (study partner), or in one of the many huburos (study groups) or even alone in deep concentration in one of the multitudinous seforim (books) written by commentators on a particular topic in the Gemara or Halacha. No matter what any given student’s level of expertise is on any given subject, no one can deny their dedication and diligence.

Of course there are also plenty of Yeshiva students in the periphery just hanging out and schmoozing – either in the halls or outside the building. But they are minuscule compared to the numbers on the inside. There is something quite inspirational in seeing this.

But their lives are not just about Torah study – as Jonathan points out:

People extend themselves for one another in extraordinary ways and share the rhythms of the seasonal calendar. When a study partner of mine, a Harvard and Oxford-trained classicist, passed away suddenly, leaving behind ten orphans, we raised $300,000 for his family, most of it in the form of monthly bank orders from Talmudic scholars, with large families and monthly incomes of $2,000 or less. When a neighbor needed a liver transplant, a group of a hundred of so men gathered every night for two weeks, until he was out of danger, to recite Tehillim on his behalf.

It is a community of extraordinary generosity. In my neighborhood alone, there are 200 or so free loan societies listed in our neighborhood directory for everything from medicines to bridal gowns to infant pillows for the bris. Virtually every major volunteer organization in Israel was founded by Haredim…

These facts are undeniable. Why would anyone want to destroy a society like this? Not that it is beyond any criticism… as people who read this blog know. It does need some serious tweaking in many areas – mostly in eliminating some of the problems mentioned by Mr. Michaelson – especially in Israel. I have written some pretty harsh criticism along those lines. But I have neither God forbid called for their destruction nor called mainstream Haredism a destructive force.

There is a lot to admire there. As in most things this is not a black and white issue. But one thing is certain. We can learn a lot about living a spiritual and altruistic lifestyle at great material sacrifice… and yet – while living the most modest of lifestyles – they are among the most charitable people in the world.

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Another Defender of the Haredi Status Quo Clucks His Tongue

Monday, May 27th, 2013

Eytan Kobre has got be one of the most annoying defenders of the Haredi status quo in Israel on the face of the planet! He rarely fails to upset my sensibilities. His holier-than-thou attitude goes well beyond polite discourse in disagreement about public policy. It borders on the hateful! And he did it again in his weekly Mishpacha Magazinecolumn. Note in particular the three bullet points where he manages to disparage Jewish Action Magazine, an Orthodox blogger, Rabbi Dov Lipman and the “talmidei hachmim” and “ehrilche yidden” (his words) who hosted Rabbi Lipman on his recent visit to America.

What makes Mr. Kobre particularly annoying is the way he presents himself. He is an attorney. His talented writing skills indicate a fine secular education… attributes that would describe many moderate Haredim. And as most people know, I am a big fan of moderate Haredim – even though I am not Haredi myself.

The problem with Mr. Kobre is that he is anything but moderate. Despite his education and skills he writes like an extremist zealot.

The funny thing is that he does not really say anything about the Haredi belief system that is all that outrageous. But he uses those beliefs to disparage those who dare to challenge Haredi polices that in the view of many need some very serious tweaking at the least. He not only says that such challenges are evil, he implies that those that give a platform to people who advocate them are at best a bunch of morons. Of course, he doesn’t use the word moron. But he may as well have.

The subject of his most recent column is the draft of Haredim in Israel. His point is that if one were to truly understand the protective value of those who learn Torah they would know that all the miracles evident in every war were a direct result of the zechus (merit) of those who were learning Torah. He asks in the most hyperbolic of tones:

Now, as this fragile little country, whose 65-year history has been a string of wondrous miracles, faces the apocalypse being feverishly readied by the lunatic of Tehran, now is the opportune time to drag talmidei hachamim from their shtenders with brute physical or fiscal force, in a grand social reengineering scheme?
… is this the moment to allow the squelching of the amal haTorah that stands between us and a violent vomiting out of the inhabitants of this most spiritually sensitive of lands?

Brute physical force? Really, Mr. Kobre? What have you been drinking? No one in the government has suggested using brute physical force on Haredi Jews.

The fact is that no religious Jew would deny the merit that Torah study contributes towards the country’s security. But it is the height of folly to believe that hishtadlus via a strong military is therefore unnecessary. I’m sure that even Mr. Kobre understands that. But nowhere in the article does he make mention of it. The truth is that there has to be both. The only question is – what should the numbers look like.

What percentage of able bodied men who are dedicated to Torah study should be exempt from military service? In my view that has yet to be determined. I’m personally not sure what the percentage should be. But one thing I am fairly certain of is that they ought to not look like they do now. There is no way that every single Haredi Jew should be exempt from military service by simply registering in a yeshiva.

Mr Kobre might accuse me of hutzpah right about now. How, he might ask, do I know what the numbers should be? Am I a gadol (great Torah leader)? Only gedolim should decide these things, he might say. And right now they have determined that no Haredi Yeshiva student should serve, no matter what his age or status in Torah study.

True, I am not a gadol. But I have to ask, how many yeshiva students were there in 1948? So many miracles occurred in Israel’s war of independence that one would have to be the biggest cynic in the world to not see the hand of God in that victory.

I am absolutely convinced that Torah study in the yeshivos at that time protected Israel and contributed to the miracles. But the numbers of lomdei Torah then were substantially lower than they are now. In fact they were minuscule compared to what they are now. And yet Mr. Kobre would have us believe it is all about the numbers!

One might argue that you never know where we are holding as a nation with respect to deserving miracles. So the more people that are studying Torah the better chance we have for survival. I find this attitude to be a terrible way to look at God’s beneficence towards us. I would posit that considering the miracles that took place in 1948 – God is not interested in sheer numbers.

Yes, he wants us all to fulfill the mitzvah of Torah study. But he also wants histhadlus – to do what we can physically to achieve success. Hazal tell us – ein somchin al hanes – do not rely on miracles. The way to best succeed in winning a war is to have the best physical army we can field – in addition to the spiritual army that studies Torah full time.

The bottom line for me is that there ought to be divinity student exemptions. But they ought to be applied to the best and brightest among us – and only the highly motivated of those! The rest ought to be willing to serve in some capacity. This does not mean able bodied Haredim must give up Torah study entirely. One can continue to study Torah by being koveiah itim – establishing a fixed time for it… even while serving one’s country. Furthermore all conscripts can go back to the beis hamedrash once their military service is completed after two or three years.

There are those who argue that once you are out of the beis medrash – you will never return to it. Well… so be it. All that means is that they were only there in the first place for sociological reasons. Real masmidim will want to return… and they are probably the ones who get draft exemptions anyway.

But perhaps we should take Mr. Kobre at face value. He believes that we should maximize Torah study at such a dangerous time for Israel. If that is really the way he feels, then he ought to give up his law practice here in the United States, move to Israel, and “pitch in.” I’m sure if he went to the Mir and asked if he could join the full time lomdei Torah there, he would be accepted. He is after all a pretty bright fellow and his learning would no doubt contribute to his goal of relying on Nissim (miracles). How in good conscience can he continue stay here and work for a living?

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Shabbat Shalom, Jerusalem

Monday, May 27th, 2013

“The entire world was endowed with ten measures of beauty.  Of these, Jerusalem received nine” (BT Kiddushin 49b).

Once every week its beauty is further enhanced, as Shabbat arrives in the holy city, the approach of the day of rest enwrapping David’s city with sanctity and radiance.  A special tranquility descends on the city of God.  The last of the market stalls have closed, served notice by the trumpets and shofars blasting around them in accord with Talmudic tradition.  Tourists and guests leisurely make their way to the Western Wall, dressed in festive white, accompanied by the waning light of the sun as it sets in the Mediterranean to the west, the city walls engilded in its glow.  Myriads of Jews hurry to the synagogues scattered throughout the city to welcome Shabbat, while the unobservant too are elevated by the unique atmosphere of a Shabbat in Jerusalem.

But this special atmosphere is threatened by an enemy.

His name is M., an entrepreneur from Jerusalem who is leading the campaign to put Jerusalem commercial life into motion on Shabbat.  M. was a contractor before he turned entrepreneur.  On his way to Jerusalem he made a stop at the port of Tel Aviv, where he opened restaurants and bars.  Now he is bringing his Tel Avivian wares to the capital.  He rented the historic train station by Liberty Bell Park, in the heart of Jerusalem, from Israel Railways and the Ministry of Transporation; handsomely renovated the property; and divided it up for rental to business owners.  By the old rails he put up clothing and art stands, and even put aside space for a produce market—just like in Mahaneh Yehudah, they say in the municipal government, except that here the prices will be sky high.

According to the old Gashah Hiver routine, every store is a “boutique.”  Surely enough, the commercial zone that M. has designated for stores and stands is advertised not as a market, but as a “cultural entertainment area.”  The semantics here are very important.  The idea is to use this name to circumvent municipal bylaws and the Hours of Work and Rest Law that was put on the books to cement Shabbat as the national day of rest.

Here’s how it works: since cultural activity counts as rest, having an entertainment area open on Shabbat is consistent with the status quo and municipal bylaws, as long as the tomato stands are interspersed with dancing girls and there are clowns on stilts walking around among the haberdashers.  Hence this is not a commercial space, but a street theater.  Judges have already issued rulings determining that cinemas and theaters may open on Shabbat.

All M. has to do then is find non-Jewish (i.e. Arab) workers, so that if Labor Ministry inspectors come along, there will be no fines for violation of the Hours of Work and Rest Law.

Next, the shopkeepers of Mahaneh Yehudah will come and say they also want to keep their stalls open on Shabbat, and they also will be given the okay to stay open, as long as they bring in some clowns.  The workers there are Arabs as it is.  They even can argue with some justification that there is no need for clowns and musicians: the calls of some of the salespeople there reveal real musical and comedic talent, as any Jerusalemite can attest.

Start Worrying

If we don’t do something, additional businesses will want to join the competition for customers on Shabbat.  Few will stay behind.  The extra business would substantially increase the financial turnover of the Shabbat violators, thus allowing them to offer better prices even during the week. Competitors will be unable to match them and will go out of business, or else join them.

This is an election year for the mayor of Jerusalem, so although there is much that he could do, he is doing nothing.  It is even possible that having the area open on Shabbat will benefit him, coming as it does in the middle of the anti-Haredi wave that is sweeping the country.

What is there to do?  Assemble a social protest movement to protect Shabbat as the day of rest and a key national value.  Successful protest movements are in at the moment.

Then there is another solution:  In the United States of the thirties and forties, Shabbat -observant businesses found themselves in competition with businesses that were open on Shabbat, which gave the competition an additional day of financial turnover while the observant business people were sitting at home or in their synagogues.

In response, religious Jewry and its rabbis developed a defensive economic measure.  Every business that observed Shabbat hung up a sign to that effect.  Rabbis and public opinion leaders called on religious and observant Jews to buy only from Shabbat-observant businesses.  Thus Orthodox Judaism protected Shabbat observers and prevented their businesses from going under, and a relatively closed economic system came into bring: prefer to buy from Shabbat observers whenever possible.

Those were not easy days.  In many Orthodox homes there were people who did not comply.  Yet the move, whose effects are felt to this day, is a good example for effective communal organization in Israel.

So let’s act accordingly: don’t enter the old train station area on any day of the week.  For extra credit, don’t even go near M.’s properties at the Tel Aviv port (albeit most of his restaurants there aren’t even kosher).  Go to malls that are Shabbat-observant and kosher.  Period.  Call Minister of Economy Naftali Bennett, the head of the Jewish Home, and tell him to enforce the law and have his inspectors shut down the train station area on Shabbat.

Let’s bring back the country’s Jewish soul and return the sanctity of Shabbat to the public sphere.

Originally published in Mekor Rishon, May 24th, 2013. Translated from Hebrew by David B. Greenberg.

Are Haredi Orgs Being Singled Out in Israel?

Sunday, May 26th, 2013

I can’t think of too many things more disgustingly discriminatory than a government agency singling out a group for special scrutiny. The Internal Revenue Service has been found to be doing exactly that. Conservative political groups like the Tea Party that have applied for tax exempt status have had one stumbling block after another thrown at them while filing all the forms and dealing with all that red tape in trying to get that exemption.

Organizations with names like “Patriot” in them were flagged for extra review by by over-zealous agents. It remains to be seen how high up the flagpole of responsibility this goes. Lois Lerner, the IRS official who inadvertently exposed this activity pleaded the 5th amendment when she testified before congress yesterday.

This is one of those rare situations that unites people on both sides of the political aisle. Both conservatives and liberals in congress were outraged and both have condemned this practice at the IRS. The President was no less outraged and he too condemned it and promised to get to the bottom of it. One thing is certain. There is a lot we don’t yet know. But this is the stuff of totalitarianism… of the type found in the former Soviet Union. Truly scary stuff for the United States of America.

Which brings me to an article at YWN. It appears that Israeli government is doing the same thing. They are not targeting political opponents. They are instead targeting Haredi businesses and Yeshivos to see if they are complying with the law.

I have no problem with an over-all goal of making sure that businesses comply with the law. Assuming the laws are just and fair, they ought to be complied with. And there is nothing wrong with a government agency seeing to it that they are – as long as that kind of scrutiny is evenly applied to all businesses. But when a single group is targeted, it smacks of an agenda to harass that community. The title of the document leaked to the media makes it clear that only Haredim will be targeted. It is entitled:

“Directives- Initiated activity in the Haredi community – May 2013″

Can’t get much clearer than that.

I hope this is just an over-zealous Economic Affairs Ministry agent and not the over arching policy of the Ministry itself. If it is she ought to be fired immediately and replaced with someone who is not biased against Haredim… or anyone else. One thing is certain. Just like the U.S. is holding congressional hearings on this in order to get to the bottom of their scandal – so too must Israel have a thorough investigation of the matter so that Israel too can get to their scandal.

What kind of country is America going to be? What kind of country is Israel going to be? Will they be democratic and fair? Or will they become more like dictatorships that target people and groups they don’t like?

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And the Bashing Continues…

Thursday, May 23rd, 2013

Rabbi Avraham Edelstein seems like a nice enough fellow. He is the founder and director of Ner LeElef, an organization that trains people for outreach. That is a good thing and something I support.

I am however dismayed by an article he has written in the Times of Israel. Therein he does what a lot of Haredi rabbinic leaders have done. He bashes Rabbi Dov Lipman about his proposed solution to the economic crisis facing the Haredi world . The funny thing is that he actually agrees with Rabbi Lipman’s assessment of the problem.

I have to wonder how the people he trains for outreach and the very targets of that outreach see his approach to Rabbi Lipman.

First he indirectly challenges his credentials by referring to his “oft-claimed status as a Haredi rabbi.” This implies that Rabbi Edelstein does not personally accept him that way. He further challenges R’ Lipman to tell us what the Haredi community stands for and why he wishes to belong to it – as though his every action argues against that.

Rabbi Edelstein also asserts that Rabbi Lipman is late to the game vis-à-vis putting Haredim to work with better jobs through better education. Haredim are already in the workforce, he says. And they have received training in all fields. And that even now further training programs are in the planning stages ready to be launched.
The irony of all this is that (as I pointed out) Rabbi Edelstein obviously agrees that there’s a problem. What he doesn’t agree with is a Rabbi Lipman’s solution. Why? The following excerpt says it all:

Placing the Haredi-community under siege, pre-determining how many Haredim are going to be shoved into this box or that box – all of this will halt the momentum of progress – and lead to exactly the opposite of the intended effect. This is the work of fools – to attempt to create by legislative fiat a transition that needs, in fact to take one or two decades. Rabbi Lipman is certainly not the first rookie politician who dreams of leaving his legacy through some grand social engineering. He will add his failure to the pile of forgotten attempts.

The deeper problem with these self-styled saviors of the Haredim, is that they fail to recognize the real and important values that this community is providing the broader world…

How sad that he takes the good intentions of a sincere individual whose only goal is to help his own community and bashes him for it. Even if he disagrees, why does he question his integrity, compare him to fools and deride him with appellations like “rookie politician” and “self-styled savior” implying that his entire goal is self aggrandizement via building a legacy through ‘some grand social engineering’?

The very real state of Haredim entering the work force was made in passing by Rabbi Edelstein:

The females have ironically been far more qualified than their male counterparts…

Ironically? What he doesn’t seem to realize (or admit) is that there is a very good reason for that. Haredi women are better educated than men in limudei hol (secular subjects). They have a core secular curriculum in high school. Men have none whatsoever. Of course women are more qualified. There is nothing ironic about it.

He is critical of Rabbi Lipman because in his “oft-claimed status as a Haredi rabbi.” He should be talking about Haredi positives. But… not to worry, Rabbi Edelstein will set us straight. Haredim “get it right” by being disinterested in materialism – unlike that the rest of the world that glorifies it.

Really? How black and white of him. Only Haredim have these values?! No other community does? And are Haredim truly – disinterested? I know a lot of Haredim who are not exactly disinterested in material things. As I do non-Haredim who disavow materialism. That Haredim have less material things than others is just the reality of their financial situation and not necessarily a choice.

What about his hashkafa (outlook) of placing the highest value on Torah study? As I have said countless times – I have no issues with a hashkafa that places the highest value on Torah study. I actually agree with that. Talmud Torah k’neged kulom (Torah study is equivalent to all other commandments).

What I do not agree with is a policy that excludes limudei hol in its entirety. It is one thing to love Torah study to such an extent that they “approach their Torah studies with an unprecedented intensity.” But that does not require eliminating limudei hol in its entirety as most American Haredim who have studied limudei hol in their high schools can tell you.

Eliminating all secular studies is taking “Talmud Torah k’neged kulom” to an absurd extreme. And yet that is standard Haredi policy in Israel. That is what Rabbi Lipman is trying to change. The efforts to “put people to work” currently underway that Rabbi Edelstein describes is simply too little too late.

But… for the sake of argument, let us grant that Rabbi Edelstien has a point. That the job situation is indeed improving more than anyone knows. Let us even say that forcing a core curriculum upon Haredi schools is a bad idea since it would be counter-productive – as he asserts.

Does that mean he has to bash Rabbi Lipman for suggesting it? …accusing him of doing this for his self aggrandizement? …and then resorting to name calling and degrading remarks?

As I said he also accuses Rabbi Lipman of failing to speak about the real and important values that the Haredi community is providing the broader world. Says Rabbi Edelstein: “Here is a community where values are not only being studied – they are being practiced.” (My my… what an idyllic community where only good values are preached and practiced.)

Yes, there are many good and decent people in the Haredi world who do have the values illustrated by the examples of Rabbi Edelstein. Probably most of the mainstream Haredi world is like that. The problem is that as wonderful as these examples of lived values are – there are other values that seem to be ignored. Just to pick one – the lack of expressing hakaras hatov (appreciation) to the government for all the financial aid it has gotten till now – while instead Haredi politicians curse them for daring to take some of it away.

Rabbi Edelstein accuses Rabbi Lipman of making this a confrontational issue. I do not see that at all. I believe the opposite is true. The Haredi rabbinic leaders and their surrogates in the Knesset and Haredi media are the ones being confrontational… using some of the most disgusting characterizations about those with his views.

And for what?! Because he wants to inject a couple of hours a day of limudei hol into the classroom?! For this he is called a self-styled savior? … failing to recognize their values? …whose ideas will end up in the dustbin of history?!

Rabbi Lipman is a hero – if for no other reason than he stood up to the ‘good midos’ (positive traits) of some extremist Haredim in Bet Shemesh who called a little girl a whore. Where were Rabbi Edelman’s Haredim then? How many joined him in standing up to those thugs? I don’t recall seeing any…

It would behoove Rabbi Edelstein to re-think his poorly thought out essay and realize that his characterization of Rabbi Lipman is as wrong as was Rav Aharon Feldman’s initial reaction to Rabbi Lipman as a Shana U’Porush. If Rav Feldman can admit a mistake, then surely Rabbi Edelstein can.

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We Are the Moral Compass

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2013

“There is an expectation of Zion to formulate a political monotheism that has never been formulated before.” (Emmanuel Levinas)

The importance of the caucus on organ harvesting in China, sponsored recently by the Liberal Lobby in the Knesset, cannot be exaggerated. On the surface, the caucus’s topic seems odd. Knesset members and other VIPs were called together to discuss horrors being perpetrated by the Communist regime in China against what the government there calls “regime opponents.”

Hundreds of thousands of peaceful citizens in China are imprisoned in camps and tortured in the most inhuman ways – and worst of all, their organs are harvested while they are still alive and sold for transplants throughout the world. Apparently the human bodies in the grotesque Body Show, recently exhibited in the Holy Land, was also supplied by these prisoners.

“You don’t have any more issues left here in Israel?” many people asked when we began publicizing the event.

“You don’t have anybody but China to start up with?”

“You don’t understand that you are harming Israeli interests? And what do you think, anyway? That anybody among the billion Chinese really cares what exactly you are talking about in the Knesset?”

It is not about the Chinese. It is about us, and how we perceive the essence of the Jewish nation and the return to Zion.

We have become so accustomed to the moral finger wagging in our direction, and for being blamed by holier-than-thou nations the world over for all sorts of “ethical lapses.” We have become so accustomed to the leftists in Israel who join the chorus that we haven’t even thought of the possibility that perhaps just the opposite is true. Perhaps the moral compass of the entire world is the People of the Bible; the nation that brought the world faith in the One God; the nation that, on the foundation of its belief in God, heralded the message of liberty for all mankind. We haven’t dared to think that the message of justice and liberty does not emanate from The Hague – but from Jerusalem. Despite the fact that deep in its consciousness humanity recognizes and even expects to hear this message from Zion, the Israelis have become grasshoppers in their own eyes – and thus, in the eyes of the world. This is the root of the condemnations and the relentless pressure brought to bear on Israel.

In other words, when you don’t fulfill your universal ethical role somebody else usurps it and you turn from the judge into the judged. If there is no construction being allowed today in Jerusalem, it is because Jerusalem is not fulfilling its universal role. If we are being pressured to apologize to Turkey and pay remands to the families of their dead and to those wounded from the Mavi Marmara incident, it is because when it was uncomfortable for us, we ignored our universal ethical role and did not take a stand against Turkey’s denial of the Armenian holocaust.

In explaining the demonization of Israel to Professor Ze’ev Tzachor, British intellectuals said, “We dreamed of a place where the new Book of Books would be written in preparation for the redemption of the world, for you, after all, are a treasured nation. The world had expectations, and now look what you have done.” (From an interview with Meir Uziel in Makor Rishon.)

The Chinese were very displeased with our Knesset caucus. They put pressure on me and on other Knesset members in an attempt to torpedo the conference. But they did not succeed. Things that may be difficult for Israelis to understand in Israel are easily understood in China. While Communists do not believe in God, essentially making everyone there slaves (China is one giant prison camp) they do have a long tradition of spirituality. They perfectly understand the value of the “treasured nation” status of the Jews. An ethical stand that emanates from the parliament of the People of the Book is less financially troubling than a similar stand coming from European parliaments. But its ethical weight is much greater – and the Chinese understand that.

Knesset members from across the political spectrum – Right and Left, haredi and secular – honored the caucus with their presence. Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky and Rabbis Uri Cherki and Elyakim Levanon spoke at the event. The audience heard shocking testimony from a survivor of those camps and watched filmed testimony on what takes place there.

Why was the IDF (and Karsenty) Abandoned in the Al Dura Affair?

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2013

Thirteen years after Israel’s enemies unleashed one of the most damaging fake atrocity stories in military history, the Israeli government has come up with an official report [1.8 mb pdf] to refute the September 30, 2000 France 2 news broadcast, narrated by respected correspondent Charles Enderlin, that claimed to show 12-year old Mohammad Dura shot dead by IDF soldiers.

Oh, we already know and knew almost immediately beyond a reasonable doubt that al Dura was not shot by the IDF, and we almost certainly know that he was not shot at all, by anybody. Persuasive evidence (more persuasive than the official report) is here.

In fact, we can say with confidence that the incident was a fake, set up by France 2′s Palestinian cameraman and local Gaza residents.

But what is difficult to understand is the Israeli diffidence in the face of the vicious allegations.

The immediate response of the IDF was to temporize. From the official report:

On that same day, following the France 2 report, the Spokesperson Unit released a statement which made clear that while it was not possible to determine, based on the footage broadcast by the network, the source of the shots apparently fired at Jamal and the boy, ultimate responsibility lay with the Palestinians for cynically launching armed attacks from within the civilian population. …

But then, at a press conference on October 3, it turned disastrous:

[Maj. Gen. Giora] Eiland, in response to a question regarding Al-Durrah, answered that as a result of the gunfire at the junction, Jamal and the boy “took cover next to a wall, several meters from where Palestinians fired at us. The soldiers returned fire and apparently the boy was hit by our fire.”

Eiland later explained,

I had not seen all the evidence made available to the Israeli army only later…Given the long history of Palestinians exposing their children to danger, I assumed that the main issue in this case would be the question: Why would the Palestinians have exposed their own civilians to danger by firing on the Israelis while a boy and his father were in the crossfire? I did not realize that my words would be used to accuse Israel of cold-blooded murder.

The footage was played and replayed around the world. Two weeks later, two IDF reservists were torn to pieces in Ramallah to shouts of “al-Dura! al-Dura!” The alleged cold-blooded murder became the symbol of the Intifada, and an inspiration for suicide bombers. Daniel Pearl’s murderers and even Osama bin Laden, before and after 9/11, invoked it as justification for their acts.

Meanwhile IDF Maj. Gen. Yom Tov Samia, OC Southern Command, reenacted the incident, examined the relative locations of soldiers and Palestinians, and concluded that IDF bullets could not have hit al-Dura. This was announced at a press conference on November 27, which was almost entirely ignored by the media — and by top officers and Israel politicians. Indeed, the IDF Chief of Staff, Shaul Mofaz, told the Knesset that the investigation was a “private initiative of Samia,” not part of an official investigation.

Why didn’t Mofaz and his boss, Ehud Barak, who was serving as both Prime Minister and Minister of Defense at the time, take up the cause of the IDF and demand, with the maximum possible diplomatic force, that all information related to the incident — including all the footage shot by France 2 on that day — be placed at Israel’s disposal to do a proper investigation?

It didn’t happen, not then and not later, despite the revelation of more and more facts casting doubt on the story that the IDF had shot Dura. In 2005, the PM’s spokesperson to the foreign press, Ra’anan Gissin, asked France 2 for the footage and was turned down. In 2007, the IDF spokesperson tried to get the footage, but again Enderlin refused to provide it. More recently, the French Ambassador was asked “to help,” to no avail. Surely the State of Israel could have done more to defend the honor of its armed forces than to deploy low-level officials.

A French media critic, Philippe Karsenty, who has been defending himself against a libel suit filed against him by France 2 correspondent Enderlin for at least 10 years — he called the presentation “a hoax” — spoke bitterly in 2009 about the treatment he received from government officials:

During all those years, I got the cold shoulder from Israeli officials. With the exception of a few mavericks like Danny Seaman (director of the Government Press Office), Raanan Gissin (Spokesman, Prime Minister’s Office), Shlomi Amshalom, former deputy spokesperson for the IDF, or former ambassador Zvi Mazel, the vast majority of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs personnel treated me and others who pursued this case, as embarrassments – conspiracy nuts who they wished would just disappear…

In 2002, when it was still possible to do something immediate, Nissim Zvili was the Israeli ambassador to Paris. He listened courteously but explained to me that he was a friend of Charles Enderlin, the French journalist who narrated the al Dura hoax.

In 2006, Zvili was replaced by Daniel Shek, who refused to shake my hand, and later commented on a Jewish radio that I was defending “conspiracy theories.” When I asked his colleague in charge of communication at the embassy in Paris, Daniel Halevy Goitschel, why he never returned my phone calls, he responded: “the phone doesn’t work at the embassy.” We are not even dealing with a lack of support here. On the contrary, I was being sabotaged.

When I won the case [against another media outlet] in May 2008, Yigal Palmor, the spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, said: “Karsenty is a private individual and no one in the Israeli government asked him to take on his battle against France 2. Karsenty had no right to demand that Israel come to his aid. All calls on the Israeli government to come and ‘save’ him are out of place. He was summoned to court because of a complaint of the French television channel. I don’t see where there is room for the Israeli government to get involved.”

Last December, I went over the evidence with Aviv Shir-On, who now claims to have helped me, at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA). After two hours he repeated the old MFA refrain, “I’m not convinced.” Let’s say, for the sake of generosity, that Shir-On is just one more timid defender of Israel, so afraid of what “others” might say, that even the judgment of an independent (and hardly well-disposed) French court in favor of his own country, does not give him the courage to speak. So even though I won the case, and the new evidence from France 2 sharpens our argument, I could not count on Israeli officials to help move into a counter-attack. Enderlin, humiliated by the court decision, was allowed to bluff his way back to prominence, and recently, in the Gaza war, lead the journalists’ attack on the Israeli government…

On January 2009, I met Tzipi Livni, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and asked her about the al Dura story and the lack of reaction of the Israeli officials. Why didn’t the State of Israel demand that France 2 admit their blood libel following the court decision? I was stunned by her answer: “Well, it happens that we kill kids sometimes. So, it’s not good for Israel to raise the subject again.” (Philippe Karsenty: Israel Losing the Media War: Wonder Why?).

Karsenty was convicted, and the conviction was overturned on appeal — but recently the decision that exonerated him was reversed by France’s highest court.

It’s too late for the Israeli government to help him with his case, but let’s hope it can find the strength at last to support the IDF.

Visit Fresno Zionism.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/blogs/fresno-zionism/why-was-the-idf-and-karsenty-abandoned-in-the-al-dura-affair/2013/05/22/

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