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Op-Ed: Time to make Lemonade out of Lemons

This is the moment to rectify long simmering injustices.
Published: Friday, August 29, 2014 7:29 AM


This has been a difficult last couple of months. Starting with the heart-wrenching abduction/murder of three teenage boys tramping home from school, to massive amounts of rocket fire from Gaza on most of the country, to an all-too necessary strong military response with its inevitable gut wrenching casualties, Am Yisrael has recently known great sorrow.

Compounding the sorrow has been the stupefaction of watching a world seemingly gone mad in its condemnation of our self-defense. In scenes that make Orwell and Kafka look like kindergarten teachers, we have been condemned for a litany of sins and crimes that even include not sharing Iron Dome technology with Hamas (If there were a weekly show, “Europe’s got Psychosis,” this last accusation would be the season’s winner.).

We alternate between hanging and shaking our heads, between tears of sorrow and tears of frustration, between sighing and screaming.

But as Jews, especially as Israeli Jews, we need now to switch gears and to harness our sorrow into important positive steps; in other words, to make the proverbial lemonade out of lemons.

I propose two critically important positive steps that Israel needs to undertake now; in both cases the political, popular and moral environments warrant, indeed demand, immediate action.

Provide equal rights for Jews on the Temple Mount.

The denial of rights of access, visitation and, above all, prayer to Jews on the Temple Mount is nothing short of a national disgrace. Jews are subjected to humiliations that would be déjà vu to any Jew living in Germany in 1938.

Starting with an endlessly protracted entry process, Jews with the fortitude to wait to enter are accompanied on a veritable “perp walk” around the Mount. They are watched ceaselessly for any telltale signs of prayer, praise or other identification with Jewish or Israeli pride.

Simultaneously a well paid group of Arab women are there to shriek, curse and insult them, while their male counterparts are there to provide the physical intimidation. Guess who pays the Harpies? Hamas.

Let’s first address the fundamental fairness of this state of affairs. Is there anyone who doubts for a moment that were the situation reversed, if non-Jews were being abusively manhandled in their efforts to approach their holiest site, the world would be in full-throated outcry, the Israeli Left would be hysterical and the Israeli Supreme Court, the Hague and the UN would have a backlog of pending cases that would take them through the next decade.

In other words, the situation is shameful and completely hypocritical. But somehow, shamefulness is not something that Jews are eligible to harness, even in their own country.

The time honored Israeli response to this obvious injustice has been to insist that we need to keep a lid on things and that we don’t want to stir and heat up an already simmering pot. Why tick off the Jordanians who, through the Waqf, have nominal administrative control of the Mount? Why enrage Muslim East Jerusalemites and start another Intifada?

Whatever merit there has been to this argument, it lies in the smoldering tatters of rocket attacks, terror tunnels, and yes, riots. In other words, our forbearance has earned us nothing. We have merely garnered the contempt of the Muslim world for our refusal to honor ourselves. We have telegraphed weakness and we have reaped the fruits of spineless timidity.

To the hard-nosed, pragmatic crowd, I ask you, when you are already under rocket attack and face rioters, what is now preventing you from finally stepping forward to act in your own interests?

As HaLibah, an organization founded by dedicated citizens from the entire Jewish religious/political spectrum and incubated by the Israel Independence Fund, has aptly noted:  how can we subject our soldiers to a deadly confrontation with Hamas in Gaza, only to hand Hamas victory every day on the Temple Mount?

We now have compounded our timidity with a shameful dishonoring of the sacrifice of our soldiers. Where is our own self-respect, where is our decency?

It is now, more than ever, the time to step forward, declare what everyone in their hearts knows is fair and right and just: Jews have the right to freely visit, to pray and to revere the Temple Mount. No one wants to deprive others of the same right, but we must stop our own self-abasement.

Pass legislation banning foreign government funding of Israeli NGOs.

One of Israel’s more absurd self-inflicted wounds is to allow foreign governments, typically ones highly critical of Israel, to freely influence Israeli political and public opinion through their support of Israeli NGOs (non-governmental organizations).

Here’s how it works: A European government will use an entity that is nominally an NGO but is actually controlled by the government, to support Israeli NGOs that have staked out highly critical positions of Israeli government policy, or to the very fabric of Israeli society.

These Israeli NGOs typically have very little popular support in Israel, but they have greatly overstated influence because of the immense of funds they get from foreign governments. They are typically accusing the IDF of war crimes, asserting the fundamental inhumanity of all policies Israeli, and are lobbying for the end of Israel as a Jewish State, to be replaced by a State of its citizens.

If you are thinking Fifth Column, you are onto something. At a minimum, it is not hard to see why these groups have little traction here, but mostly serve to further the diplomatic priorities of their foreign patrons.

If you are also thinking that, well, this is what happens in democracies, you should know that many other democracies, including the United States, specifically forbid such funding.

Such a prohibition has been proposed before, but the proposed legislation was withdrawn for fear of failure to pass. Again, the forces of fearful accommodation, of an unwillingness to confront already antagonistic governments, carried the day.

Now, we are being condemned by these self same governments for excruciatingly sensitive, accommodating and humane self defense, the likes of which the condemners would never taken upon themselves.

We will be once again kangarooed in some nauseatingly hypocritical UN Forum and the tsk- tsking of these governments will be deafening.

By the way, who do you think will be supplying the vast majority of the indictments against Israel? Of course, it will be the Israeli NGOs getting all that foreign government support.

This was the disgusting reality of the Goldstone Report, as exposed by Im Tirtzu, and it was singlehandedly responsible for bringing the need for this legislation to the forefront.

Now faced with a reprise of this gruesome show, it is high time to act to end the exposure to the willingness to endure a death by 1000 cuts.

This legislation must be passed now.

Israelis have shown a commendable ability to learn from their mistakes, whether it is in the IDF or in its remarkable start up economy. We need to adopt this same willingness to adjust course, to help ourselves, and to just do the right thing with key public priorities.

“If I am not for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?” (Ethics of the Fathers 1,14)

Douglas Altabef lives in Rosh Pina and serves on the Board of Directors of The Israel Independence Fund