Chanukah Wrap-Up

I promised myself that I wouldn't say anything on this issue, that I would bite my lip and remain silent. But on the eighth day of Chanukah, I received the eighth email highlighting that delightful little clip of Chanukah in the White House with President Bush, and I could contain myself no longer.

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Ellen W. Horowitz

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[You guys are gonna hate me for bringing-up this one... but someday you may thank me.]

I promised myself that I wouldn't say anything on this issue, that I would bite my lip and remain silent. But on the eighth day of Chanukah, I received the eighth email highlighting that delightful little clip of Chanukah in the White House with President Bush, and I could contain myself no longer.

It's funny, because just as a "Chanukah bush" (sic) is brought into some assimilated Jewish homes in order to make the children feel more comfortable around the Christmas holiday season, this heartwarming Chanukah-Bush video serves the same purpose for much of Diaspora Jewry, and dare I say for a good number of Anglo-Israelis.

I don't know why it is that American Jews have to kvell every time a president of the United States interacts with a menorah. We've seen it so many times before. In 1979, President Carter lit a menorah across from the White House for all to see in Lafayette Park. In 1986, a delegation from Chabad presented a menorah to President Reagan in the Oval Office. In 1997, President Clinton lit a menorah in the Oval Office and in 1998, he lit the first candle of Chanukah in Jerusalem.

It's one thing for us Jews to be grateful when any gentile nation offers us refuge and is good to us. It's quite another thing for us to grovel to and idolize the leaders of those nations.

What those who enjoy Chanukah merry-making in the White House need to remember is that Achashverosh offered us drinks on the house, Pharaoh provided the chauffeur-driven wagons that brought us down to Egypt, and there were some royally golden moments for us in pre-Inquisition Spain and pre-Nazi Germany, too.

I am not implying that the president of the United States has anything sinister up his sleeve, but we do need to remember that a week before young men's voices permeated the White House walls with "Oh Dreidel", President Musharraf of Pakistan decked those same halls with a very different tune - and the US President was equally, if not more, attentive.

Our reactions ranged from amusement to embarrassment when President Clinton's Oval Office escapades with Monica Lewinsky were revealed, but let's not forget that President Bush has been caught on camera holding hands with a Saudi Prince (note - it's been recently reported that the oil-rich kingdom is in possession of nuclear weapons - thanks to Pakistani technology).

Chanukah in the White House, like the Pope's placing a note in the Western Wall, or Yasser Arafat's attending midnight mass in Bethlehem, is a diplomatic gesture; it doesn't warm the cockles of my heart. Whereas hosting Musharraf in the White House, and granting him favored ally status, is a gross foreign policy mistake - and sends chills up my spine.

Lest you think that I'm being overly critical of America, I can categorically say that when it comes to democracy and guaranteeing personal freedom, nobody does it better than the United States. America has worked for it, fought for it, and has had highly developed principles and leaders consistently bolstering her position as a leader of the free world.

That kind of successful struggle and political maturity cannot be exported - it needs to earned, learned and nurtured over time. America should also take note as to what she's importing, because her precious and just foundations are susceptible to corruption by external forces - which is why nobody should be comfortable seeing arch-villain and nuclear powered strongman Musharraf in the White House.

America's policy of both covertly and openly propping-up strong men and their regimes, while simultaneously advocating democratic reforms in a region not yet ripe for or deserving of Western freedom, is a formula for disaster. These type of mixed messages given to nations that are entrenched in dictatorial pasts and are babes in the woods when it comes to democratic reforms, lead to the kind of revolutions that bring us the likes of Khomeini.

Aside from the obvious problems that this type of policy bodes for us in Israel vis-a-vis our situation with the Palestinian Arabs, this week gave us three additional examples as to why this tactic is especially problematic in other areas where Islam dominates. Trouble is brewing on the home front for three of America's "allies" - Egypt, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

In Egypt, there were rare demonstrations against President Mubarak. Egyptians defied a ban on public protests and openly called for an end to Mubarak's 23 -year regime. The BBC reports that the banners at the protests bore the message, "No heredity, no succession" and "No to Mubarak, his party and his son".

In Pakistan, President Musharraf reneged on a promise he made to parliament to give up his military position. There have been protests in the streets and, according to the Washington Times, "Musharraf is less popular than ever, having sparked a strange bedfellows backlash among both Islamists and democracy advocates."

As of this writing, Saudi Arabia was bracing itself for rare public protests as an increasing number of citizens are demanding everything from democratic reforms to a total change in regimes. And an alleged Bin-Laden tape has just surfaced bitterly criticizing the Saudi leadership, which is sure to add Islamic fuel to the fire.

The free world and the not-so-free world is in trouble, and if watching some cute kids light a menorah and a young men's choir sing some tunes in the White House made you feel warm and secure for a few moments, then I suppose it was good. But I'll feel better when that room full of Jewish guests is back here in Israel where they belong. Then you'll see me kvell. Next year in Jerusalem - for all of us.


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