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      Fundamentally Freund
      by Michael Freund
      An alternative approach to Israeli political commentary.
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      Michael Freund is Founder and Chairman of Shavei Israel (www.shavei.org), which reaches out and assists "lost Jews" seeking to return to the Jewish people. He writes a syndicated column and feature stories for the Jerusalem Post. Previously, he served as Deputy Director of Communications & Policy Planning in the Israeli Prime Minister´s Office under former premier Benjamin Netanyahu. A native of New York, he holds an MBA in Finance from Columbia University and a BA from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. He has lived in Israel for the past decade.
      Shevat 6, 5767, 1/25/2007

      In whom do we trust?

      Israeli President Moshe Katzav put on quite a performance on national television last night.

      KatzavWagging his finger in the air, pounding the table, and shouting at various points throughout his 50-minute harangue, Katzav's appearance was both gripping and detestable as he sought to deflect allegations that he was a serial rapist and sex offender.

      For a country that has been inundated of late with allegations of corruption and dishonesty at the highest levels of power, there is something even more disconcerting about the sight of the nation's president accused of such terrible crimes.

      Katzav now joins the long list of prominent personalities, ranging from the prime minister himself to the finance minister to a former justice minister, all of whom are suspected of various types of offenses.

      We'll leave it to the courts – including those of public opinion – to decide their fates, but the spate of such cases points to a fundamental problem underlying Israel's leadership – namely, a lack of faith in G-d.

      Israel is currently ruled by people who look out only for their own narrow self-interest. They are not guided by a sense of historic responsibility, national duty or Zionist commitment, nor are they anchored in an abiding sense of trust in the One Above.

      With the Palestinians hurling rockets at our cities, and the Iranians threatening to decimate them, Israel can not afford the "luxury" of having self-centered, and self-interested, people at its helm.

      What we need now is a leadership that is guided by faith, and by certainty in the justness of our cause. That, as always, is our surest guarantee of success.

      Tevet 28, 5767, 1/18/2007

      Just who exactly is a "moderate" Arab leader?

      On her current trip to the Middle East, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has been meeting with a series of Arab leaders, patting each one on the back and heaping praise on them for their supposed "moderation".
      But just who is a "moderate Arab leader", and is Secretary Rice making a grave mistake when she applies this term to those with whom she meets?
      In the column below that appeared in the Jerusalem Post, I suggest that by mislabeling various Arab leaders as "moderates", Dr. Rice is actually harming the very cause she seeks to promote.
      The Jerusalem Post, January 17, 2007

      Just Who Exactly is a "Moderate" Arab Leader?

      By Michael Freund

      US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has come and gone on her latest visit to the Middle East, but about the only thing she left behind was a trail of confusion and bewilderment.

      Prior to Rice's arrival, her trip was billed as an effort to bolster "moderate Arab leaders" in the area. On January 9, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters that one of the secretary's goals would be to "support those forces of moderation in the region."

      That sounds reasonable enough. After all, the Middle East could certainly use a healthy dose of restraint.

      But after watching Ms. Rice's performance over the past few days, it should now be clear that her idea of what constitutes a "moderate Arab leader" is way off the mark, and this should leave us all deeply concerned about the future.

      Abbas_sucksTake, for example, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whom Rice put forward as a model of moderation.

      Standing next to Abbas at a press conference in Ramallah on Sunday, the secretary of state practically gushed with enthusiasm when she said in her opening remarks, "I want everyone to know, particularly the Palestinian people, how much we admire the leadership of President Abbas as a leader of the Palestinian people."

      And yet, it was just last Thursday, three days prior to meeting with Rice, that Abbas publicly called upon Palestinians to attack Israel.

      SPEAKING at a rally to mark the 42nd anniversary of the founding of Fatah, Abbas told a huge crowd gathered in Ramallah, "With the will and determination of its sons, Fatah will continue. We will not give up our principles and we have said that rifles should be directed against the occupation."

      "We have a legitimate right to direct our guns against Israeli occupation," Abbas added.

      Is this the kind of "moderation" Rice had in mind?

      Indeed, despite Abbas's outrageous call to arms, Rice did not say a word - not a single, solitary word! - about it during her joint press conference with him. She did not see fit to demand a retraction from Abbas of his invitation to violence, nor did she press him to refrain from inciting further bloodshed.

      Instead, Rice chose to heap additional praise on Abbas, telling the assembled journalists that "we've made a lot of progress over recent years, in particular because of the hard work of President Abbas."


      What progress is she referring to? To the ongoing Palestinian rocket attacks against southern Israel? To the kidnapping of Cpl. Gilad Shalit? Or perhaps to the growing popularity of Hamas and Islamic Jihad among the Palestinian electorate?

      To be sure, when one compares Abbas with the "genocide now" crowd over at Hamas, he might appear to be a tad bit less extreme. But the gap between "less extreme" and "moderate" is vast, and the two cannot and should not be confused.

      AND THEREIN lies the problem with Rice's misguided compliments to Abbas. By embracing him rather than rebuking him, she encouraged the Palestinian leader to believe that he can openly call for violence against Jews without paying any political price for doing so.

      Her actions also sent a dangerous message to Palestinians, who might start to think that America's top diplomat sees nothing wrong with their leader's plea to start using their rifles against the Jewish state.

      Rice's confused idea of "moderation" was further on display in Egypt, where she met on Monday with Egyptian autocrat Hosni Mubarak and his foreign minister, Aboul Gheit.

      Later, at a press conference with Gheit, Rice again had nothing but praise for her hosts, asserting that, "Egypt is really a partner."

      What she neglected to mention, of course, was that Mr. Mubarak rules his domain in the finest tradition of the Pharaohs, suppressing dissent, tossing his political opponents into prison, and fixing the outcome of elections to his liking.

      Egypt has also allowed untold quantities of weapons to be smuggled freely into Gaza, into the waiting arms of terrorist groups, and it has refused to crack down on the flow of funds to Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

      Some "partner."

      We are sure to be treated to a continuation of this spectacle in the coming days, as Rice travels to the Gulf to meet with other "moderates" such as the terror-sponsoring Saudis and some of their Israel-boycotting neighbors.

      AND THAT should have us all deeply worried, because the issue of just who is a moderate Arab leader is far more than just one of semantics. It goes to the very root of US foreign policy in the region. For by misidentifying or mischaracterizing various Arab leaders as "moderates,"

      Rice and others do real harm to the very cause they seek to advance.

      Rather than encouraging moderation, they are in fact unwittingly promoting extremism by failing to call to account leaders such as Abbas, Mubarak and others.

      And by blurring the definition of true moderation, they have allowed these men to continue to pursue policies that are antithetical to Israel and the West, all while continuing to bask in the undeserved political support they receive from abroad.

      The question of "just who exactly is a moderate Arab leader," and whether any really exist, remains open to debate.

      But by conferring this title upon despots and dictators, and those who sponsor terror, the US secretary of state is doing far more damage than good.

      Tevet 25, 5767, 1/15/2007

      From the Twilight Zone

      Here's an item straight out of the Twilight Zone for you:


      January 15, 2007

      IDF said curbing West Bank raids for duration of Rice visit

      By Amos Harel, Haaretz Correspondent

      Israel Radio reported Monday that the IDF has ordered curbs on operations in the West Bank during the current visit of United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
      "The commander of IDF forces in Judea and Samaria, Brigadier General Yair Golan, has ordered his brigade commanders to arrest Palestinians only in cases of vital necessity," the radio said.

      Over the past two days, a divisional commander has refused to authorize a number of initiated operations, it said.


      So Israel puts its war on terror on hold, and gives the terrorists a respite, all because Condi Rice is visiting town? What is going on here?

      Ostensibly, the "logic" behind this decision is that the government wants to avoid a repeat of what happened earlier this month, when a military operation in Ramallah went awry during a summit meeting between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Egyptian autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

      That would seem to make sense, except for one thing: the terrorists are sure to exploit this "rest stop" to their advantage. They know that Rice's visit, and Israel's meek response, give them a lull they most certainly do not deserve.

      And so, once again, we find our decision-makers placing more importance on how Israel looks than on how it acts, with image taking precedence over more fundamental concerns such as safety and security.

      Rod Serling would be proud.

      Tevet 2, 5767, 12/23/2006

      Weeping Willows No Longer

      Today - Friday - is Hoshana Rabba, the last day of the holiday of Succot and one of the most mysterious days on the Jewish calendar. Mysterious, that is, because so few people seem to grasp its significance or appreciate its ritual.

      Take a peek into any synagogue this morning, and you will witness quite a scene, as a line of worshippers, each one bearing the traditional Four Species in his hands, encircles the podium seven times to recall the rite that was performed in the Temple long ago.

      Weeping_willowThe solemnity of the procession quickly gives way to a spirited outburst, as those present each take a bundle of willows and beat them on the floor. Leaves fly off the branches, until the sound of swatting reaches a crescendo that fills the room.

      It is, admittedly, quite a sight, not one you would ordinarily associate with a house of worship. Grown men thrashing a bunch of twigs on the floor, making a ruckus as well as a mess. What could this possibly have to do with life in a modern Jewish state?

      The answer, in fact, is quite a lot. For Hoshana Rabba contains within it a message that couldn’t be more timely for Israel in its current plight.

      For it is on this day, according to tradition, that our fate is at last sealed for the coming year, with the decrees issued on Yom Kippur receiving their final Divine stamp of approval before being sent out, as it were.

      Thus, even after all the fasting and prayers of the Day of Atonement, we are still given one more chance on Hoshana Rabba, one last opportunity to correct our mistakes and brighten our future.

      Israel now stands at just such a moment. After the past several years of Palestinian terrorism, which shows no signs of abating, the country must choose to either throw up its arms in despair and flee, or stand tall and fight the terrorists.

      We need to stop running circles around ourselves until our heads are spinning and we no longer know what to do, which is what seems to be the case with our present Prime Minister. Earlier this year, he was declaring that Israel would have to withdraw unilaterally from much of Judea and Samaria, and now he says that he wants to negotiate a deal with the terrorists. He promised to return kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was abducted by the Palestinians back in July, but has essentially failed to do so.

      By choosing a particular path and sticking to it, standing firm and fighting terror, Israel can eventually prevail. By circling the podium seven times in the synagogue on Hoshana Rabba, and following the same route around it again and again and again, we are reminding ourselves of just that, for only through persistence and tenacity, and a good deal of faith, can we possibly overcome the challenges that we face.

      And while the taking of the willows which follows has deep mystical significance to it, I would also like to think that there is a far simpler message at work here: the Jewish people refuse to be “weeping willows” any more.

      We are here to take our fate into our own hands, and to strike away not only the tears, but at those who cause them as well. May it happen soon, with G-d's help.

      Chag Sameach - have a happy holiday.

      Kislev 16, 5767, 12/7/2006

      The Wages of Weakness

      Israel's foes have now succeeded in opening a second front against the Jewish state.

      In a particularly painful and disturbing incident, Hizbullah terrorists in Lebanon carried out a cross-border raid along the northern frontier this morning, kidnapping two Israeli soldiers and killing seven others.

      Israel_lebanon And so, Israel now finds itself desperately trying to retrieve abducted servicemen being held by Islamist fanatics both in Gaza and Lebanon.

      The audacity of the terrorists, and their willingness to attack Israeli forces head-on, is a direct result of the weakness that has characterized Israeli policy in recent years.

      In May 2000, Israel pulled out of Lebanon like a thief in the night, and in August 2005, Israel fled Gaza in broad daylight. Preferring to buy short-term quiet at the expense of long-term strategic interests, Israel ended up paying a heavy price.

      These actions effectively put terrorists on notice that violence works, and that they have little to lose, and much to gain, by continuing to attack the Jewish state.

      But it is not too late to stem the tide, and to turn things around in Israel's favor. If the Government has the fortitude and the determination to deliver a smashing blow to Hamas in Gaza and Hizbullah in Lebanon, something good might yet emerge from the disaster of recent weeks.

      But whatever happens, let one thing finally be clear: in the long run, the wages of weakness are far more costly than the price of standing firm.