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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.
      Tishrei 9, 5767, 10/1/2006

      Here Comes Muslim Europe...


      The Muslim takeover of Europe is happening more quickly than people think.
      In my column below from the Jerusalem Post, I highlight the demographic decline of traditional Europe and contrast it with the rapid growth of the continent's Muslim population.
      EurabiaThis trend has far-reaching consequences for the US and Israel, and it is time that our decision-makers start taking it into account as they plan for the future.
      -------------

      The Jerusalem Post, January 10, 2007

      Say Goodbye to Europe

      By Michael Freund

      If you ever wanted to see Paris or Rome before you die, but haven't had a chance to do so, you might want to hurry. Soon enough, most of what we now think of as Western Europe will be transformed into a branch of the Muslim world, which is sure to make it an even less welcoming place for Americans, Israelis and for Jews.

      That, at least, is the unpleasant, yet entirely unavoidable conclusion to be drawn from Europe's headlong demographic drive toward oblivion.

      Think I'm exaggerating? Consider a few cold hard facts.

      According to a recent report by the Rand Corporation, "Across Europe, birth rates are falling and family sizes are shrinking. The total fertility rate is now less than two children per woman in every member nation in the European Union."

      Needless to say, demographers consider a birthrate of 2.1 children per family to be the replacement level at which a society's population size remains stable. Barring large-scale immigration, anything less means decline and dissolution.

      A research study published last year in the International Journal of Andrology found a similar trend, concluding that, "Fertility rates have fallen and are now below replacement level in all European Union (EU) Member States. In the 20-year period since 1982," it noted, "most EU Member State countries have had total fertility rates continuously below replacement level."

      At the bottom of the list are Spain, Italy and Greece, where birthrates hover around just 1.3 per couple, leading some forecasters to suggest, for example, that Italy's population could shrink by one-third by the middle of the century.

      Others, such as Germany's 1.37, the UK's 1.74 and Sweden's 1.75, aren't all much better.

      The figures are so bad that in many European countries, the total number of deaths each year has actually begun to exceed the number of births.

      Indeed, the Council of Europe's 2004 Demographic Yearbook warned that, "for Europe as a whole, more people died in 2003 than were born." In 1990, said the yearbook, "three countries - Germany, Bulgaria and Hungary - had negative natural growth for the first time. By 2002, it was negative in fifteen countries."

      LAST YEAR, after the publication of statistics revealing that 30 percent of German women have not had children, Germany's family minister, Ursula von der Leyen, caused a stir when she said that if her nation's birth rate did not turn around, the country would have to "turn out the light." And while Europeans may be busy everywhere but in the bedroom, the Muslim populations in their midst are proving far more expansive.

      As columnist Mark Steyn points out in his must-read new book, America Alone, "What's the Muslim population of Rotterdam? Forty percent. What's the most popular baby boy's name in Belgium? Mohammed. In Amsterdam? Mohammed. In Malmo, Sweden? Mohammed."

      Last month, the UK Daily Telegraph reported that, "Mohammed, and its most common alternative spelling Muhammad, are now more popular babies' names in England and Wales than George."

      This, said the paper, using typically British understatement, "reflects the diverse ethnic mix of the population."

      But that "mix," so to speak, is rapidly changing - and not in traditional Europe's favor.

      ISLAM, BY all accounts, is the fastest growing religion in Europe, spurred by immigration and high fertility rates. According to projections by the US federal government's National Intelligence Council, the continent's current Muslim population of 20 million will likely double by 2025.

      And as Bruce Bawer noted last year in While Europe Slept, "Already, in most of Western Europe, 16 to 20 percent of children are Muslims…within a couple of generations many [European] countries will have Muslim majorities."

      Not since September 8, 1683, when the Ottomans were threatening to breach the walls of Vienna, has Islam been so perilously close to seizing control over Western Europe.

      The implications of all this are far graver than we can even begin to imagine, and it is not just a matter of choosing new and more hospitable tourist destinations.

      An increasingly Islamified Europe will prove ever more hostile to Israel and America, and this trend will only intensify as the Muslim population there continues to grow.

      Even if European governments succeed in reversing the curve, which seems highly unlikely, it will be decades before it would begin to be felt. In the meantime, however, Muslim political power on the continent will develop and expand, and European leaders will be hard-pressed to ignore their demands.

      This makes it far less likely that Israel and the US can count on Europe - if they ever really could - at times of crisis in the decades ahead. Just pick an issue, from the war on terror to Palestinian statehood, and you'll see what I mean.

      For however unbalanced Europe's stance has been until now, it will likely only grow worse in the years to come.

      Europe as we know it is a thing of the past, and it is time for Israeli and American decision-makers to take this into account as they plan for the future. The face of Europe is changing rapidly, and with it the continent's social and political make-up.

      So if you really want to see the Eiffel Tower up close, you had best not delay. Before you know it, it might just turn into a minaret.



      Tishrei 9, 5767, 10/1/2006

      The Growing Al-Qaeda Threat to Israel


      If Osama Bin-Laden’s official representative in Iraq is to be believed, Al-Qaeda has now officially turned its sights on the Jewish state.

      In an audio tape posted on an Islamist website, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi claimed that 4 Katyusha rockets fired from southern Lebanon into northern Israel on December 27 were the work of the terrorist group and came at the instructions of its chieftain, bin Laden.

      “The rocket firing at the ancestors of monkeys and pigs from the south of Lebanon was only the start of a blessed in-depth strike against the Zionist enemy”, al-Zarqawi declared, adding that “All that was on the instructions of the sheikh of the mujahedeen, Osama bin Laden”.

      Osama_sucks_1 This comes just a few short weeks after UPI reported (December 7) that Al-Qaeda had forged an alliance with Hizbullah terrorists in Lebanon to coordinate anti-Israel attacks.

      The presence of Al-Qaeda in Lebanon is extremely significant, because it now means that the terror group has operatives in nearly all the countries surrounding Israel. Don’t forget that Al-Qaeda has carried out bombings in Amman, Jordan (in November 2004), and in the Egyptian-controlled Sinai (in October 2004) at Western and Israeli targets.

      Hence, as ominous as it sounds, Al-Qaeda has the ability to target Israel from the west, the east and the north. And, as Israel’s head of Military Intelligence confirmed at the end of September, Osama bin-Laden’s thugs established a presence in Gaza as well in the wake of the Israeli retreat, giving them still another launching pad for attacks against the Jewish state.

      All this underlines just how much Israel is on the front-lines of the global war on terror – and how essential it is that we stand firm and confront it. For some time now, I have been reporting on this blog about the growing threat posed by Al-Qaeda to Israel, particularly in light of the Gaza withdrawal and the vacuum it created in the area. It is crucial that we raise awareness about this issue, both in Israel and the West, and that we inform our communities, elected representatives and leaders about it.

      I don't want to sound like an alarmist, but Al-Qaeda’s increased presence in the region clearly does not bode well for the future. It is time for Israel’s decision-makers to take this threat seriously, and to start taking concrete action to forestall a Middle Eastern 9/11 – before it is too late.

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      Tishrei 5, 5767, 9/27/2006

      The Hidden Cost of Israel's Restraint


      Over the past few months, Israel has deliberately refrained from using overwhelming force to stop the ongoing Palestinian rocket attacks against Jewish towns and cities in the Negev.

      The result has been daily barrages against Israeli communities, which continued even after the start of yesterday's precarious cease-fire.

      But there is a hidden cost to Israel's inexplicable restraint, as some newly published research now reveals.

      SderotkidsA study conducted by Tel Hai College has found that at least one-third (!!) of the children in the Negev town of Sderot suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

      According to Prof. Moli Lahad, who oversaw the study, at least one parent of each of these children likely also suffers from PTSD. "These grave figures stem from the fact that the parents' basic security in their ability to protect their children has been completely shaken," Lahad said. "About a third of the population - adults and children­- suffers from acute anxiety, meaning that any occurrence is immediately interpreted as a threat and people spend their entire lives 'on alert.'"

      According to the experts, PTSD in children can lead to a range of effects, from sleep disturbances to greater impulsiveness and aggressiveness to anxiety disorders and even to depression.

      Oddly enough, one of the reasons that Israel has not gone in to Gaza in full force has been the fear of how this might affect Palestinian civilians.

      But as the Tel Hai research demonstrates, Israel's leadership has failed to take into account how its policy might impact Israeli civilians.

      And since a government's primary responsibility is to protect its own people, it is time for our leaders to wake up and take notice. Because by failing to stop Palestinian terror, they are directly harming the future not only of our children, but of the country itself.



      Tishrei 3, 5767, 9/25/2006

      The Media Must Also Repent


      Well, it's that time of year on the Jewish calendar – the Ten Days of Repentance between Rosh Hashanah, the start of the Jewish New Year, and Yom Kippur, the holy Day of Atonement.

      It is a time for reflection and for introspection, for looking in the mirror and tackling our flaws and our faults head-on and making amends.

      It is a special opportunity, a chance to improve ourselves and our society – so in the spirit of these exceptional days, here is some unsolicited advice for a central institution in our lives that desperately needs a dose of repentance – and just who might that be? Well, of course, it is none other than…. the media.

      Monkeys1 – Stop Distorting the News – As we know, the mainstream media has a nasty habit of twisting the news out of shape, failing to convey the entire story, and ignoring important factors such as context and history. Time and again we see this in how the news from Israel is reported – giving people false impressions, partial information and tendentious perspectives on what is happening. Suggestion #1 for the media: start delivering the news rather than distorting it.

      2 – Stop Confusing Opinion with Fact – In an ideal world, we would be able to follow events without being able to detect the opinions of those who report it. All too often, however, this doesn't prove to be the case, as journalists allow their beliefs to shape what they report and how they do so, in many instances making little or no effort to conceal their bias. Looking for an example? Just watch how US President George W. Bush is covered by most mainstream media outlets America. Suggestion # 2 for the media: try harder to separate your opinions from the facts you are trying to convey.

      3 – Start Being More Patriotic – The mainstream media often fears sounding too patriotic, because they confuse patriotism with jingoism. But when your country is at war – whether against Hizbullah terrorists or Al-Qaeda jihadists – there is nothing wrong with showing a little national pride. Why do so many Americans turn to Fox News? Probably, in part, because they are tired of hearing the drumbeat of how relentlessly wrong their country is on other networks, which often seem bent on "faulting America first". Suggestion # 3 for the media: start remembering that when the bad guys say they want to kill all Americans or Israelis, that press pass of yours won't help you all that much.

      There are, of course, many other areas in which the media needs to improve. But repentance is often be a step-by-step process – and the steps described above would be a good place for them to start.



      Tishrei 1, 5767, 9/23/2006

      The Return of a Lost Tribe to Zion


      This past Monday evening, I had the privilege of accompanying 51 new immigrants from the Bnei Menashe of India - descendants of a lost tribe of Israel - on the flight home from Bombay to Tel Aviv.
      This very special event was a long time in coming - for the past 3 1/2 years, since Israel's Interior Ministry shut down the Bnei Menashe aliyah in the summer of 2003, I have waged a long and protracted struggle to reverse the decision and restart the aliyah.
      Photo_2Thank G-d, that has now finally come to pass - and by the middle of next week, we will have brought over 218 Bnei Menashe Jews to Israel.
      Below is an article I wrote on the plane ride over here, describing some of my thoughts and feelings regarding this very special miracle.
      May we merit to witness many more such miracles in the days ahead.
      An Eyewitness Account:

      An aliya voyage across the millennia from India

      By Michael Freund

      EN ROUTE TO ISRAEL: For Arbi Khiangte, Monday evening's regularly scheduled El Al flight out of Bombay was far more than just an eight-hour long trek across the ocean.

      Born and raised in the northeastern Indian state of Mizoram, which straddles Burma and Bangladesh, the striking 21-year-old is a member of the Bnei Menashe, a group that traces its ancestry back to a lost tribe of Israel.

      Since childhood, Khiangte has dreamed of moving to the land of her ancestors, the Land of Israel.

      With a bright and infectious smile beaming with optimism, she told me of her strong desire to take part in building the country.

      "I want to be a nurse," she said. "I want to help Israel, to heal the people there. I hope that I will succeed."

      Now, after years of waiting, Khiangte will at last have a chance to do so. Together with 50 other members of her community, she made aliya this week as part of the first batch of 218 Bnei Menashe immigrants set to arrive here in the coming week.

      As chairman of Shavei Israel, a Jerusalem-based organization responsible for assisting the Bnei Menashe both in India and in Israel, I was blessed to accompany Khiangte and the rest of the group on their voyage home to the Jewish state.

      And while flying El Al is always an experience, this particular trip was something truly special.

      The excitement in the air was palpable, despite the late hour and the obvious exhaustion that everyone clearly felt. The immigrants had left their hotel near the seashore at 4:30 p.m. in order to allow enough time for their bus to crawl its way through Bombay's daunting rush-hour traffic.

      More than two hours later, they arrived at the airport, where they had to make their way through security, check-in and passport control before boarding the flight at around 11:00 p.m.

      It had been a long and tiring afternoon, but that didn't stop Gavriel Joram, an energetic 14 year old, from joking around with some of his fellow Bnei Menashe, lightening the mood for all those present.

      Previously, in a somewhat more serious frame of mind, Gavriel had shared with me his hopes and dreams for the future.

      "I want to be a soldier, and to defend the country," he told me, the earnestness in his voice moving me deeply.

      "I love Israel," he said, without a hint of the cynicism or sarcasm to which we in the West have become so accustomed.

      What compelling proof for the power of the Jewish spirit, I thought to myself.

      After all, the Bnei Menashe trace their ancestry back to Menashe, one of the 10 tribes of Israel exiled by the Assyrians some 27 centuries ago.

      Despite wandering in exile for so long, they managed to preserve a strong sense of pride and Jewish identity, keeping Shabbat, following the laws of family purity, circumcising newborn males on the eighth day and passing down across the generations a deeply held belief that they would one day go home again to Zion.

      And now, here they are, doing just that.

      Bm_immigrants_at_ben_gurion_airportOf the 218 Bnei Menashe that are making aliya, the youngest immigrant is an infant born just two weeks ago, while the oldest is 84-year-old Sara Haunhar, whose lifelong dream has always been "to set foot on G-d's Holy Land before I die."

      Waiting for her at Ben-Gurion Airport was her grandson, who arrived here several years ago. Dressed in the green fatigues of the IDF, he proudly serves in an intelligence unit, bolstering the security of his fellow Jews.

      It might sound somewhat silly, or even naive, but I truly believe that the Bnei Menashe aliya is a miracle of immense historical and even biblical significance.

      Just as the prophets foretold so long ago, the lost tribes of Israel are being brought back from the Exile.

      In the past decade, we succeeded in bringing nearly 1,000 Bnei Menashe to Israel under an arrangement with the Interior Ministry, whereby 100 Bnei Menashe were allowed to come here each year as tourists. They would study for conversion, and usually within a year of their arrival, they would pass the test and be accepted as Jews.

      But all that came to an end in the summer of 2003, after we brought a group of 71 Bnei Menashe to Israel. The newly-appointed interior minister at the time, Avraham Poraz of the Shinui Party, decided to shut down the Bnei Menashe aliya once and for all, putting it into the equivalent of a bureaucratic deep-freeze.

      As a result, thanks to the whims of one man, the 7,000 Bnei Menashe still in India suddenly found themselves with no hope of joining their loved ones in the Jewish state.

      In the wake of that decision, I approached Israel's Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar and asked him to consider issuing a ruling regarding the halachic status of the Bnei Menashe, just as the Rabbinate has done regarding other Diaspora communities in the past.

      The chief rabbi readily agreed, and in March 2005, after studying the issue, he formally recognized the Bnei Menashe as "descendants of Israel," confirming their claim to Jewish ancestry. Then, in September 2005, he sent a rabbinical court to India, which formally converted the 218 Bnei Menashe who are now moving here this week.

      This is the largest group of Bnei Menashe ever to come here at one time, and it is the first group to arrive in three and a half years. More importantly, however, it marks the first time that the Bnei Menashe are coming here as Jews, recognized as such by all concerned.

      And so, the moment they stepped off the plane at Ben-Gurion airport yesterday, they became Israeli citizens in every respect, part and parcel of Israeli society.

      Every once in a while, there are moments in life when you feel like you are not just witnessing history, but actually playing a part in helping to shape it. The flight out of Bombay was just such a moment.

      And as I accompanied Arbi Khiangte and her fellow Bnei Menashe on their long journey home, I couldn't help but feel that we were witnesses to something far more significant than perhaps any of us might realize.

      Because as much as we might think that we are helping the Bnei Menashe, it is the reverse that is true. It is they who strengthen us - with their faith, with their commitment and with their undying love for Zion.

      At one point, when I asked Arbi Khiangte why she thinks it is so important to move to Israel, tears welled up in her eyes.

      "The Holy One, Blessed be He, commanded us to live there," she says. "It is a mitzva, and it is one that my ancestors have been waiting for so long to fulfill. I am happy that we are now finally going to do so."

      And so, I might add, are we.

      Welcome home, Arbi, and may your arrival pave the way for the rest of the Bnei Menashe to follow.