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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 6, 5770, 9/24/2009

      He's no Mahatma Obama



      If anyone still thinks of US President Barack Obama in superhuman or pseudo-messianic terms, those thoughts can now surely be put to rest
      Barack Obama is one impatient president.
       
      After trying to rush through an unprecedented overhaul of America's colossal health-care system in just a matter of a few weeks, he now seeks to solve the century-old Israeli-Palestinian dispute by forcing a photo-op meeting in New York in order to jump-start negotiations in its wake.
       
      Some may cheer this approach, but as I argue in the column below it is more a reflection of the president's impetuosity than of a well-crafted policy. As such, its chances of success are highly in doubt.
       
      And while the commander-in-chief may have recently cited India's founding father as his "real hero", his lack of patience and even arrogance clearly show that he is no Mahatma Obama.
       

      He's no Mahatma Obama

      By Michael Freund

      If anyone still thinks of US President Barack Obama in superhuman or pseudo-messianic terms, those thoughts can now surely be put to rest.

      Just prior to his joint meeting on Monday in New York with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, the leader of the free world put on a performance that was so dreadfully uninspired as to border on the unpresidential.

      In a statement to reporters, Obama could barely contain his annoyance, emphatically declaring that "simply put, it is past time to talk about starting negotiations - it is time to move forward. It is time to show the flexibility and common sense and sense of compromise that's necessary to achieve our goals."

      Sounding like a scorned substitute teacher being ignored by his pupils, Obama lectured his Middle Eastern guests, telling them, "Permanent-status negotiations must begin, and begin soon. And more importantly, we must give those negotiations the opportunity to succeed."

      SOME MAY cheer this "straight talk" as precisely the kind of push that is needed to restart the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. But the truth is that it is more a reflection of the president's impetuosity than of a well-crafted policy. As such, its chances of success are highly doubtful.

      Indeed, the US media was rife with leaks from administration officials about how "impatient" Obama is. Fox News, for example, reported: "Though it's early in the Obama administration, aides suggest he's running out of patience with both sides." The New York Times took note of "the president's impatience with the slow pace of the peace negotiations," and Politico revealed that White House "aides indicated that Obama is frustrated and impatient with what they described as foot-dragging by the Israelis and inflexible positions from the Palestinians."

      The president is clearly a prisoner of his own restlessness, diving head-first into one complex and knotty problem after another with little to show for it but bruises. Thus, the same man who tried to rush through an unprecedented overhaul of America's colossal health-care system in just a matter of a few weeks, now seeks to solve a century-old conflict by forcing a photo-op meeting in New York in order to jump-start negotiations in its wake.

      This is no way to run a country, and certainly no way to bring about a real and lasting peace - not among bickering members of Congress, and certainly not between Arabs and Israelis.

      YET PERHAPS the strangest thing of all is that Obama himself should know better than to act with such rashness. After all, just two weeks ago, on a highly-publicized visit to a high school in Arlington, Virginia, he cited Mahatma Gandhi, who was a pillar of patience, as one of his key influences.

      Asked by a precocious ninth-grader whom he would like to dine with, the president replied, "You know, I think that it might be Gandhi, who is a real hero of mine... He is somebody whom I find a lot of inspiration in."

      Assuming that to be true, it is hard to understand how Obama failed to learn the key lesson that embodied Gandhi's storied political career, which India's founding father once pithily summed up as follows: "Patience and perseverance, if we have them, overcome mountains of difficulties."

      As he stood alongside Netanyahu and Abbas, Obama sounded nothing like the iconic Indian leader. "We have to find a way forward," he said, as though offering some profound new insight that no one else had thought of previously. "Success depends on all sides acting with a sense of urgency," Obama added, once again invoking haste as a cornerstone of his approach.

      Little thought seems to have gone into how to reach his stated goals, other than to express irritation and let off some steam.

      But instead of coming across as willful and determined, Obama sounded petulant and arrogant, particularly when he sought to suggest that the Middle East's complexity and history must be shunted aside to move forward.

      With all due respect to the American president, he is obviously no Mahatma Obama. He is a man in a rush, who obviously thinks he knows best - better than Israel's public and its leaders - what is in Israel's interests.

      But here, too, the president would do well to recall the words of his icon. It was Gandhi who proclaimed that "it is unwise to be toosure of one's own wisdom. It is healthy to be reminded that the strongest might weaken and the wisest might err."

      Even the man occupying the White House.

      --- from the September 24 Jerusalem Post







      Elul 26, 5769, 9/15/2009

      The UN's Lynch Mob



      This is nothing less than a political pogrom, one which reeks of anti-Semitism and bias
      The news today was simply breathtaking.

      A United Nations war-crimes investigation into Israel's counter-terror campaign in Gaza late last year concluded that "Israel committed actions amounting to war crimes, possibly crimes against humanity". Within six months, the matter may be referred to the International Court of Justice at the Hague.

      And so, with due disregard for the facts on the ground, the context, or the history of the Middle East conflict, a UN lynch mob has grabbed the Jewish state by the throat and laid the groundwork for tossing her into the very special dock reserved for the likes of Adolf Hitler, Slobodan Milosevic and various other modern-day vampires.

      This report emerges from the same United Nations that allows Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to brazenly threaten a new Holocaust against the Jewish state while doing next to nothing to stop him.

      This is nothing less than a political pogrom, one which reeks of anti-Semitism and bias. More than six decades have passed since the State of Israel was founded, and it seems that much of the world still can not forgive us for having the nerve to defend ourselves against our enemies.

      We must criticize and condemn this report with every ounce of our being, and redouble our efforts to explain Israel and its cause. This slander can not and must not go unanswered.

       







      Elul 22, 5769, 9/11/2009

      The Story Told by An Ancient Stone



      stones do not lie, and the story this one tells is really quite simple: centuries before the advent of Islam, Jews worshipped on the Temple Mount
      Sometimes, all it takes is one ancient stone to upend all the vicious anti-Israel propaganda being hurled at us by our foes.

      Archaeologists from Israel's Antiquities Authority recently uncovered a stone carving dating back nearly two thousand years which depicts the Menorah (candelabrum) that stood in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem (see below).

      The find took place at Migdal, on the shores of the Sea of Galilee in Israel's north.

      Jews from across the country regularly made pilgrimage to the Temple, which was the seat of Judaism and its most holy of sites until being destroyed by the Roman invaders in the year 70 C.E. Obviously, the unknown artist who sculpted the stone was moved by his encounter with the Menorah at the Temple - so much so that when he got home he took the time and effort to engrave it.

      Nowadays, of course, the Palestinians and much of the rest of the world is pressuring the Jewish state to turn over parts of Jerusalem - including the Temple Mount - to Arab control, as if their claim supersedes ours.

      But stones do not lie, and the story this one tells is really quite simple: centuries before the advent of Islam, Jews worshipped on the Temple Mount. And thousands of years before the United Nations was established or the PLO was founded, it was the Jewish people who called Jerusalem home.

      And we will continue to do so, whether they like it or not.

       

       







      Tammuz 24, 5769, 7/16/2009

      Build a Museum of Arab Terror



      the only way to truly appreciate the difficulties this country has faced, and to comprehend its struggle for survival, is to study and understand the phenomenon of Arab violence and hatred.
      On a recent visit to Europe, I stopped by the Lenin Museum in the Finnish city of Tampere, only to discover that it presented a laudatory and completely distorted view of the brutal dictator.
      But it did get me thinking: Look how easy it is to distort history and to cast aside those who were terrorized, tortured and killed. Indeed, here we see this on a daily basis in how much of the mainstream media reports the conflict in the Middle East. History is being written, and the truth is being twisted, before our very eyes every day.
      Hence, as I argue in the column below, we must take action to ensure that this does not occur, and that the Israeli victims of terrorism are never forgotten. And a good first step would be for the Government of Israel to erect a Museum of Arab Terror to document this scourge as well as to pay tribute to its victims.
       

      Build a Museum of Arab Terror

      By Michael Freund

      In the Finnish city of Tampere stands one of the strangest exhibitions in all of Europe. Located inside the hall where Vladimir Lenin first met Joseph Stalin in 1905, the Lenin Museum traces his life and work as he rose to power and built a communist empire.

      It dates back to the Cold War, when the Soviets sought to spread socialist propaganda in the West, and is now owned and operated by the Finland-Russia Society with support from the Finnish Ministry of Education.

      And while the curators of the museum insist that it presents a "critical" approach to Lenin and his labors, that is far from being the truth.

      Having studied Soviet politics in my university days, I visited the museum last month expecting to find a balanced account of the man and his deeds. After all, Lenin persecuted, imprisoned and murdered his political opponents - both perceived and real, set up concentration camps for his enemies, brutally liquidated vast swathes of the Russian peasantry and engineered massive famine in the countryside.

      All this in addition to bequeathing to the world totalitarian Soviet rule and paving the way for Stalin and his ruthless regime.

      But you would never know it from the material on display in Tampere. Instead, the museum's guide is full of laudatory honorifics, hailing Lenin for rallying the Russian masses "to defend the socialist fatherland."

      "Under his leadership, the people resisted the enemies of the revolution ever more strongly," reads the written guide to display case 13.

      Lenin may have died in January 1924, "but his ideas and deeds live on," the museum helpfully assures its visitors.

      After engaging in a somewhat-heated argument with the museum's employees over the unbalanced picture they presented of their subject, I left a few scathing comments in the guest book and walked out shaking my head in disbelief.

      Sure, one could dismiss this place as an anachronism, a holdover from the Cold War more worthy of ridicule than respect. But the fact is that museums matter. They are society's way of telling a story, of building a narrative about the past to educate future generations. There is no telling how many people might be affected by what they see within its halls.

      And it just seems so absurd that instead of telling the story of Lenin's victims, this odd little museum would prefer to glorify their killer.

      BUT IT did get me thinking: Look how easy it is to distort history and to cast aside those who were terrorized, tortured and killed. Indeed, here we see this on a daily basis in how much of the mainstream media reports the conflict in the Middle East. History is being written, and the truth is being twisted, before our very eyes every day.

      What will happen 25 or 50 years from now, when people look back on the events of today? Will anyone remember the recent struggle of the people of Sderot and the rockets they endured, or the suicide bombings? I suspect that much of this is already being forgotten, if only because of the natural human tendency to try to bury the painful past.

      But we must take steps to ensure this does not occur, and that the truth is not obscured by propaganda. The government therefore should build of a museum of Arab terror with the goal of documenting and commemorating the victims of Arab violence. Such a museum would not only serve to remind its visitors of the immense human suffering that terror has inflicted on Israel over the decades, but would also honor those who lost their lives to this scourge.

      Though a monument to victims of terror was established on Mount Herzl, where an annual ceremony is now held on Remembrance Day, much more can and should be done to perpetuate their legacy - and a museum can do just that.

      With effective displays and relevant historical information and photographs, such a museum can help to educate the public about the past and thereby better prepare them for the future. And it will help to counter those who try to falsify our history.

      Like it or not, the only way to truly appreciate the difficulties this country has faced, and to comprehend its struggle for survival, is to study and understand the phenomenon of Arab violence and hatred.

      Upon completion, the museum of Arab terror should become a mandatory part of every foreign dignitary's state visit, and it should be incorporated into the curriculum of every high school student in the country.

      It might sound like a dismal or gloomy theme upon which to base an exhibition. But museums are akin to a nation's collective memory bank, and one never knows the impact they can have. The erection of a museum of Arab terror would be an important step toward ensuring that its victims, unlike those of Lenin and his ilk, will not be forgotten.







      Tammuz 12, 5769, 7/4/2009

      Finland - A Place Where Israel is Loved



      I couldn't help but marvel at the fact that after centuries in which Europeans often vied with one another to get rid of Jews, here were Finns competing for the right to host them.
      Europe is beset by rising anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment. Yet in the far north of the continent, there is one country - Finland - where that seems to be the exception.
      As I discovered on a recent lecture tour throughout the country, there is a remarkable level of support for the Jewish state, one that cuts across religious and regional boundaries.
       
      And as I note in the column below, it is refreshing to see that there is a place in Europe where Israel is truly loved. So much of our focus is on our foes and those who hate us, that we often don't pay enough attention to our friends.
       
      This needs to change, and Israel and world Jewry must do more to cultivate relations with Helsinki, where the ground is fertile for deepening the bonds of friendship between the two countries.

      A Place Where Israel is Loved

      By Michael Freund

      Tucked away in a far corner of northern Europe, the tranquil and resourceful nation of Finland often gets unjustly overlooked. Flanked by a swaggering and increasingly quarrelsome Russia to the east and its larger and blonder Swedish neighbor to the west, the Finns seem to receive neither the attention nor the consideration that they rightly deserve.

      Indeed, despite being beset by harsh winters and a dearth of arable land, as well as enjoying the dubious distinction of being the European Union's most sparsely populated country, Finland has nonetheless built one of the most pleasant and peaceful societies on the entire continent.

      There is little crime and virtually no political corruption, and public places are spotlessly clean, bordering on the pristine. It is akin in many ways to Switzerland, except that the Finns are nice.

      But there is something else that distinguishes Finland, setting it apart from much of the rest of contemporary Europe, and that is the deep-seated love and admiration for Israel that exists among large sectors of the public.

      On a recent trip to the country, which included a lecture tour in six towns and cities, I found what can only be described as a remarkable level of support for the Jewish state, one that cuts across religious and regional boundaries. From the capital of Helsinki to Tampere, Finland's third largest city, to the small town of Ikaalinen in the western part of the country, hundreds of non-Jews in each locale came out to demonstrate their solidarity.

      There are churches where the Israeli flag is proudly displayed side-by-side with the Finnish national colors, and where entire Christian congregations recite "Hatikva" first in Hebrew and then in Finnish.

      Literally dozens of Finns approached me to recount how proud they were to have spent periods of time volunteering in Israel at schools and in hospitals or on kibbutzim. They voiced great concern over Iran and its nuclear ambitions, and many pray for Israel and its welfare daily.

      In Helsinki, Pastor Seppo Seppala approached me and, much to my surprise, engaged me in conversation in fluent Hebrew. He has been to Israel dozens of times, and continues to bring groups of Finnish tourists. And he is not alone. Without exception, after every speech I gave, there were always several non-Jews who came up to me and addressed me in Hebrew. Many take part in weekly private Hebrew classes, taught by fellow non-Jews, simply out of a love for the language and the people of Israel.

      PARTICULARLY NOTEWORTHY is the fact that Finnish Christian support for the Jewish state is not the province of any one particular denomination, but rather it includes such diverse groups as Baptists, Pentecostals and Lutherans. However much they might disagree over theological or doctrinal issues, when it comes to Israel they stand united.

      This was most evident at a day-long meeting I attended on June 14 in Heinola, a town in the south-central part of the country. Organized by the dynamic Finnish branch of the International Christian Embassy-Jerusalem (ICEJ) under the leadership of Juha Ketola, it brought together dozens of pro-Israel community leaders from across the country to discuss efforts to promote and support aliya.

      For the past two decades, the Finns have been actively involved in helping Jews from the former Soviet Union to move to Israel, and Helsinki served as a gateway to Zion after the fall of communism.

      On March 10, 1990, the indefatigable Kaarlo and Ulla Jarvilehto, a former member of the Finnish parliament who headed the ICEJ Finland branch at the time, teamed up with the Jewish Agency to help the first Soviet Jewish family go through Helsinki on its way to Tel Aviv. Since then, the Finns have sponsored the aliya of well over 17,000 Russian Jews.

      As I sat and listened to the proceedings with the aid of a translator, an extraordinary exchange unfolded. The representatives discussed contingency plans in case there was a crisis and large numbers of Jews had to leave for Israel via Finland at a moment's notice. They then began to argue with one another - politely, of course - over which Finnish towns or cities would welcome the Jews, with each one wanting to make sure that his or her community was not left out.

      I couldn't help but marvel at the fact that after centuries in which Europeans often vied with one another to get rid of Jews, here were Finns competing for the right to host them.

      What accounts for this phenomenon? To some extent, it is based on certain parallels between Finland and Israel, both of which are small countries which had to fight for independence and whose historically ravenous neighbors have occasionally coveted their land. But in many instances, it is because Finnish Christians feel a profound religious and spiritual obligation to champion Israel due to God's promise to Abraham that "I will bless those who bless you" (Genesis 12:3).

      OF COURSE, not all is rosy in Finland. In January, for example, the Finnish Green League's paper Vihrea Lanka published a cartoon strip in which the Star of David was compared to a swastika. The paper's editor offered a peculiar justification for the caricature, asserting that "it is quite clearly the flag of Israel featured in the strip and not just any Star of David," as if that somehow makes it OK.

      And the general Finnish media, like much of the mainstream press throughout Western Europe, is often biased and slanted in its coverage of the Middle East.

      Nonetheless, it is refreshing to see that there is a place in Europe where Israel is truly loved. So much of our focus is on our foes and those who hate us, that we often don't pay enough attention to our friends.

      This needs to change, and Israel and world Jewry must do more to cultivate relations with Helsinki, where the ground is fertile for deepening the bonds of friendship between the two countries. For at a time when anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment are on the rise, it is comforting to know that in at least one corner of Europe, there are countless thousands of good and decent people with a warm place in their hearts for the Jewish state.

      --- from the July 1 Jerusalem Post