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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.
      Cheshvan 3, 5766, 11/5/2005

      An Independence Day Message

      Flag As Israel celebrates the 57th year of its independence, it would be easy to look around and start to wonder what all the excitement is about.

      Talk of withdrawal from parts of the Land of Israel, the ongoing assault on Jewish and national symbols, and the weakness of our politicians is enough to drive even the most committed optimist to moments of despair.

      But a Jew is not permitted to succumb to despair, so here is a brief, but inspiring story well worth repeating:

      The Ponevezher Rav was approached by someone a little more than 30 years ago who wanted to know what the esteemed rabbi thought about the situation in the State of Israel. "Rabbi, please tell me - is the cup half full or is it half empty?"

      To which the Rav answered: "The important thing to remember is that there is a glass at all. Whether it is half-full or half-empty matters far less."

      The point of the story is clear - we often get so caught up in the daily turn of events here in Israel, that we lose sight of the larger miracle - namely, that the Jewish people have a State.

      It may not be perfect, and we all have a lot of work to do to make it so, but on this day especially, we should all look heavenward and declare: "Thank G-d for the State of Israel."

      Cheshvan 1, 5766, 11/3/2005

      Clearing Up the Muddy Moral Waters

      In an age when many media pundits and even decision-makers often seem to have difficulty differentiating between good and evil, it is refreshing to see that all the patient and hard work of pro-Israel activists occasionally does pay off.

      Indeed, moral clarity enjoyed two minor, if not insignificant, triumphs this week, giving us all cause to redouble our efforts on behalf of what we know to be true and good.

      The first “victory”, if one can call it that, came this past Sunday in the New York Times, where the paper’s Public Editor, Daniel Okrant, weighed in on the use of the word “terrorism”.

      Of course, for most straight-thinking people, this hardly constitutes much of an issue, since any fair-minded observer long ago concluded that when Palestinian suicide bombers blow themselves up on an Israeli passenger bus, it constitutes an act of terror.

      But we are talking about the New York Times, where straight-thinking doesn’t always apply, replaced instead by a politically-driven agenda which slants the news.

      And that is precisely what makes Mr. Okrant’s musings so unusual, for in his bi-monthly column he wrote,

      Beheading construction workers in Iraq and bombing a market in Jerusalem are terrorism pure and simple.

      Given the word's history as a virtual battle flag over the past several years, it would be tendentious for The Times to require constant use of it, as some of the paper's critics are insisting. But there's something uncomfortably fearful, and inevitably self-defeating, about struggling so hard to avoid it.

      And so, while he steps back from insisting that Times reporters make “constant” use of the word, Okrant does seem to push for its more frequent utilization when characterizing Palestinian attacks on Israel. That, at least, is a step in the right direction.

      The same goes for the European Parliament, which passed a non-binding resolution Thursday labeling Hizbullah a terrorist group and urging EU ministers to take action against them.

      Muddywater Again – anyone who has followed Hizbullah’s decades-long career of hijackings, kidnappings, bombings, shootings and rocket attacks, knows all too well just how horrific a group it can be. But this basic fact seems too politically or financially inconvenient for various European governments such as the French and the Spanish, so perhaps the parliamentary resolution will turn up the heat on them on this issue.

      In both cases, it seems safe to say that years of lobbying and petitioning by Israel and its supporters played a role in these subtle shifts of policy. It may not be much, but it is certainly a good start, so let’s take comfort in knowing that at least in certain spheres, our message is finally beginning to get through.

      Shabbat Shalom.

      Tishrei 29, 5766, 11/1/2005

      Not Much of a Mandate

      Prime Minister Ariel Sharon may have won approval from the Knesset yesterday for his new coalition government, but he most certainly didn’t receive the mandate he had been hoping for.


      By the slender margin of 58 to 56, with 6 abstentions, the Knesset backed the formation of the new unity government consisting of the Likud, Labor and United Torah Judaism. But there are several good reasons why the outcome of the vote is likely to leave Sharon more than a little concerned:

      1) One-third of the Knesset members from Sharon’s own Likud party defied his wish to have Labor join the coalition. 13 Likud members, referred to by the media as “the rebels”, voted against the move, while one other member, Knesset Speaker Ruby Rivlin, chose to abstain. If left untended, the “rebellion” simmering in the Likud could very well lead to a split in the party.

      2) Since Sharon cannot count on many of his own fellow Likudniks, he is essentially heading a minority government, one which does not command the loyalty of a majority – i.e. 61 – of parliamentarians. This means that on critical votes, such as the national budget, Sharon may find it difficult to achieve his policy objectives.

      3) In yesterday’s tally, Sharon was forced to rely on the six votes of the Yahad party, headed by super-dove Yossi Beilin, to stave off defeat. This reinforces Sharon’s image as one who is pursuing the agenda of the far-left, rather than of his own electorate.

      4) While United Torah Judaism (UTJ) in the end voted for the coalition (actually, 4 out of its 5 representatives did, with one – Meir Porush – abstaining), they certainly made clear that they are not overly thrilled with the new political constellation. At the very last moment, they sparked a crisis over the wording of the coalition agreement, thereby signaling both to Sharon and the public that their participation in the government should hardly be taken for granted.

      Sharon’s new government, then, is characterized by a level of instability far greater than those of his previous two coalitions. Both Communications Minister Dalia Itzik (Labor) and Health Minister Danny Naveh (Likud) essentially acknowledged as much today, with Itzik even suggesting that elections may be near.

      Sharon’s only chance of achieving some stability would be to entice the Shas party to join the government – a scenario that would necessarily require a great deal of political maneuvering that may even be beyond Sharon’s legendary prowess.

      But for opponents of the Gaza withdrawal plan, the goal is now clear – pound away at the government at every political opportunity, and focus on the weakest link in the coalition chain – namely, UTJ.

      With some skillful planning, and a little bit of mazel, they can succeed in ensuring that the only withdrawal this year will be that of Ariel Sharon from the premiership.

      Tishrei 3, 5766, 10/6/2005

      What have you done for the Land of Israel today?

      Israel set a new record this week – though it is hardly one to be proud of.

      For the first time in recent memory, the Supreme Court of a liberal Western democracy has given its imprimatur to the mass expulsion of thousands of citizens from their homes by their own government.

      By a vote of 10 to 1, Israel’s chief justices ruled against a series of petitions that had been filed against Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s proposed retreat from Gaza and northern Samaria. Though the Court did amend certain sections of the Compensation- Evacuation Law passed by the Knesset, it refused to declare the eviction itself to be illegal.

      This is a sad day for Israeli democracy, but it is an even sadder day for Zionism, the State of Israel and the Jewish people.

      To think that a gathering of Jewish justices in the sovereign Jewish State would approve of the forcible removal of Jews from their homes is simply too shameful and ludicrous to contemplate.

      Of course, no one really expected anything less from the Court, which in recent years has become as predictable as it is left-wing in its verdicts.

      Tearing_israel_apart_1 Nonetheless, we can not help but ask ourselves how it is possible for a government to stray so far from its nation’s values so quickly. How can our elected leadership so brazenly ignore Jewish history and Jewish destiny in their mad dash to plunge the country into yet another disaster of their own making?

      More importantly, though, is the question we all must start asking ourselves: what did I do on behalf of the Land of Israel today?

      How we choose to answer this query may very well help to determine the future - not only of Gaza, but of Israel itself.

      Tishrei 2, 5766, 10/5/2005

      Using Bureaucracy to Fight Terror

      Is Israel really using all the punitive sanctions at its disposal to combat terror?

      A decision by the Interior Minister today demonstrates clearly that the answer is no.

      Check out the following from Yediot Aharonot:

      4 terrorists to lose Israeli ID cards

      by Doron Sheffer

      Interior Minister Pines-Paz decides to strip east Jerusalem residents of their permanent residency rights due to involvement in series of terror attacks; terrorists refused to express regret for their actions

      The Interior Minister’s decision is of course correct. But what is inexplicable is that a terrorist’s residency rights are not automatically annulled once he or she is convicted of involvement in an attack.

      This should be made into a statutory requirement, rather than being left up to the discretion of the Minister who happens to be in power.

      When a state finds itself under attack, it must use the various means at its disposal to protect itself and its citizens.

      The permanent residency rights that the four terrorists had were – as their name implies – rights, and if they chose to abuse them in order to murder dozens of Israeli citizens, then it only seems logical to take them away.

      Not only to punish those who exploit these rights, but to deter others from doing the same.

      It is time for Israel to whip its bureaucracy into shape, and to start thinking more creatively about how to use the levers of power to combat terror more effectively.

      Pulling_hair_1 Bureaucrats excel at driving people mad and making their life a living hell – so what better way to punish terrorists and their conspirators then by unleashing some bureaucracy against them.