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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.
      Nissan 26, 5765, 5/5/2005

      Confused? You're Not the Only One

      It's time for a reality check.

      Israel’s government seems stuck in a state of cognitive dissonance, oblivious to the internal contradictions of its own policies.

      Take a look at the following news item from yesterday’s Yediot Aharonot:


      Handover of West Bank towns on hold

      Cabinet decides to freeze handover of three more West Bank cities, Sharon and Abbas expected to meet soon to discuss possible coordination on Israel's plan to quit the Gaza Strip; Israel also gearing up to free 400 Palestinian prisoners it promised to release as part of efforts to promote peacemaking
      By Attila Somfalvi and Ali Waked

      The Security Cabinet decided Wednesday to freeze the transfer of three more West Bank cities promised to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas until the Palestinian leader carries out reforms within his security forces and makes stronger efforts to stop terror. 

      And so, on the one hand, Israel is refraining from turning over territory to the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria (and rightly so) because they are not fighting terror.

      And yet, the government is still intent on handing over Gaza to Palestinian control.

      Does this make any sense? Why retreat from Gaza and give the Palestinians free reign to create a rogue terrorist state if – by the government’s own admission – they aren’t doing anything to stop anti-Israel violence?


      Perplexed? You’re not the only one.

      But worst of all – it seems our government is the one that is most confused.

      Nissan 20, 5765, 4/29/2005

      How to Stop the Gaza Withdrawal

      This past week, over 200,000 Israelis visited the Jewish communities in Gaza and northern Samaria that are slated for expulsion.

      This massive show of support should serve as encouragement to us all - the people of Israel have not forsaken their Land, even if their government has.

      Gush_katif_march The struggle for Gush Katif and northern Samaria is far from over - and, as I suggest in the article below - if we employ some good ol' fashioned "people power" together with faith, then we can and will prevail.

      Shabbat Shalom and Happy Passover.

      The Jerusalem Post, April 28, 2005

      A Wall of Faith Around Gaza

      By Michael Freund

      These are difficult times for opponents of Ariel Sharon’s Gaza withdrawal.

      Politically, Sharon has succeeded in dodging the various obstacles that stood in his path. Diplomatically, his proposal has received the “blessing” of US President George W. Bush and much of the rest of the world.

      Domestically, the media stands solidly behind him. Israel’s courts are almost certain not to intervene, and local pundits and opinion-makers are backing him enthusiastically. Indeed, at this point it seems there is little standing in the way of Sharon’s plan to expel Gaza’s Jews from their homes.

      Little, that is, except for faith.

      Recently, a couple I know decided to move to Gush Katif. Determined to stand in solidarity with the thousands of Jews living under threat of expulsion, they left behind a comfortable villa, friendly neighbors and familiar surroundings, and moved into a tiny caravan, together with their numerous, and rather boisterous, children.

      The father is a respected physician, and he will continue to treat his patients by commuting to and from his clinic in Jerusalem. The mother has thrown herself into the campaign against withdrawal, speaking out, raising funds and dedicating her time to protecting her family’s new home.

      Why did you do it? I asked. What prompted you to move?

      “We couldn’t. We just couldn’t sit back and watch”, he replied. “The pullout would endanger Israel, and we need to show the world that this land is ours”.

      But what will you do, I said, if soldiers come to remove you from your home. How will you deal with such a situation?

      “If they want to remove me, then I’ll chain myself to the bed,” he said, adding, “They’ll have to drag me out, but no matter what, I won’t use violence.”

      How naïve, you might think. What could these people possibly hope to accomplish? The jig is up, the game is over. Perhaps they should just throw up their hands and accept defeat?

      Sorry, but that is just not the Jewish way. If it was, then Israel would have closed up shop and called it quits a long time ago.

      All is not lost. This game is far from over. Those who love the land of Israel and cherish it can prevent the retreat from taking place.

      The first step is to reach out and help those people, like my friend the doctor, who are willing to move to Gush Katif. Over 1,000 Israelis have already done so in the past few months, and many more are reportedly in the process.

      To meet the demand, long-time activist Datya Yitzhaki launched the “Minhelet Kela”, a Hebrew acronym for the Gaza Absorption Authority, which has been busy refurbishing homes, thereby enabling dozens of families to make the move and help strengthen Gush Katif.

      There are numerous empty structures of all sorts throughout the area, many of which can easily be converted into living space. Yitzhaki and her colleagues, who can be reached at: eylond@ort.org.il, note that this would enable Gush Katif to absorb thousands of additional residents in the coming months, giving it a big numerical, as well as emotional, boost.

      The second, and equally critical, step in blocking the withdrawal is to create a “Wall of Faith” around Gush Katif prior to the date of the planned expulsion. If tens of thousands form a passive human chain around the area, one bound together by resolve and faith, they can prevent the demolition from taking place.

      In effect, it all boils down to simple arithmetic: bring as many people as possible, making it hopelessly impractical to remove them.

      There are sure to be untold thousands of Israelis who will take part in this undertaking, but I think it is essential to reach out to friends and supporters abroad as well, such as US Christians, and to encourage them to come and take part in protecting Gush Katif.

      The presence of large numbers of US Christians standing arm in arm with Israeli Jews in defense of G-d’s Holy Land, would send a potent message that is sure to echo through the corridors of power in Jerusalem and Washington.

      In Hebrew, Gaza is referred to as “Aza”, which means ‘strength’ or ‘might’, perhaps suggesting that only if we muster within ourselves the determination to stand up for what we believe in, can we possibly merit to succeed.

      Now, more than ever, this is a struggle for the integrity and the future of the Land that was given to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Anyone who believes in the Bible, and in G-d’s eternal promise to His people Israel, can not and must not remain silent.


      The writer served as an aide to former Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. 

      Nissan 18, 5765, 4/27/2005

      Journalists or Propagandists?

      For years, the right-wing has been complaining about the partisanship and lack of balance in the Israeli media, pointing to the near total domination of this important medium by people who are politically-driven and overwhelmingly left-wing.

      These allegations were almost always met with a dismissive sneer and a wave of the hand, despite overwhelming evidence to back them up.

      But now, one of Israel’s top journalists has come along and essentially confirmed what we knew to be true all along: that the media in this country is agenda-driven, and aggressively so.

      Speaking at a conference held at the Van Leer Institute in Jerusalem, Amnon Abramovich, who is considered one of the country’s leading commentators and investigative reporters, had this to say about the role of Israel’s media in the run-up to the proposed Gaza withdrawal: “I think that we need to protect Sharon like an etrog [a citron fruit used by religious Jews on the Sukkot festival which requires special care and protection]”.

      In case anyone did not understand the thrust of his remarks, Abramovich added, “The person who established the settlement enterprise is Sharon, and if a good spirit has come over him toward the end of his life and he is ready to tear it down, then in my opinion we need to protect him not only from political obstacles but also from legal obstacles too” (Maariv, April 26, 2005).

      Hmmm – so according to Abramovich, now that Sharon is carrying out the policies of the left, the job of the media watchdogs is no longer to monitor him and serve as a check on his power, but to “protect” him and enable him to fulfill his political agenda. Silly me – I thought that newspapers were supposed to report the news, not try to shape it.

      Some of Abramovich’s media colleagues were quick to dispute his assertions, obviously dismayed that he would dare to reveal one of the deepest and darkest secrets of their trade – namely, that Israel’s newspapers are manned largely by propagandists, not journalists.

      Cat_out_of_the_bag But the cat, as they say, is now out of the bag – Israel’s major papers are little more than partisan broadsheets, and they can no longer deny it.

      Nissan 13, 5765, 4/22/2005

      Next Year in Gush Katif!

      As Jews around the world gather together to celebrate the start of Passover this weekend, our thoughts and prayers inevitably turn towards our brethren living in Gush Katif and northern Samaria.

      Despite enduring  what must be indescribable pressure and anxiety, the 8,500 Jews living in the areas slated for expulsion continue with their daily lives, cleaning their homes and getting ready for the beginning of the festival.

      Kids_in_gush_katif Like Jews everywhere, they will recite the Haggadah on Saturday night, recounting the Exodus of our ancestors from Egypt so very long ago, and hoping for a better future for our people wherever they might be.

      In these difficult times, with so much uncertainty in the air, it pays to remember the central lesson of the Passover story - namely, that G-d is actively involved in history, and He does intervene on behalf of His People. And we hope that He will see fit to do so once again.

      So when you reach the end of the Haggadah, and you raise your voice to declare "Next Year in Jerusalem", consider adding an additional thought - that not only should we merit to see the Holy City of Jerusalem rebuilt in all its glory, but that those celebrating Passover in Gush Katif this week should also be able to welcome the festival there again next year, too. And for many more years to come.

      Chag Pesach Kasher V'Sameach - a happy and kosher Passover for all.

      Nissan 12, 5765, 4/21/2005

      Anti-Semitism in the Israeli Press

      One of the most worrisome - and least known - developments in Israel in recent years is the tendency of some Israeli writers and journalists to spew forth anti-Semitic venom on par with that of our foes.

      When a prominent journalist in Ha'aretz says that Israel exploits the Holocaust for political gain, or when an Israeli writer in Yediot Aharonot says that the Jews are acting like Pharaoh, it is time for all of us to wake up and take notice.

      These types of anti-Jewish tirades, which I describe in the article below, only serve to give ammunition to anti-Semites and neo-Nazis everywhere, who can now more easily defend themselves by saying: hey, what do you want from me? I was only quoting Ha'aretz, etc.

      Self_hate It is essential that we speak out and protest against this trend, and demand that Israel's media stop serving as a platform for Jewish self-hatred. We already have plenty of enemies out there as it is - there is no reason for Israel's media to be playing along with them.

      The Jerusalem Post, April 21, 2005

      Global Anti-Semitism Goes Local?

      By Michael Freund

      The global rise in anti-Semitism over the past several years has left few parts of the world unscathed. From Western Europe to the Arab countries, Jews have become the targets of renewed vitriol and fury, leading various Jewish organizations to intensify their efforts to monitor and track this growing and worrisome trend.

      But for all the attention being paid to international outbursts of anti-Semitism, there is one place in the world where this phenomenon has largely gone overlooked: right here in the State of Israel, under our very own (Jewish) noses.

      That's correct – there is anti-Semitism here in Israel, too, and plenty of it. If you find this hard to believe, then just take a look at some of what appears in the local press and decide for yourself.

      Take, for example, an article that ran this past Sunday in Haaretz. Zvi Barel, one of the paper's correspondents, wrote a piece entitled "To find shades of the old Harlem, or a Jewish Sadr City, look to Hebron." His main point: to compare the Jews living in Hebron's Avraham Avinu neighborhood with Iraqi Shi'ites in Baghdad who carry out terrorist attacks against US troops in the area.

      Barel is, of course, entitled to his opinion about the Jews of Hebron, but to compare them to followers of renegade Iraqi cleric Moqtada al-Sadr is simply twisted and hate-filled demagoguery.

      Don't find it sick or offensive? Well, then, how about this from Amira Hass, writing in Haaretz on March 21: "Israel has turned the liquidation of Europe's Jews into an asset. Our murdered relatives are being enlisted to enable Israel to continue not giving a damn about international decisions against the occupation."

      The last time I checked, accusing Israel of exploiting the Holocaust for political gain is considered to be blatant anti-Semitism. Indeed, just last month, the Anti-Defamation League released a report on anti-Semitism in the Arab press, noting with dismay that "many newspaper articles accused Jews of using the Holocaust to justify the persecution of others."

      Yet, that is precisely what Hass herself was doing. And if you don't believe me, just check out the headline of her article: "Using the Holocaust to ward off criticism."

      The anti-Jewish tirades in Israel's media don't end there. In a pre-Pessah article in Yediot Aharonot recently, one writer mused, "That which the Egyptians did to us, along with many other nations throughout our long history, we are now doing to the Palestinians."

      That's right – the Jews are cast as Pharaoh and his evil taskmasters, playing the role of villains who enslave others.

      And how about this pearl from Ma'ariv last October: "There is one principal difference between the ayatollahs in Iran and rabbis in Israel. There, religious rulings are compulsory; here they are merely a recommendation. But as the need and the response to such recommendations increases, so too the differences grow blurred."

      The writer, one Moshe Gorali, was criticizing various rabbis for their opposition to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's Gaza withdrawal plan. Apparently, he saw nothing wrong with comparing Israel's sages to the fanatical rulers in Teheran, the very same ayatollahs who seek Israel's destruction.

      It would be easy to dismiss the rantings of such people as little more than angry rhetoric, the journalistic equivalent of those who spray offensive graffiti on the sides of buildings.

      But to do so understates just how dangerous such hatred can be. If Israel's own newspapers are filled with anti-Semitic rhetoric, then how can we expect anything better from our neighbors? And the fact that the people who write such horrible things in the Israeli media also happen to be Jewish should in no way excuse the gravity of what they do. An article should be judged to be anti-Semitic on the basis of what it says, and not because of the religious beliefs of the person who wrote it.

      It is therefore time for Jewish groups worldwide to consider adding a new section to their reports on global anti-Semitism, and to start monitoring some of the odious and hateful language that appears in Israel's own press.

      As news consumers, it is our responsibility to raise our voices in protest whenever anti-Jewish rhetoric rears its head. We should flood Israeli newspapers that print anti-Semitic venom with phone calls, letters to the editor and protests, just as we would any other newspaper around the world.

      Simply because the Israeli media operate in a Jewish country does not place them above criticism, or excuse their decision to publish what no one else would dare to say.

      In the age of the Internet, when every newspaper has a potentially global audience, there is no telling just how far anti-Jewish sentiments can reach. The hatred may start at home, but it won't necessarily end there.

      And that is why, now more than ever, we must do our utmost to bring about an end to the self-loathing and self-hate that is so rampant among us.