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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 15, 5765, 9/30/2004

      Abu Mazen ain't the Messiah

      In its coverage of the interviews given to Newsweek magazine this week by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian leader Abu Mazen, the media – as usual – focused on the unimportant while ignoring the real story.

      There was a great deal of fanfare about the fact that both Sharon and Abu Mazen said they would be willing to meet each other, with foreign and local media outlets trumpeting this as some sort of potential breakthrough.

      And yet, if you take even a casual look at the text of the two interviews, you will quickly see that both men speak laconically, and without a great deal of commitment, about the possibility of a meeting, which in any event would only take place some time after the Palestinian elections in January.

      Moreover, it is not as if the two have not met before, as Sharon himself points out in his remarks, so the fuss being made over this seems to be driven more by the media’s desire to encourage the peace process rather than to objectively report the facts (which is, of course, what it is supposed to be doing).

      But amid all the headlines, what the media did not point out was perhaps the most revealing statement of all – Abu Mazen’s brief description of how he plans to deal with terror groups such as Hamas:

      “We fought Hamas in 1996. Now things have changed. We have to deal with them delicately. We have to ask them to stop everything—to have law and order.”

      Firstly, the prospective Palestinian president is playing fast and loose with the truth in suggesting that the Palestinian Authority “fought” Hamas in 1996 – it was, after all, the wave of Hamas suicide bombings in February-March of that year, and the PA’s failure to crack down, that helped unseat Shimon Peres in the '96 elections.

      More importantly, however, is that Abu Mazen now speaks as if Hamas is little more than a mischievous child caught talking during the middle of class, rather than a ruthless bunch of terrorists. Note the language which he uses: “we have to deal with them delicately” (wouldn’t want to hurt their feelings, after all) and “we have to ask them to stop” (don’t forget to smile and say please…).

      What this shows, rather clearly, is that Abu Mazen has no intention of combating terror, or of taking the steps necessary to eliminate attacks against Israel. These, of course, would include measures such as outlawing militant organizations, shutting down terrorist training camps and recruitment centers, cutting off the flow of funds to terrorists and disarming and disbanding militant cells and groups.


      So don’t expect too much from the upcoming Palestinian balloting – other than a lot more smoke from the media. Abu Mazen is not the Messiah which reporters and others would like us to believe.

      Tishrei 7, 5765, 9/22/2004

      Singin' (and Praying) in the Rain

      Here’s a nice item that we can all learn something from.

      It seems that the United Arab Emirates (UAE), an Arab nation in the Persian Gulf region, has been a little short on rain of late, which in the Middle East can be a special cause for worry. So, according to a report in the Emirates News Agency, carried by the Khaleej Times, the UAE President Sheikh Khalifa has “urged Muslims in the country to hold prayers for rain across the country” today.

      There is something refreshing about the fact that the leader of a nation has no qualms about calling on his people in a time of difficulty to turn to the heavens in prayer. Granted, the UAE is not a democracy, so it is not as if the Sheikh has to really take into account what his people might truly think of him. Nevertheless, the very act of calling on the public to pray for help on a specific issue is in and of itself an admission of human frailty and of our dependence upon the Creator.

      If only our own political leadership in Israel would demonstrate a similar level of humility… things, I am sure, would look a whole lot different.

      Tammuz 28, 5764, 7/17/2004

      Lighting up a Miracle

      With so much bad news coming out of Israel these days – from the chaotic political situation to the sluggish economic recovery – it is easy to forget the things that make this country so special.

      Indeed, just the other day, I had an experience that helped to remind me why we must never despair regarding the future of the Jewish state.

      In my role as chairman of Shavei Israel (www.shavei.org), which reaches out and assists “lost Jews” seeking to return to the Jewish people, I often meet with a wide range of people from various backgrounds – from a former Catholic monk who is now a Hasidic Jew living in Jerusalem to a former Japanese minister who now studies Torah full-time at a kollel.

      Yesterday, after completing a meeting with a Russian Jew who was an aliyah activist under the Soviets and now works for the Jewish Agency, I got up to escort him to the door. In the process, we walked by my next appointment – an Ethiopian Jew who is leading the struggle on behalf of the Falash Mura still in Ethiopia (the Falash Mura are descendants of Ethiopian Jews whose ancestors were forcibly converted to Christianity in the past century or two).

      As I was standing there, it suddenly occurred to me that quite a meeting of cultures was taking place – there we were, Jews from different backgrounds, traditions and languages (I venture to say that I was probably the only baseball fan among them), yet each of us in our own way was working to ensure a better Jewish future – whether by reaching out to Russian, or Ethiopian or other types of Jews and trying to bring them back to their people and to their land.

      It might sound corny – but that, I think, is what Chanukah is all about. The High Holidays are behind us, and it is easy to get caught up in the daily flow of events, in the process losing sight of the miraculous events that are all around. By lighting the Chanukah candles, which symbolize the miracles of old, we are reminding ourselves and those around us that even when the chips are down, G-d has a way of stepping in and saving us (even, it seems, from ourselves).

      So, no matter how pessimistic you might be around the current situation, don’t let the events of the day get you down. Because the bottom line is that just as G-d “performed miracles for our ancestors in those days at this time”, He can surely do so once again.

      Menorah Happy Chanukah.