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Dr. Yitzhak Klein heads the Israel Policy Center, Jerusalem, which is dedicated to strengthening Israel's character as a Jewish democracy. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cheshvan 7, 5769, 11/5/2008
“The struggle of today, is not altogether for today—it is for a vast future also.”
— Abraham Lincoln, Message to Congress, December 3, 1861
This blog was started in mid-October 2008. Weeks before the American election, it seemed clear that Barack Obama would be elected President of the United States. Great as my political differences are with Obama, the election of a black man as President of the United States is a fact for lovers of liberty to meditate on. That is what I intended to do here. As long as the election remained in the balance, however, I disdained to join the demoralizing list of Republicans publicly stabbing John McCain in the back, and I kept this under wraps till the morning after.
I think McCain would have been a better choice for America and the world. Obama’s weaknesses will show primarily in international affairs, where his naivete is reinforced by a liberal ideology ill placed to confront the likes of Ahmedinajad and Putin. In the last few days another, darker issue has surfaced: A recorded speech, which the LA Times refuses to release but which has been reported on the Web, in which Obama played to the prejudices of Israel-haters and accused Israel of genocide. It is one thing to declare oneself in public in favor of maintaining the unity of Jerusalem and then to waffle and backtrack. Politics is not kind to intellectual honesty. It is another thing to borrow vocabulary from anti-Semites who want Israel destroyed. Those whose anti-Israeli invective include the word “genocide” often do not shrink from contemplating genocide. I hope Obama, with the election safely behind him, will deny the use of the term. I hope he can.
I fear that the United States will lose ground internationally on Obama’s watch, and that’s a concern. But I also believe that the United States can overcome and transcend whatever it loses under Obama’s presidency. What happened this week has significance far beyond any one person’s power to add or detract, even though he be President of the United States.
The United States is now locked in competition with rising authoritarian powers for the future of the world. This competition will last for generations. It will be determined by the inherent strengths and virtues that different societies and governments bring to this great test. Nations may win or lose this or that diplomatic or military confrontation based on their economic or military strength of the moment. In the long run, however, the fate of such competitions is decided by the verdict of hundreds of millions of plain ordinary people on their own political system and their rivals’.
The United States has faced equally significant tests in the past. One incident in such a test took place in February 1865, two months before the end of the Civil War, when Charleston, S.C. succumbed to Federal forces. As recorded by the historian, Bruce Catton,
"That evening a Federal brigade marched through Charleston to go on provost guard duty. One regiment in this brigade was the 5th Massachusetts, colored troops, some of the men once held to service in this very city, going in proudly now with their forage caps held aloft on fixed bayonets, the fife-and-drum corps playing “John Brown’s Body.”
I read this passage two or three times a year, and it always makes me choke up.
America’s second great test began before the test of civil war had concluded. It was to ensure that the preservation of the union did indeed entail a new birth of freedom. By 1870 the United States had adopted the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth amendments to the Constitution:
“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude shall exist in the United States . . .“
“All persons born or naturalized in the United States . . . are citizens . . .”
“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied . . . on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”
On the morrow of the ratification of the 15th Amendment, the offices of the Underground Railroad in New York were shut down. On the door hung a sign with words to this effect: “The Underground Railroad is dissolved. Shareholders will receive their reward according to their merits.”
But it proved too early to declare victory in this test. Gradually, in the atmosphere of corruption and public sordidness that characterized the last third of the 19th Century, Americans lost their will to oppose southern efforts to overthrow the verdict of the civil war. In 1898 the Supreme Court (in Plessy vs. Ferguson) accepted as constitutional the southern doctrine of “separate but equal” education, public transportation, schooling, etc. Only Justice Harlan, in a famous lone dissent, insisted that the law acknowledge the truth:
“What can more certainly arouse race hatred . . . than state enactments which in fact proceed on the ground that colored citizens are so inferior and degraded that they cannot be allowed to sit in public coaches occupied by white citizens? . . . The thin disguise of “equal” accommodations for passengers in railroad coaches will not mislead anyone, nor atone for the wrong this day done.”
Plessy vs. Ferguson signaled to American racists that the majority of Americans no longer cared what was done to blacks. There followed three generations of night, in which millions of black Americans were disenfranchised, dispossessed, degraded, and ruled by lynch law.
56 years passed before a reviving national conscience again found expression through the Supreme Court. In 1954, in Brown vs. Board of Education, the court acknowledged the true character and effect of “separate but equal,” overturned Plessy, and decreed the integration of black and white in the public schools “with all deliberate speed.” Martin Luther King expressed a dream, and paid for it with his life. But in 1964 Lyndon Johnson, a dark and controversial figure, once the epitomy of southern racism, used his considerable legislative skills to ram the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 through Congress. Racial hatred still existed—still exists—in the United States. But the Civil Rights Act worked because it represented a broad consensus of popular opinion.
The policies then adopted were controversial and seldom accepted with good grace. I well remember the struggle against quota-based “affirmative action,” claiming that justice could only be done to individuals, not groups, and that to compensate one individual by inflicting injustice on another compounded the evil rather than redressing it. But the second half of the 20th century was characterized by a slow, steady growth of a sentiment of justice in the United States, of which legislation and court action were only the expression. In the end, it became possible to elect a black man President of the United States, because of who he is and what he thinks, irrespective of the color of his skin. Therein lies the great significance of his election.
After 145 years the new birth of freedom, long a-borning, has arrived. The election of Barack Obama signals that the United States has, at last, passed this second great test. That test was, in essence, the same as the first: Whether a nation conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal, can long endure. Far beyond the conflicts of petty partisan politics, the people of the United States have reaffirmed the proposition on which their nation was founded.
Much rests on that reaffirmation. The future depends partly on whether the people of China and Russia, if and when they become wealthy and powerful, desire their present models of government, or the model of government and society that just elected Barack Obama President of the United States. The simple, democratic deed this day done will speak louder than trillions of dollars or millions of soldiers.
This blog originally ended with a valedictory that reached across the partisan political divide to wish the new President well: "May his administration be a beacon of liberty and justice to all his fellow citizens, political opponents as well as supporters, and to the hundreds of millions around the world who look to his country as such a beacon. Nobody would think to look for that beacon in Moscow or Beijing." Whether or not Barack Obama fulfills that promise, however, depends on whether he himself brings liberty and justice to the White House, or a heart filled with prejudice and hatred.
Tishrei 29, 5769, 10/28/2008
The Campaign of escalation against outposts and their inhabitants in Yosh is a pointless exercise in baseless hatred.
What’s happening in Judaea and Samaria should keep us up nights. Once again, as in February 2006, fools in high office think they can profit by instigating violence, inciting others to violence, and creating a vicio
The IDF’s conduct in Judaea and Samaria was perverse to begin with. Intentionally or not, its guardianship of the security of Jews in these areas is pretty spotty. It might do a better job if it weren’t constantly allocating disproportionate manpower to pulling down “illegal” outposts and arresting and beating up their inhabitants. The latter policy has no point because its purpose to make it possible to reach a negotiated settlement on a Palestinian state. Everybody but Tzipi Livni and the editors of Haaretz know this is simply pie in the sky and will be dead as a doornail when Netanyahu becomes Prime Minister in February (it’s not that Netanyahu is against a negotiated Palestinian State—too bad for him—he just knows it belongs in the same mythical category as Santa Clause and the pot ‘o gold at rainbow’s end). But it’s something Ehud Barak has gotta do to maintain his tattered reputation as a leftist.
The policy has recently taken on a life and a logic—if it can be called that—of its own. That is, it is being pursued not for the sake of genuine policy goals but because the IDF and police want to show the residents of outposts who’s boss. The outpost residents simply feel that attacking them in their homes is illegitimate, and particularly incensing when the attack is made Monday by a platoon of IDF soldiers, and on Tuesday by a Palestinian terrorist who got by because the IDF platoon was busy taking down an outpost someplace else. Some have taken to reacting violently, creating disturbances in Palestinian villages where the IDF is responsible for keeping order so as to make clear to the IDF that its action against outposts entails manpower costs it cannot afford.
Some residents of the outposts and settlements stone and curse soldiers—not necessarily the soldiers who threw Jews out of their homes, just any soldiers. This is not to be condoned. Any violence against another Jew is wrong and dumb. But these violent fools, who little understand the gravity of what they do, are being used as pawns by unscrupulous politicians and soldiers who hope to profit by provoking them.
The IDF’s actions against residents of the outposts recently has taken on a new dimension. The IDF and police are seeking to create provocations and spur escalation. They want to provoke outpost residents to violence, to allow the hostile press to film settlers cursing and spitting on soldiers. In doing so, the police have more or less broken free of any legal moorings. The beat up whom they want, arrest whom they want, destroy what they want, with or without a court order, with or without a trumped-up legal excuse. This police behavior has spread within the Green Line; when a senior IDF officer intimates he wants a legitimate demonstration broken up or a Jew denied the lawful use of his land—the first happened in Modi’in on September 2 and the second in the Shaar Mizrach area of Jerusalem on September 4—the police happily oblige. The destruction of the Federman Farm and other outposts in Samaria, without or even against court orders, demonstrates the same cavalier disregard of “law enforcement forces” for the law that supposedly is the sanction for their actions.
In effect, we have two extralegal vigilante militias conducting guerilla warfare against each other within and beyond the Green Line, except that one of them wears the state’s uniform, drives official cars and has its costs paid by the state treasury. It also responds to the political and other ambitions of political and military leaders, who appear now more in the character of warlords off on a private campaign for personal advantage than persons elected or appointed to carry out
To raise a hand against another Jew, even one in uniform, is evil. But this evil is compounded a hundredfold by the evil of unscrupulous politicians and military commanders who plan to provoke and use violence to achieve the objects of their passion--political profit or simple revenge. Those who provoke internecine violence for personal profit are the worst of evildoers. They, and not their benighted victims, are deserving of the lion's share of opprobrium. By their actions they bring closer the dissolution of the Jewish community in Eretz Yisrael and upon them lies the responsiblity to desist.
Tishrei 16, 5769, 10/15/2008
The sources of the Akko riot lie in the issue of Jewish vs. Arab nationalism, and not just social and economic relations between Jews and Arabs in Akko.
Pardon this very long blog. The issues I want to deal can't be summarized in a page.
Just as the leftist establishment in Israel was gearing up for another hate campaign against Yesha, settlers, and people of faith in general, along come the Akko (Acre) riots and ruin the show. Most people’s attention here is now firmly focused on where the real danger to the existence of a sovereign Jewish state comes from. The Israeli establishment cannot discuss this problem or its solution frankly, because it does not possess the moral resources to do so. We can, and should.
What happened in Akko was a riot, not a pogrom. A pogrom is when armed and vicious people expend their rage on unarmed and largely defenseless Jews. Amona was a pogrom. However by all accounts the Jews of Akko gave as good as they got. An article in Haaretz from last week says that in the aftermath of the riots some Arabs in Akko are fleeing their homes, which means that they anticipate that anti-Semitic violence is not likely to be cost-free.
That doesn’t mean we should be happy about a riot. A riot is purposeless, lawless violence, a symptom of political and social disease. (Not all extralegal violence is necessarily bad, but everything depends on the circumstances and the extent to which violence tends to stimulate the adoption of the correct public policy solution). Riot doesn’t resolve problems, it only makes them worse. That’s true no matter which side destroys more property and gets in more blows. If there was any sort of silver lining to this riot, it lies in the pugnacity of Akko’s Jews, who didn’t take Arab violence lying down. If Akko were inhabited by Kadima rabbits there would indeed have been a pogrom. The attitude of Akko’s Jews, if it becomes widespread, can form the basis of a political solution to the problem of Arabs with Israeli citizenship, but that solution can only come about through legislation and deliberate policy, not street violence.
One example of a bad policy response is the Israeli police’ decision to arrest Tewfik Jamal, the Arab who drove through a Jewish neighborhood in Akko on Yom Kippur night with his radio blaring. The charges are a) driving to endanger and b) deliberately infringing on religious sensibilities, a crime in Israel.
Jamal’s behavior on Yom Kippur night was insensitive and set off the riot, but his arrest is an unwarranted violation of his rights. An Arab in Akko has the right to drive his car and play his radio on Yom Kippur night (if it were up to me I would make blasting your car stereo system in public at any time a capital offense, for Jews and Arabs alike, but that’s another matter). Perhaps Jewish neighborhoods should have been closed to traffic on that night, but they weren’t. I don’t believe for a moment that either of the charges are true, certainly not because the police say so. The cops, who utterly failed to do their job Yom Kippur night, made the arrest to take revenge against Jamal and curry favor with the mob. This arrest is just another example of Israel’s police playing to the press and exhibiting that contempt for the rights of the individual which is their hallmark, and from which our own community suffers so extensively.
At all times, the Jewish state’s policy toward every individual, Jewish or not, should be based on Jewish principles of fairness and justice, in the context of a legal system that expresses those values—including, of course, Jewish national values such as the right of Jews to exercise sovereignty in Eretz Yisrael
The real issue the Akko riot brings up, of course, is whether Jews and Arabs can and should live together in Akko; if yes, how coexistence can be fostered, and if not, what should be done about it.
The cause of the riot was the continual retreat of Jewish nationalism before Arab nationalism in Eretz Yisrael, as reflected in everything that has happened since Oslo. Arabs sense that the State of Israel is melting away and that Jews can be victimized with impunity. The utter incompetence of the police is only the local manifestation of a larger phenomenon, whose roots are in the fiasco of the 2nd Lebanon War and the feckless politics of the Israeli left toward Palestinian nationalism. Like Fatah, Hamas and Hizbullah, ordinary Palestinians in Israel smell blood in the water. Let’s note, in this context, the events in Tzipori a couple of years ago. There was a pogrom in Tzipori, Jewish families that had come to reclaim a Jewish presence in the place were driven out, and the police, who had been sent to protect them, were the first to scurry away with their tails between their legs, leaving Jewish civilians to flee as best they could.
Arabs in Eretz Yisrael do not accept the Jewish people’s right to self-determination. This is true of all Palestinian groups in Judaea, Samaria and Gaza. Within Israel this position is expressed by a wide spectrum of Palestinian elite opinion, from the documents of the Higher Arab Council to the position and politics of the “northern” fundamentalist Islamic movement. The Land of Israel is not Belgium, where two ethnic groups are moving to separation through public debate and the ballot box. In these parts, Palestinian opposition to Jewish self-determination is expressed with violence, any degree of violence the Jews are found to be willing to tolerate.
There are three possible approaches to the problem of Arab-Jewish relations in Eretz Yisrael. One is that of the Israeli Left. This approach holds that the State of Israel’s violence against Arabs in Judaea and Samaria and discrimination against Arabs within Israel lies at the heart of the problem. The problem can be resolved by ending “the occupation” and also ending Israel’s formal status as the state of the Jewish people. This approach is unviable. Even if the Jews were to formally surrender their claim to a sovereign Jewish state in Eretz Yisrael—which would render the entire Zionist episode pointless—malignant Arab nationalism, as expressed by such enlightened, democratic movements as Hamas or Fatah, would never settle for it. Palestinians want Jews out, dead, or at best subordinate to an Arab kleptocracy.
A second approach is to try to move the clock back to where it was 40 years ago: Arab nationalism in Judaea, Samaria and Gaza was at a nadir, stunned and numbed by the victory of the Six-Day War, and Arab citizens of Israel appeared to believe that a sovereign Jewish state was forever, so that they had better make the best of it. This solution presumes that if you blunt Palestinian nationalist ambitions you can go on to establish coexistence between Arabs and Jews within a Jewish State of Israel. This position seems to be supported by such right-wing stalwarts as Moshe Arens of the Likud. However, the contradiction it involves is palpable. Leftists will not be slow to point it out and I would tend to agree with them: How are you going to reconcile Arabs to living within a Jewish state by doing the things needed to wipe out their nationalist feeling by force?
I think that Arab nationalism of a malignant sort, irreconciliable with allowing the Jews of Eretz Yisrael self-determination, is now rife within and beyond the Green Line and cannot be put “back in the bottle.” Conflict, if not everywhere outright fighting, is inevitable. I therefore am extremely skeptical about the long-term possibilities of coexistence and think that the only solution is to encourage as much as possible the emigration of Arabs from all parts of the Land of Israel. For those who support the second strategy mentioned above, I suggest that this third strategy, practiced for a couple of decades, is an indispensible prerequisite to the second strategy ever becoming viable.
Elul 25, 5768, 9/25/2008
Jewish violence against Jews cannot be overlooked or condoned.
It’s time to talk about Jewish violence against Jews. This blog may make me unpopular with some readers. I’ve decided that as a person with a public readership, I have a responsibility to speak out against this phenomenon, which should be condemned. Those who justify it—I’m not even talking about those who do it—are wrong. They are contributing to the destruction of the Jewish community in Eretz Yisrael in a way that nothing else does.
I am very well aware that the authorities of the State of Israel use deliberate, premeditated violence against their political opponents, and even consider it justified. They said as much to the Parliamentary committee that investigated the pogrom at Amona. I am aware that a man with a large public following and many admirers, Ami Ayalon of Labor, goes around the country singing the praises of civil war. I heard him with my own ears. I consider it a better than even chance that if we ever get to the point of a conflict over the destruction of Migron, Jews in the uniform of the Israeli state will open fire on other Jews at the order of their superiors. They will think those orders justify what they do. (How did he say it in German? “Ich befehlen waren,” I obeyed orders). Jews will be wounded, possibly killed, by that fire. And yet I say that in present circumstances violence against Jews is immoral, even in self-defense.
How the internecine fighting that characterized the Second Temple period began is not recorded. We only know how it ended. But it was undoubtedly a product of escalation. The people were politically divided, then as now. One faction, perhaps the Tzedukim (Sadducees), possessed political power and were probably not above using force to reinforce it. That will have produced a reaction—maybe throwing stones at first, who knows. But stones led to knives and knives to swords and set-piece battles and the rest is recorded in the kinot of the Ninth of Av.
Chazal permit one to use deadly, even preemptive force against someone coming to kill you: Haba laharogcha, hashkem vehorgo. The words refer to a private conflict between individuals. But I’m not trying to pretend to be a Halachic authority here, which I’m not. I say that when violence is used and returned and escalated, then we are in a civil war, and civil war will finish not only us, not only our political opponents, but the entire Jewish community in Eretz Yisrael. Therefore I think it is incumbent on us never to use violence against another Jew in a political context, even in self-defense. Many of us are willing to give our lives in an IDF uniform for the welfare of the Jewish people. I view this form of mesirut nefesh—not to harm Jews, whatever the provocation—in exactly the same way. If preserving the welfare of the Jewish people requires self-sacrifice, so be it.
I personally think that nothing will hasten the demise of the current Israeli political establishment as the political fallout resulting from the unilateral use of deadly force against its domestic opponents. If you ask me what the “solution” is, I think it lies in that direction. But that is not an adequate reason either to eschew or to embrace violence. Fundamental moral issues are involved. One would have to be a wicked fool to look forward to or desire the political “profit” a unilateral slaughter of faith-based Jews would produce. And one would have to be an equally wicked fool to desire, in present circumstances, to return the government’s violent provocations tit for tat. The other side having abandoned wisdom, the burden of taking care for the Jewish people’s future falls on us alone. That’s just the way it is.
I therefore condemn unreservedly the wicked fools who placed a pipe bomb in the home of the vicious Jew-baiting Jew Ze’ev Sternhell. They have no right to pass sentence of death on any Jew, far less on those innocent Jews who might die as a result of escalating violence. Though I understand the frustration of the Jews of Yitzhar, I unreservedly disapprove of their throwing stones at IDF soldiers in Yosh. One of those stoned was a grandson of Rav Kapach, ZT”L, and a former student at the yeshiva in Maale Adumim, none of whom will ever participate in an expulsion though it cost them their livelihoods and liberty.
My teenage daughters made clear to me that if Migron is to be destroyed they intend to go. They are bold and fearless and I doubt I could prevent them if I tried. I told them what I feared would happen. My youngest daughter, just 14, looked me in the eyes and asked me, “and if so, are you telling me not to resist violence with violence?” “Yes,” I said. She held my gaze, and then nodded. “But in any case I will be with you,” I ended.
Elul 23, 5768, 9/23/2008
Tzipi Livni deals with things that nobody can take seriously. Unfortunately even politicians who know better are content to emulate her.
Ten times over the last six months I have started a blog intending to write something profound about Tzipi Livni. I have been defeated each time, and gone on to other things. This is a person who defies profundity. She takes Abu Mazen and Condoleeza Rice seriously. Who can take someone like that seriously?
The thing about Tzipi is that she is passionate, to the degree that her personality can sustain such an emotion, about things that adults realize are just a game. She must live in heaven; her job description is to be in therapy all the time.
Among the adults who cannot make themselves take seriously the things Tzipi takes seriously are senior politicians like Ehud Barak, Binyamin Netanyahu and Eli Yishai, maneuvering to become king or, failing that, kingmaker. Netanyahu, at least, has the liberty to express what he thinks about Tzipi’s games, a luxury the other two do not enjoy. There are elements of tragedy about Barak, a political realist (though with very moderate political skills) condemned by fate to use a party deeply committed to political impossibilities as the vehicle for his personal ambitions.
In fact, if I cared to advise Barak (and, like him, were cynically indifferent to the issues at stake), I would say to him: Give up on Labor. Defect to the Likud. Netanyahu is in the market for prominent leftists and generals. Your views and his are almost identical. You could slip neatly into place as Netanyahu’s defense minister and #2, which is where you’re going to wind up anyhow after the elections. When Netanyahu retires you might even succeed him, which you’ll never do in Labor.
The distressing thing about Israel’s impending election campaign is that it’s not going to be about anything real. It’s not that the country doesn’t face urgent problems, it’s just that the campaign isn’t going to be about them because they’re on nobody’s agenda. Two years ago the country’s entire foreign policy agenda fell apart and nothing has yet emerged to replace it; it’s not even being argued about, certainly not by the Likud. For the war that revealed that the country’s foreign policy agenda was hollow also revealed that its political elites and dominant culture were hollow. They haven’t the strength or the innovation to come to grips with Israel’s new problems or devise plans to overcome them. The war two years ago was big enough to shatter their agenda but not big enough to shatter them.
This can’t last forever. Even now there are faint echoes of this appreciation in Israel’s public realm. There’s a good chance that Israel will sooner or later face a two- or three-front war that will put the 2nd Lebanon War in the shade. That’s the excuse Livni and Barak are using to entice Netanyahu into a coalition now, though they’re really more concerned with retaining their seats than in addressing the problem.
I hope the war doesn’t come but I don’t place a lot of stock in unfounded hopes. If the country survives, change will be forced upon it, it having failed to embrace change when the opportunity presented itself. We ought to be thinking about what we can do to prepare for that eventuality. I don’t mean in a military sense, since these are things you and I can affect but little, but rather preparing an alternative against the day when it becomes patently clear that the current Israeli establishment cannot go on.