Sunday, January 01, 2017

Myths and Madness in the Middle East

Myths and Madness in the Middle East

InSight Magazine, Jewish Policy Center
December 29, 2016

In the aftermath of UNSC Res. 2334, criticism has come from Right and Left, in America and Israel. Defenders of the decision by the U.S. to abstain, and the vote in favor by Israel’s other supposed allies in the free world, France, Britain, New Zealand, Spain and Japan, suggest it’s just another statement opposing Israel’s “settlements.” But this goes far beyond disapproval of Israel building Jewish communities in the disputed territories of Judea and Samaria (the “west bank” of the Jordan River). As many have argued, the labelling of these communities as having “no legal validity”, in spite of treaties and other instruments of international law (such as the UN Charter, UNSCR 242, and the Oslo Accords), and the inclusion of Jerusalem, has altered the political, legal and even moral framework in which efforts to resolve the conflict can proceed.

In Newsweek earlier this year, Aaron David Miller rightly suggested the new U.S. administration should reject five myths regarding their approach to Middle East issues. His analysis focuses on methods and tactics, but not on the fundamental misunderstandings which affect – or infect – decision-making. He says, correctly, that America may not be able to bring about a comprehensive end to strife in the region. And this is even more true with 2334’s promotion of the territories’ character as “Palestinian,” its denial of any Israeli claim beyond the 1949 armistice lines including the Old City of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, and its use of legal terminology to force an anti-Israel political agenda.

A few quotes can help us to understand just how unfortunate are the current misconceptions and misrepresentations of the reality in the Middle East.
On September 16, 2015, encouraging his people to carry out violent acts of terror against Israeli and other civilians, PA President Mahmoud Abbas said (on TV in Arabic): “We bless every drop of blood that has been spilled for Jerusalem, which is clean and pure blood, blood spilled for Allah…the Al-Aqsa [Mosque] is ours, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is ours, and they have no right to defile them with their filthy feet.”
On October 14th, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said: There has been a massive increase in settlements…and there’s an increase in the violence because there’s this frustration.”
And on October 15th President Obama said: “…it’s important for both Prime Minister Netanyahu… and President Abbas… to try to tamp down rhetoric that may feed violence…”

There are three essential myths regarding the conflict in the Middle East, and it is belief in these myths which underlies the failure of so many attempts to achieve peace. It is madness when a leader who calls for his people to shed their blood and the blood of innocent civilians is called a moderate. It is madness when leaders of the free world cite frustration as an understandable reason for murder. And it is madness to ignore the Arabs’ responsibility for the perpetuation of the conflict and to hold Israel primarily answerable for the lack of peace in the region—given that precisely such attitudes and policies clearly lead to more of the same. Wasn’t it Einstein who said that trying the same thing over and over while expecting different results is a definition of insanity?

Understanding these myths is crucial for any chance of real reconciliation in our region. Reasonable people can – and do – debate Israel’s policies on virtually all issues. Yet to be effective, to be relevant, all our arguments must be based on facts, not illusions. Only policy discussion founded in reality has any potential for success in our efforts to achieve real peace.

The three fundamental myths of the Arab-Israeli conflict are:
Myth #1 – Abbas and other “Palestinian” leaders are “moderate” & want peace.
Myth #2 – The primary obstacle to peace in the Middle East is the “settlements”
Myth #3 – This is a “Palestinian-Israeli conflict,” a territorial (or national) dispute.

Documented history refutes these myths with compelling arguments, categorically. Policy-makers, educators, activists and religious leaders who acknowledge the truths which negate these myths are more likely to successfully encourage moves towards peace in the region. Nothing in this line of reasoning absolves Israel of its obligation to act lawfully and morally—and wisely and strategically—in its pursuit of security and peace, nor ignores Israel’s policy failings and mistakes; nor does this lead inexorably to any policy prescriptions. However, the historical record and accepted (western) legal norms should clarify where the brunt of responsibility lies for the prolongation of this violent regional and international war for over a hundred years.

Myth 1: “Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and other Palestinian Arab leaders are ‘moderate’ & want peace.”

The statements above, and the many other celebrations of the murder of innocents and calls for violence, put paid to this myth of moderation swiftly. Moreover, Abbas’ and other leaders have consistently been “immoderate” in their refusal to compromise and even negotiate, and in their rejection of the legitimacy of Jewish national identity and therefore of Israel’s founding, let alone any Jewish connection to the land. Moderates, according to the definition of the word, believe in and pursue compromise, tolerance, coexistence, acceptance and peace. Palestinian Arabs[i] are inculcated from childhood into a culture of hatred full of vitriol which glorifies terrorist murders of innocents as heroic “martyrs” and icons of their national identity, through their education system and media, political and cultural and religious leaders. They are taught in school and TV/radio talk shows that Jews are usurpers of their land, descendants of pigs and apes, murderers and cheaters, and that the Jews and Americans, Christians and the West, are decadent enemies of the Arab Umma (people).

In their pronouncements, cultural and educational policies, politics and actions, Mahmoud Abbas and the other heads of the PLO/PA foment intolerance and hostility. Moderate, the facts prove, these leaders are not. Abbas and the Kings of Saudi Arabia or Jordan and others are (usually) “less extreme” than their fanatical murderous co-religionists in Hamas, ISIS or Iran. But if “moderate” is to have any meaning, it cannot be used to refer to these leaders and regimes. Regularly imprisoning journalists or citizens for posting criticism of the government on Facebook; beating or otherwise punishing women for improper (sic) behavior; outlawing the practice of religions other than Islam; allowing or even encouraging the “honor killing” (sic) of young women, clitorectomies, slavery and hatred of Christians, Jews, America and Israel, are not actions practiced by moderates. Most of this list, except for slavery, is true of Israel’s “moderate” peace partners in Fatah, the PLO and the Palestinian Authority. Miller’s call, that of Natan Sharansky over a decade ago, for Arab leaders willing to reform their societies is right on target: and it starts with those supposedly “moderate” becoming truly interested in freedom, tolerance, coexistence and peace.

Myth 2: “The primary obstacle to peace in the Middle East is the ‘settlements.’”

Two historical facts put paid to this absurd contention—whether one supports or opposes Israel’s building of communities and homes in the disputed territories of Judea and Samaria (the historical and accepted cartographical term for that area, now known also as the ‘West Bank’ of the Jordan River). First, there were of course no “settlements” in those territories in the years they were illegally occupied by Jordan, from Israel’s (re-) establishment in 1948 until Israel took them over following its defensive war in 1967. Yet there was no peace.

Then, when Israel dismantled 21 Jewish communities in the Gaza Strip (and four in northern Samaria), expelling some 11,000 Jewish residents, and there were no more “settlements” in Gaza… there was no peace. Instead, there were rockets, thousands of them, crashing down on Israel’s southern and then central cities. The settlements, clearly, were and are not the primary obstacle to peace—since if they were, peace would have reigned before the first were established in the early 1970’s, and/or after the Gaza community was demolished in 2005.

But these two historical references are really only the beginning in dispelling this second myth. We can dismiss easily the absurd notion, referenced in the quote from John Kerry above, that there has been an “increase in settlements”—let alone a “massive” such buildup. The facts (and they are, indeed facts, any school child can check them online) are that there have been no new settlements—none—for well over a decade. What ‘expansion’ has occurred has involved building new housing inside the boundaries of existing communities (“settlements”). So much for a “massive increase in settlements” as Kerry termed it (or the “millions” of settlements described by Deputy National Security Ben Rhodes as he tried to justify the betrayal of Israel in Resolution 2334). This part of the myth is particularly outrageous as it is so patently false, and as it seems to offer the Palestinians an excuse for their ongoing fabricated grievance—and for their continual resort to violence. As if “frustration” is ever an excuse for violence, on the personal or national level.

An additional historical reference point repudiating the myth of the “settlements” as the primary obstacle to peace between the Palestinian/Arab world, on the one hand, and Jews and Israel on the other, is the significant number of peace proposals and offers made in negotiations by Israel. Every one of Israel’s conciliatory gestures was simply rejected by the Palestinian or other Arab leadership. There have been at least six offers of statehood explicitly made by Israel, disregarded or spurned each time anew, on whatever subtext was handy at the time. Palestinian refusal to even discuss the topic in negotiations demonstrates that those nefarious “settlements” are not the crux of the problem. Of course this is directly related to the myth of these leaders’ “moderation.”

Finally, a theoretical proof suggests itself, compelling in its logic if far too often not even considered, in a form of western discrimination towards supposedly primitive Arab society. (The free world doesn’t expect Muslim or Arab or Palestinian culture to afford opportunity for real coexistence, an inexcusably racist stance on the face of it.) If we imagine for a moment, just for intellectual curiosity, how a truly moderate leader of the Arab world or Palestinians might view real peace between Arab and Jew in the region, we can quickly agree that Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria actually pose no obstacle to the sort of reconciliation and long-term neighborly relations inherent in our concept of “peace.” A small percentage of Jews living among Arabs in a nascent “State of Palestine” would clearly not be an impediment to peace or progress. Quite the opposite.

France and Germany, after some 800 years of conflict and warfare, finally realized it would be of greater benefit to their people to live in peace; the concept that traditional enemies might put aside their enmity is hardly a new one. Peace between one-time adversaries is certainly possible, even to the extent of citizens of one nationality residing in the other country.

More locally, and much more relevantly, Israel itself is the best example of the power of this point. Fully 20% of Israel’s population are minorities—predominantly Arabs, and mostly Muslim. These Arab Muslims live as full members of Israeli society, with full access to services and education, jobs and recreation, and with no fear for their lives or property. [ii]

Real peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors would by definition allow for some minority of Jews, and/or Christians or others, to similarly live within Palestinian society. For argument’s sake, let’s say not more than 5% of the population of any “State of Palestine” to be established, in whatever borders, could be Jews or other minorities. “Poof”—to borrow another asinine quote of Kerry’s—the “settlements” are no longer any sort of obstacle to peace. If Brits can live all their lives in the south of Spain, but remain loyal and patriotic British subjects; if Americans can live in Canada, for business or personal reasons (or historical or national reasons, for that matter), then Jews can live in Hebron for spiritual or national or historical reasons, as citizens of “Palestine,” if real peace were to be desired by the Arab leaders of such a state. Or they could live in that Palestinian state as Israeli ex-pats, should they prefer.

Myth 3: “This is a “Palestinian-Israeli conflict”, a territorial or national struggle; agreeing on borders and the establishment of a ‘Palestinian’ state will resolve it.”

This third myth misconstrues Arab and Palestinian attitudes towards Jews and Israel, their refusal to negotiate, and their general extremism. As has been noted by many experts, including truly moderate Arabs and Palestinians, this is not chiefly a territorial or even a national battle between two rival communities vying for the same land. It is, sadly and tragically, a religious, ideological, civilizational struggle.

Were that it were just a territorial or even national conflict. My friends Mohammed Dajani and Walid Salem, among others, and I have often agreed we could resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict relatively easily if the only issue on the table was where to draw the borders. But as described by the world’s leading scholars of Arab and Muslim history and society, like Bernard Lewis or Fred Maroun, this is nothing less than a clash of civilizations. It is—as stated explicitly by the Arab leadership repeatedly—a religious/ideological struggle. The Arab and Muslim world and the Palestinian leadership declare again and again their violent hostility towards Jews (and Christians, and the West), their unabated opposition to any expression of Jewish national identity, and their rejection of any connection between the Jews and their land, not least the establishment of a national home for the Jews, the nation-state of the Jewish people, Israel. So it has been for over the past hundred years or more. And so it is today.

Lucy Aharish, an Arab-Israeli anchor on Israel Television, made a passionate statement along these lines recently. Also recently, a supposedly moderate Arab-Israeli student said in a class at an Israeli college, to his Jewish peers, “this is our land; you’ll be gone eventually,” as reported by Professor Daniel Gordis. This is no “right-wing” conspiracy theory; Israeli leaders of the Left including Professor Shlomo Avineri and Labor Party head Isaac Herzog have explicitly said similar things.

More convincingly, Arab/Muslim/Palestinian leaders echo these themes every time they or their preachers or teachers or media outlets and educational materials constantly repeat the canards of the Jews and Israelis as imperialist or colonialist, racist or apartheid, oppressive or militarist or Nazi-like usurpers. When Yasser Arafat then, or the head of the Waqf (the Jordanian-appointed body administering the Temple Mount area in Jerusalem) now, declares that there was no Jewish Temple there, and call for Muslim and Arab rioting to protest some sort of Israeli attempt to “Judaize” [sic] the only site on earth holy to Jews, we begin to understand the significance of this third myth. And we may appreciate the gravity of the depth of ignorance on the part of those members of today’s UN Security Council who, unwittingly perhaps, have fed this beast of denial and rejection by statement that Jerusalem is somehow not connected to the Jewish people—as UNESCO did recently as well.

There is a fierce and deep opposition by most Arab and Muslim leaders to any expression of Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel. The denial of even any Jewish connection to the area is part and parcel of the cultural milieu permeating Palestinian, Arab and Muslim societies across the region and the world, leading to the indoctrination of vicious anti-Israel and anti-Jewish attitudes reflected in Pew and other surveys every year. The settlement shibboleth appears to be a smokescreen to hide the basic bigotry and loathing voiced continually (in Arabic) towards the Jews, Israel, Christians and the West in general—the infidels. When Palestinian Arab leaders refer to the “Occupation of ‘48” and to towns like Haifa, Tiberius, Yafo, Acre and Lod as “Palestinian,”, the rejection of the Jewish people’s and Israel’s connection to the land and very legitimacy is revealed in all its simplicity and crudity. And President Obama’s suggestion, in the quote above and of course in Resolution 2334, that there is some equivalence to this hateful rhetoric and actions by Palestinians/Arabs on the Jewish and Israeli side is absurd, and destructive.

As the indigenous people of the region, the return of Jews to Judea makes not only linguistic and religious but historical and national and political and moral sense. As it did to the international community some hundred years ago, when they gave expression to their understanding of the re-emergence of Jewish national identity in the mandate given to Great Britain by the League of Nations to facilitate the (re-) “establishment of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine” after wresting it in WWI from the oppressive Ottoman Turkish occupation of the land.


All three of the myths are encapsulated in Mahmoud Abbas’ calling, at the podium of the United Nations on September 22, 2016, for Great Britain to “apologize” for issuing the government policy supporting the validity of the Jews’ connection to their ancestral homeland known as the Balfour declaration, incorporated into that Mandate. The same United Nations which inherited the Mandate(s) and which explicitly, at its founding, insisted that the regimes, rights and privileges of those arrangements continued to be in force as a matter of binding international treaty law, hosted this immoderate leader calling by implication for the dismantling of a UN member state. This is proof that his and their opposition to Israel has nothing to do with the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, and that they are waging an ideological, civilizational struggle to deny the Jews the very self-determination they demand for themselves.

And the UNSC Resolution 2334 last week supports and promotes that struggle, by ignoring or contravening the provisions of the Mandate; of the UN Charter; of the recognition of Israel and the terms of its armistice agreements of 1949 with Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Syria and Iraq; of the Road Map; of the Oslo Accords; and of any objective understandings of history and law, let alone politics and morality.

Nothing of the foregoing suggests that Israel has not made mistakes, in action or in policy, or that Israel cannot do more to address legitimate complaints of Arabs in the territories or among Israeli citizenry. And none of the above necessarily leads to a compulsory conclusion or policy prescription. One can advocate the withdrawal by Israel from Judea & Samaria, and the establishment of a Palestinian state there, or champion the annexation of those territories by Israel; in both cases dismissal of these myths and acknowledgement of the truth which disproves them is necessary to establish a firm foundation for any policy prescription. When one rejects these fundamental myths and confronts reality, many additional possibilities suggest themselves, from confederation to regional arrangements and/or territorial swaps to Palestine east of the Jordan River.

Successful resolution our Arab-Israel conflict—which is to say, the Arab war against the Jewish people and nation-state—requires two things. First, the Arab and Muslim leadership must lead their societies to an acceptance of the legitimacy of the founding and existence of the nation-state of the Jewish people, Israel. And second, the leadership of the free world—starting with American leaders—must reject these myths of Palestinian “moderation”, the notion that “settlements” are the main cause of our conflict, and the idea that it is of a “territorial” nature.

It’s that simple: real moderation, tolerance and co-existence on the part of the Arabs, along with an accurate Western understanding of the historical, legal, political and social factors perpetuating the situation, would make all the difference. How much longer will we have to wait?

Aryeh Green can be reached at

[i] There is a legitimate historical perspective which notes that a “Palestinian” prior to 1949 was a Jew residing in Eretz Yisrael, or “Palestine” – hence the Palestine Post, Palestine Symphony Orchestra, Anglo Palestine Co. and the Palestine Regiment in the British army, all were Jewish, and known to be so. A unique Arab identity emerged slowly over the mid-20th-Century, and then explosively following Israel’s establishment. Even the creation of the “Palestine Liberation Organization” was more part of the Pan-Arab effort to destroy Israel than an expression of separate Arab identity in 1964. Yet in spite of not having a distinct language, culture, religion, cuisine, genetic makeup or historical connection to a specific land beyond the past few generations, the “Palestinians” have now established themselves as a discrete community within the wider Arab Middle East, accepted by the world, including the vast majority of Israelis. There is no point in denying the Palestinians’ identity; recognizing the relatively recent nature of the emergence of this communal character is important to understanding the nature of the conflict, though in no way rejects its validity.

[ii]Discrimination is an issue—as it is in Germany against Turks, in Britain against Asians, in France against Algerians, and in the US against blacks and Latinos. Israel is facing its challenges of relating to its minorities—some of whom, unlike these other examples, express violent hostility to the state—with education and public programs, as if not more assertively than other western nations facing similar issues. None of this detracts from the point being made.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

INSC 2334 and perpetuating the Arab war against Israel

From an email exchange about the disastrous UNSC resolution promoted by Obama, my statement on it as the ultimate and compelling example of his administration's failed foreign policy of manipulative and appeasing 'abstaining from behind'. I have nothing more to say. Thank goodness there are people out there saying it better and more powerfully than me.

Wow, it's been a long weekend.

There is objective reality, and then there is wishful thinking and illusions (or delusions of grandeur). There is history and then there is imperfect understanding or willful ignorance or purposeful misrepresentation. There is actual int'l law and then there is the political use (abuse) of the terminology of "law". As in Friday's absurd resolution which makes a mockery of the UN, explicitly contradicting its own charter and previous resolutions. The UN inherited and adopted the one mandating "settlement" by Jews of the Land of Israel, for instance. The UNSC passed 242, the one requiring the Arabs to make peace with Israel and for Israel to retain some of the land to which it has a claim. The UN's Charter has that one part outlawing aggressive warfare. Not to mention the mockery this all makes of various int'l agreements like the Geneva Convention (which doesn't apply here) and the Oslo Accords (which require negotiations between the parties, explicitly rejecting this sort of int'l interference, as well as not restricting building by the parties in areas under their control).

But this resolution, in perfect Orwellian Double-Speak, says Israel's towns and villages in Judea & Samaria have "no legal validity" (though not Arab new towns/settlements and expansions of villages and Bedouin encampments) and ignores all international law related to this conflict and area, most importantly the corpus of actual treaty law, in favor of vacuous references of "humanitarian law" and use of the word "illegal" when according to (western) scholars of law it is not.

Regarding the UNSC resolution itself, I'd like to draw your attention to the obvious:

1. There has been no "expansion" of settlements for years.

2. The harm in this resolution is NOT that it "criticizes settlements", which is a reasonable political stance to take; the harm is that it (a) says they are illegal; (b) includes JERUSALEM and all the other areas across the '49 armistice lines; and therefore (c) contradicts/negates the primary parameters of (still in effect) international legal structures pertaining to our conflict, namely the Mandate designating this as the national home of the Jewish people, the '49 UN recognition of Israel in temporary borders, and the '67 UNSC resolution 242 explicitly recognizing Israel's claim to its land beyond the '49 armistice lines in areas illegally occupied by Jordan.

3. The harm, then, adds to the growing and painfully obvious understanding by the Arabs, "Palestinians", and their supporters, that (a) Israel is not legitimate, (b) Israel's claims to land beyond the '49 armistice lines are illegitimate, and (c) they need do nothing, concede nothing, compromise on nothing, not least acknowledging Israel's very right to exist (and cease campaigning for its destruction) or negotiate to bring an end to the conflict.

The US not vetoing it is equivalent to it supporting it, plain and simple. No amount of politicking and wordsmithing can ameliorate this. Your appeal to a "unanimous" vote is absurd, considering the identity of all those voting, let alone the pre-conceived (mis)perceptions involved. Hence the across-the-board calls to the administration to veto, and condemnation of the abstention, from Dems and Repubs, right and left - except of course JStreet and Peace Now. (Ironic, when we recognize how far this pushes away any real prospect for peace in the near or mid-future.) Now we hear news of actual collusion behind the scenes, hardly surprising, as neither Egypt nor New Zealand, let alone the UK and France, would work on anything this significant without in-depth consultations with the US. Duh.

If you/others cannot see how this UNSC resolution impedes rather than promotes peace; encourages rather than discourages war and conflict, intolerance and hatred; and damages the US and UN reputations with their allies and in the Western world, while encouraging anti-Israel (anti-Semitic, by definition) forces around the world and all the tyrants now active in the Middle East, especially Iran, Russia, Syria, Turkey and Hamas & Fatah... then perhaps it's time to refer you to the massive shock and public rejection expressed by leaders of the opposition (your beloved Left) here in Israel, as well as the unity mentioned above in US political circles.

Sorry for the run-on sentence and slight rant.... You may have noticed I haven't only reduced my involvement in these sorts of exchanges, I've also reduced my Fb posting. In my recent experience, the only success I've had in opening people's minds is in personal interaction, during my talks or private conversations.

Most of you know me as a true centrist in both the American and Israeli contexts and a moderate in most things, political and religious included; I am doing less and less of this sort of arguing online and in email exchanges as I see more and more of the radical Left and extreme Right simply revert to their received wisdom irrespective of fact or history or the behavior of involved parties. Unfortunately, this is reflected in electioneering and voting in the US as well as in misguided policy by Obama, Kerry, Clinton and others. (And to be even-handed, I imagine will continue, in other directions, with the new administration as well. But we can hope for change, as it were, perhaps. Whether with this president, or the next, or the next... eventually I have faith in the re-assertion of common sense in American foreign policy.)


So... I'm focused now on raising investment funds for our company building solar electricity fields in Africa and on publishing my book about hiking the Israel Trail (anyone with ideas or contacts in the publishing industry pls let me know). Ah yes, and organizing a speaking tour for late Jan/early Feb, not least to talk a bit about the myths and madness of the Middle East and re-asserting the legitimacy of Israel and Zionism.

I wish each of you, and your families, a wonderful Chanukah, celebrating *not* the "dedication" of people (ala Obama last night) nor the miracle of 7 extra days of oil but rather the miracle of the regaining of the Jewish people's national sovereignty in our land and the reassertion of our control over our own destiny, as well as the miracle of life as we know it (how oil burns and provides light and warmth to us all)....

With fond regards - Chag Sameach -


* Here's a link to a documentary about Israel and the Arab-Israeli conflict called "Hijacking the Holy Land" in which I'm featured at 9 mins, 10:30, and 34 mins, just for fun:

The Truth on Israel Palestine Conflict History on Israel Palestine Conflict - News Update-Israelis in the towns and...


Sunday, September 04, 2016

The "new normal" - divorced/remarried/blended/mixed/messed-up families

[This post has nothing to do with Israel but everything to do with me. I figured if Mayim can put herself out there so personally, so can I. :-)]

I saw a video the other day posted by Mayim Bialik about how she and her ex-husband are managing to construct a family dynamic filled with love and respect, raising their children together after their divorce, even spending religious holidays together.

This got me thinking about my situation after my divorce – and remarriage – and about how the "new normal" in family life poses so many challenges to so many of us these days.

According to recent statistics, more marriages end in divorce in America today than last the lifetime they were supposedly intended to.* It's a tragic and disturbing reality – certainly for those of us, married or otherwise, who see the institution of marriage as just that: forever.

And the challenges this reality poses are significant. How to spend vacation and religious festivals, and with whom, is only the tip of the iceberg. Dividing time and attention between various children and other family members, celebrating personal events like birthdays or graduations twice or sometimes three times, to accommodate various groupings, is also surmountable. Jason Mraz has a song which acknowledges the benefits of two birthday parties and the like (though the song itself deals mostly with many of the more depressing and negative aspects of a split family).

What I really liked about Mayim's post - liked, admire and respect - is how candid she is about their priorities; and about how they don't really care what other people think. For someone in any society to say "that's not normal" when divorced parents decide to share family events together, is not only insensitive; It's downright cruel. The perfect family unit – parents and children, grandparents and aunts and uncles and the whole wider family tree - doesn't necessarily disintegrate just because a husband and wife decide they no longer wish to live together.

We have divorced friends who spend Friday night Shabbat dinner - almost a paradigm of "family time" in the Jewish world, at whatever level of observance - together with their only son in his twenties, with his and their friends. It's different, yes - but it is beautiful and wonderful, no less than the "difference" involved in other friends where she is Orthodox-observant and he is less observant, or our two gay friends raising their child together, or my Jewish cousin who built a marvelous and loving family with a Catholic spouse.

I know someone who refers to his sister's kids as "my nephews" and his wife's sister's kids as "her nephews". Seriously? After decades of love and connection, after celebrating births and bat mitzvahs together, taking vacations and trips, commiserating over siblings and parents and children and arguing politics and helping each other out in times of need, I am closer to my (former) brother- and sister-in-law, mother- and father-in-law, and my nieces, then to almost anyone else in the world.

These are family, with ties that bind which are as strong and sometimes stronger than blood. Today they may be my "outlaws" - but that didn't prevent me from flying over to attend Dad's funeral. Not to have been there - to pay my last respects, to support our kids and all the family, to accompany one of my best friends on the planet and truly my second father on his last journey, would have been unthinkable.

It is true that I have been lucky, and have worked hard as well, to effect an amicable divorce and to maintain friendly relations with my former wife, after the initial pain and suffering (and even with the occasional relapse). It's a bit of an anomaly, it's true; most of the divorces I'm familiar with are unhappy, angry things which end in remorse and bitterness. But even those often evolve into situations of cool tolerance if not genuine warmth.

There are so many of these split, then sometimes blended (and sometimes just parallel, somewhat connected but not mixed) families around us. Each finds its own way to address the challenges of maintaining closeness and intimacy, creating new relationships with new spouses or children or parents or friends, and balancing the demands of two households (or sometimes three, or even four, if a child of divorced parents marries a partner who's folks are also split, let alone re-married!).

These challenges are hard enough without members of the extended family saying "we can't do this since you're divorced" regarding some joint event or other. In some situations it may be true, where a divorced couple are full of hostility or the wider family have taken sides in nasty custody or financial battles. But where a couple has managed - selflessly and at great emotional cost - to construct a modus operandi which reduces conflict and engenders love and warmth, it's so much healthier not only for them and for their children and parents but for all their wider family and even community.

As the children meet their own challenges of coming to terms with their new split-family situation - and this can take years, and may require help and a lot of sympathy and patience - the rest of the world, family and friends, would do them and themselves a great service, to leave their pre-conceived notions of what's "done" aside, out of love for all involved.

The new normal is not a nuclear family; it's a messed up, messy, beautiful, fascinating, exciting, challenging, frightening, painful and exhilarating roller coaster ride of relationships bent and broken, repaired and rebuilt anew in amazing forms most of us never considered or imagined - certainly not for ourselves. Let's accept - and enjoy, and even celebrate - this new normal, and get on with the business of living and loving our children and families, however they're constructed.

*Statisticians argue; some say 50% of new marriages and 60% of second marriages, others a bit higher or lower. And these numbers don't reflect the (growing, by all reports) number of couples who don't even bother to get married in the first place. The rest of the western world is even worse-off. For the purpose of this article and argument, exact numbers aren't relevant; the point is there are at least as many divided/split/re-married/blended/mixed families as traditional married-once-and-forever families.

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Monday, August 15, 2016

Awakening Zionism in LA

March in LA - "Awakening Zionism" - Re-asserting the legitimacy of Israel and Zionism - Co-Sponsored by the Consulate of Israel, Simon Wiesenthal Center, Beverly Hills Synagogue, StandWithUs, and JACLA.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Re-asserting the legitimacy of Israel & Zionism

[Published at the Israel Forever site.]

By Aryeh Green

"Zionism is nothing more, but also nothing less, than the Jewish People's sense of origin and destination in the land linked eternally with its name." Abba Eban
Israel is increasingly attacked as an imperialist, colonialist, apartheid aggressor and occupier; Zionism is seen as racism even though the nefarious UN resolution was repealed. “Combating the delegitimization” of Israel is a necessary but not sufficient response, focused as it is on specific manifestations – boycotts, divestment resolutions, hostile media outlets, and various political or cultural leaders’ statements. Israel is in desperate need of a coordinated, pro-active, strategic approach to this long-term erosion of its standing even among those who purport to support her. Excellent organizations and individuals – from AIPAC to the ADL, from the AJC and JNF and Hillel to TIP, StandWithUs, BlueStreet PR, HonestReporting, ElNet, ReThink Israel, EMET and NGO Monitor, to name just a few – are working hard to stem the tide. But these and other hard-working efforts are literally overwhelmed by the hostility permeating the intellectual climate in which the top echelons of the political, academic, media and cultural worlds operate.
This is an ideological, intellectual, civilizational struggle - and Israel and the Jewish people need an assertive strategic approach to coordinate and initiate efforts to re-legitimize Israel. We must generate nothing less than a paradigm shift in perception: Rejection of the present view of Judaism as just anotherreligion or faith community, and acceptance of Zionism and Israel as expressions of the national liberation movement of the Jewish people/nation. (This was accepted by western nations – and most Jews – a century ago.)
A long-term, comprehensive effort is required to augment and make more effective the efforts of already-active groups, collaborating at the highest levels. We must educate key elites to change the way Israel is perceived by political decision-makers, intellectual and cultural elites, academics, religious leaders of all faiths, the media and the general public. This will lead to better understanding of the history of Israel, Jews and Judaism and acceptance of Zionism as the national liberation movement of the Jewish people. It will also engender increased support for Israel, including Jewish rights to the Land of Israel as the indigenous peoplereturning to their ancestral homeland – irrespective of preferred political solutions.
Whether one is an advocate of territorial compromise or of a greater Israel, the key is to achieve recognition of the true history and complexity of the conflict, and acknowledgment of the Arab leadership's primary responsibility for the lack of peace in the area, while increasing the legitimacy of alternative solutions to the region’s conflict(s). This is not a political agenda: leading lights of Israel's Left - including the head of the Labor Party, MK Itzhak Herzog, and the doyen of Israeli academia, Prof. Shlomo Avineri, as well as one of the founders of both Peace Now and the far-Left Meretz party, Mossi Raz, have articulated the same understanding. And as part of all this, we also must enhance appreciation for Israel’s free society and its place at the frontlines of the fight against the Islamist jihadi threat to western civilization.
Our community needs to reach, engage and impact the top opinion elites and decision-makers in leading western countries and to inspire and impactmillions of activists online. We must focus on leaders in academia, media, and cultural, political & intellectual spheres, with intensive efforts at buildingrelationships and disseminating factual, persuasive information and content, through published works, social media, academic and public conferences, aggressive print, TV, billboard and online advertisingpublic relationscampaigns, and personal interaction/persuasion. Simultaneously, we must create an assertive online environment to impact public opinion and stimulategrassroots activism and crowd-funding.
This strategic effort can dramatically increase the effectiveness of every individual organization, based on a combined top-down and bottom-up tactical approach: Impacting public opinion by impacting opinion-makers, while driving changes in leadership attitudes by grassroots activities online and in the street/on campus. Herzl said "If we will it, it is not a dream" - and with the will of all pro-Israel players in the field, we can return to the Zionist dream, in the process re-establishing the very term Zionism to its rightful place in the Jewish and wider world.
Envisioning a world where accurate information, unbiased analysis, and in-depth understanding lead to:
  • Acknowledgment of Jewish nationality/peoplehood;
  • Recognition and support of Israel as a legitimate member of the community of nations;
  • Informed and responsible policies regarding Israel and the Middle East; and
  • The promotion of liberal values and freedoms.
WATCH this video of Aryeh's inspiring talk March 27th at JACLA:
Aryeh Green is VP Strategic Investment at EnergiyaGlobal, a leading solar energy developer for Africa, and Director Emeritus of MediaCentral, a Jerusalem-based project of HonestReporting providing services to the foreign press in Israel. Aryeh has an extensive background in both the public and private sectors, having served as a senior advisor to minister Natan Sharansky in the Israeli Prime Minister's office and as an executive or consultant for some of Israel's leading companies. In Israel for over 30 years, he holds masters degrees in business and international relations, is an expert in regional affairs, media issues, and Israel history, and has been a leading advocate and activist for freedom and democracy in the region for the past two decades.

Friday, March 20, 2015

העת למנהיגות אמיצה - Time for Courageous Leaderhip in Israel (Hebrew)

[English at - "Time for Courageous Leadership"]
העת למנהיגות אמיצה
אתגרים לא קלים עומדים בפני מדינת ישראל כיום - כמו תמיד. איראן. הדה-לגיטימציה. דאע"ש. חמאס וחיזבאללה. מצוקת הדיור. עוינות ונוקשות ערבית / פלסטינית. סוגיות כלכליות וחברתיות. האנטגוניזם האמריקאי והאירופאי מתגבר. שינוי שיטת בחירות. פלורליזם דתי.
קראו שנית את הרשימה לעיל. זה מדהים עד כמה דומות הפלטפורמות, המדיניות וההצהרות של ראש הליכוד, ראש הממשלה בנימין נתניהו לאלו של ראש מפלגת העבודה, יצחק הרצוג. אכן, במסע הבחירות הדגש היה על מה שמבדיל ביניהם; אבל בשלטון, ובחיפוש ליצור קואליציה שתצליח להתמודד עם הרבה מהבעיות הרציניות הללו, מה שיש להם במשותף הוא לא רק חשוב יותר, אבל הוא עומד מנגד עיננו באופן מובהק.
המונח "מחנה לאומי" איננו רלוונטי לתקופה בה אנו חיים. זהו מונח לתקופה של מלחמה, כפי שהיה ב -67. מה שנכון לזמננו  הוא למקד את תשומת הלב שלנו על אותן מדיניויות שהכל מסכימים כי הן קריטיות לפתירת הבעיות הללו. ניכר אפוא כי האלמנטים המרכזיים בליכוד - כולל נתניהו, אדלשטיין, ארדן, בגין, כץ, יעלון, שטייניץ, אלקינס ומנהיגים אחרים של המפלגה - ואלמנטים המרכזיים בעבודה - כולל הרצוג, בר, כבל, בר לב, טרכטנברג, שי, יניב ואחרים - לא רק שמשותף להם אותה האידיאולוגיה הציונית, הליברלית, אך הם כולם גם חולקים תחושה עוצמתית דומה של נחישות לאומית, צדק חברתי ונכונות להשתמש בכוח צבאי בשביל הגנה עצמית בעת הצורך.
זהו לא המעמד המתאים לפרט את ההוכחות לכך; אבל גם סקירה שטחית של עמדותיהם לגבי מניעת התחמשות גרעינית איראנית, המבצע הצבאי ההגנתי של ישראל בעזה בקיץ האחרון, אפילו לגבי בנייה בשכונות יהודיות של ירושלים וכן בשכונות קיימות של קהילות יהודיות ביהודה ושומרון, שמירה על הקהילות הגדולות בשטחים (מכשול "התיישבות" הגדול), שלא לדבר על הצורך ברפורמת דיור, רפורמת קרקעות, שינוי שיטת הבחירות, רפורמת שירותים-דתיים ועוד, להפגין כמה קרובים הם באמת. זה בעצם מצב טבעי והגיוני כיוון שמדובר באנשים אינטליגנטיים, זהירים ומנוסים שמכירים במציאות שאנו חיים בו. ההבדלים בין הליכוד והעבודה עיקרם בניואנסים שונים, אך לא בעיקרון. שני המפלגות מובילות בעצם את "המחנה הציוני" (שם השיווק שנבחר לאיחוד של מפלגת העבודה ומפלגת התנועה).
אל תאמינו לכל דיווחי החדשות - ישראליים או בינלאומיים. ייתכן והרצוג הוביל קמפיין על מצע שהוא יכול לעשות שלום עם שכנינו, אבל הוא ידוע כאדם הרבה יותר ספקן לגבי מניעיה ויכולותיה של ההנהגה הפלסטינית הנוכחית, בדומה לעמדתו של נתניהו. גם נתניהו, שצוטט באומרו כי לא תקום מדינה פלסטינית כאשר הוא יכהן כראש הממשלה, אבל ברור כי אמירה זו היוותה לו רק קביעת עובדה ולא הבעת עמדה, כיוון שאין לנו כרגע פרטנר פלסטיני אשר מסוגל להפוך חזון זה לאפשרי. אם כי ייתכן שאירה זו שירתה את ביבי בשביל מסע הבחירות שלו, הוא בשום אופן לא "התנער" מקבלתו המסויגת של אפשרות זו לפני כמה שנים (כפי שארי שביט אמר ביום רביעי שעבר ב- CNN, ביבי הוא "אחת הדמויות המתונות ביותר" בגוש המרכז-ימין. וארי איננו תומך בביבי כלל).
זהו העת, על כן, למנהיגות אמיצה, ושלושת הגברים אשר נמצאים במקום המתאים להפגין מנהיגות בעלת חזון למען ישראל כיום הם נתניהו, הרצוג והנשיא רובי ריבלין (אכן, הם כולם גברים, אבל זה נושא למאמר אחר). הם יכולים - וצריכים - לפצות על הטעות הממארת ביותר של ציפי לבני, כאשר כראש קדימה, לאחר הבחירות בשנת 2009, היא סירבה מסיבות אישיות קטנוניות להצטרף לממשלתו של נתניהו, למרות עמדות מדיניות משותפות ברורות בין השניים.
בוז'י הרצוג אינו ציפי לבני. ישרתו ודאגתו לטובה הלאום עולים על האגו שלו. הוא יכול באופן נינוח לכהן כחבר בכיר בממשלתו של ביבי. אבל מעבר לכך: הוא יכול להשיג כל כך הרבה יותר על ידי ישיבה בממשלתו של ביב מאשר מה שיוכל להשיג אי פעם כראש האופוזיציה (כדוגמת  אח צעיר ונרגן שמתלונן הרבה ועושה מעט). כשר הביטחון, או כשר האוצר, או כשר החוץ, לא רק שבוז'ייוכל להמשיך להתעסק בנושאים החשובים לו ביותר, אלא הוא יוכל למקם את עצמו כמנהיג אמיתי, מקבל החלטות ומדינאי.
בדומה לכך, ביבי נתניהו אינו אהוד אולמרט. אולמרט סרב להזמין את הליכוד (מפלגתו לשעבר ובעל בריתו הטבעית) להצטרף לממשלתו בשנת 2006 בשל היריבות האישית בינו לבין נתניהו, מנהיג הליכוד באותה העת. לא בלבד שביבי יכול לשתף פעולה עם בוז'י; הוא מכבד אותו מאוד  וביבי יותר מכל אדם יודע כי ביום אחרי הבחירות כולנו - והוא בפרט - יכולים להבליג על הדברים השונים שנאמרו בקמפיין. זוהי כמעט בוודאות הקדנציה האחרונה של ביבי כראש הממשלה; הוא רוצה, ואף צריך, להיתפס כדמות לאומית בעל מעמד היסטורי בולט.
עבור ביבי, איחוד שכזה יבטיח טיפוח של המורשת שאותה רוצה להותיר אחריו; עבור בוז'י, האיחוד יפגין את יכולות המנהיגות שלו. עבור נתניהו, זוהי קרש קפיצה להיסטוריה; עבור הרצוג, קרש קפיצה למשרד ראש הממשלה.
ביצוע הרפורמות הגדולות הדרושות כדי לייצב את המערכת הפוליטית ואת הכלכלה, וכדי לשפר את יחסינו עם שכנינו וחברים / בני ברית בעולם, יכול להיעשות רק עם ממשלת מרכז חזקה שאינה מוחזקת כבן ערובה על ידי מפלגות קטנות.
יש מספר שותפים טבעיים למיזם.  כולנו, יש עתיד, גם בית יהודי, ישראל ביתנו וש"ס - כולם שואפים להיראות כמו "מרכז" (בין אם מרכז-ימין או -שמאל) וללקט מצביעים ממגזרים שונים. ממשלה עם שילוב של כמה מהם - או את כולם - תהיה יציבה מכיוון שהיא לא תהיה פגיעה לאיומים מכל אחד מהם. ממשלה המורכבת כך תהווה השתקפות אמיתית של הקונצנזוס בישראל: גאה מאוד, מחויב לרווחה וכלכלה ליברלית, חזקה על ביטחון, מוכנה להמשיך במגעים עם שכנינו בזהירות, עם כבוד למסורת אבל גם עם דגש על זכויות וחירויות הפרט.
איזה נס יהיה אם במשך השבת הזה, כאשר אנו נזכרים בעצמת הענווה של משה, כמו גם מנהיגות מרחיקת ראותו עבור העם היהודי הצעיר, ביבי ובוג' יכולים להתעלות על הפוליטיקה הקטנה של החודשים האחרונים (ושנים האחרונים) וליצור קואליציה יציבה, חזקה, ובעל חזון - הממשלה שרוב הישראלים רוצים כל כך  וראויים לה.
אריה גרין הוא מנכ״ל MediaCentral ( -בירושלים , והיה יועץ בכיר לשר נתן שרנסקי במשרדו של ראש הממשלה.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

God or Religion - what takes precedence?

I found this article particularly insightful and compelling, not least in light of the internal debates here in Israel over various religious issues (not mentioned below).  I’m not weighing in on the US presidential candidates but certainly do agree with the fundamental principle here: religion is meant to serve God and/or a higher purpose, and clearly is distorted when it seems to become MORE important than God or those moral values it is meant to promote.  Or as he puts it, “the religious fanatic is the man or woman who has ceased to serve God and instead worships his or her religion…”.


Are Mormons any weirder than the rest of us?

I don't believe Joseph Smith found ancient tablets in upstate New York. What has that got to do with electing politicians?

I have been close to Mormons ever since my days at Oxford, when Michael Taft Benson became a member and then an elected officer of our L’Chaim Society at the University. Benson’s grandfather, Ezra Taft Benson, was the prophet of the Mormon Church at the time. Thus began a lifelong friendship that continues till today, with many visits to lecture for Mike at Southern Utah University and other mostly Mormon academies of higher learning in the majority Mormon state.

I have thus watched with mild amusement as the debate surrounding the beliefs of Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman have gained steam. Aren’t the Mormons weird fanatics? Should we trust people with such strange beliefs with high office? 

This is an interesting question coming from my evangelical brothers and sisters whose belief that a man, born of a virgin, was the son of God, only to die on a cross, and then be resurrected. With all due respect, that’s not exactly the most rational belief, either.

The criticisms are equally interesting coming from Orthodox Jews, like myself, who believe that the Red Sea split, a donkey talked to Balaam, and the sun stood still for Joshua.

But it is equally strange coming from evolutionists like Richard Dawkins who have said, without a single shred of evidence, that life on our planet may have been seeded by space aliens. Even those evolutionists who reject Dawkins’ faith in extraterrestrial life have a belief system of their own; namely, that intelligent life somehow evolved capriciously and accidentally from inorganic matter, even though the possibility of complex organisms evolving without guidance is mathematically nearly impossible.

Julian Huxley, who stemmed from the world’s most famous family of evolutionary proponents, described the probability of the evolution of a horse thus: “A proportion of favorable mutations of one-ina- thousand does not sound much, but is probably generous... and a total of a million mutational steps sounds a great deal, but is probably an understatement....With this proportion, we should clearly have to breed a million strains (a thousand squared) to get one containing two favorable mutations, and so on, up to a thousand to the millionth power to get one containing a million.... No one would bet on anything so improbable happening...and yet it has happened!” 

Yes, even men of science can believe things that can be construed as highly irrational.

NOW, DO believe that Joseph Smith found ancient tablets written in reformed Egyptian in upstate New York, that Jesus Christ appeared to the people of South America as recorded in the book of Mormon, or that when a Mormon dies he becomes a god and gets his own planet? No. Respectfully, I do not. Nor should it matter. It is what a person does, rather than what they believe, that counts. It took four years for the Dalai Lama to be identified as the reincarnation of his predecessor in a process that to Western eyes can appear highly arbitrary. Yet, the Dalai Lama remains one of the most respected men alive because of his commitment to world peace and good works.

Misguided attacks on groups like the Mormons stem from a willful desire on the part of many to fraudulently identify people with a different faith system as fanatics. Therefore, a brief discussion of religious fundamentalism is in order.

The most confusing story of the Bible involves God’s commandment to Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. What was the God who would later declare that all human, and especially child sacrifice, to be an abomination, thinking?

The most insightful commentary I have seen on this story comes from the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, who said that the key to the story is to see Isaac not as an individual but as a religion. Who was Isaac? He was Judaism. He was the person who would continue Abraham’s belief system. With his death, everything that Abraham had taught in terms of his rejection of paganism and the belief in one God would be lost.

The test, therefore, was this: would Abraham follow God’s commandment to kill off his religion or would he put his religion before God’s will? What really mattered to Abraham? God, or Judaism? And if they were to be put in conflict, what would he choose? The religious fanatic is the man or woman who has ceased to serve God and instead worships his or her religion, turning their faith into yet another false idol. Religion is solely the means by which by which we come to have a relationship with our Creator. But when it becomes a substitute for God it becomes soulless and fanatical, seeing as there is no loving deity to temper it.

In this light we can understand why an Islamic fundamentalist is so deadly, prepared even to go against God’s express commandment not to murder. He is prepared to kill not in order to strike a blow for the glory of God, but of Islam.

Hence, our concern need not be with a person’s faith in public office. It does not matter if they are Jewish, evangelical, Mormon, or Muslim. What does matter is whether their faith is focused on relating to God and, by extension, caring for God’s children. Do they see the purpose of their high station being to promote their particular religion? 

It is easy to identify the difference. People who are in a relationship with God are humble and do their utmost to refrain from judging others. Their proximity to a Perfect Being reminds them of their own fallibility, and their experience of God’s compassion leads them to be merciful and loving.

In contrast, those who worship a religion are arrogant and think they have the only truth. They are dismissive of other people’s beliefs and maintain that advancing the cause of their religion is more important than life itself. The Israeli rabbi who recently made the strange comment that soldiers should choose a firing squad rather than listen to a woman sing is a classic example of this heresy.
Those who worship religion evince the classic characteristic of cult members. Whereas a real faith system is empowering and makes one strong and capable of operating outside their own faith community, cult members can only identify with other members of their group and require the environment of the cult in order to function. They don’t have beliefs. Rather, they take orders.

I see none of these characteristics in Mitt Romney or Jon Huntsman – who graciously hosted me along with my guest Elie Wiesel at the governor’s mansion in Utah a few years back – or any of my countless other Mormon friends. All should be judged on their merits as people and politicians, whatever their faith and whatever their beliefs.

The writer has just published of Ten Conversations You Need to Have with Yourself, (Wiley), and will shortly publish Kosher Jesus. Follow him on his website and on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

For all those who don't understand ENGLISH, this is a pretty funny, short video about English Accents:

Friday, May 20, 2011

'B+' on democracy, 'D'- on Israel-Arab conflict

Truth is there's something for everyone in President Obama's MidEast speech: support for reform, commitment to Israel, Palestinian state, opposition to Iran & Syria.

But at base two things must be recognized: They're beginning to understand democracy; they still don't understand the Arab-Israeli conflict.

First, the Obama administration understands the issues relating to the desire for freedom in the Middle East, including the dangers - and should get credit for supporting and promoting democracy and reform in the region. Obama has started to talk the talk - not only applauding, but demanding that regimes in power, including Syria and Iran, stop killing their people and start responding to the legitimate demands of the governed. And walking the walk - in steps, and a bit late, but still important - by giving massive aid ($2 billion in funds and debt-forgiveness to Egypt alone!). What a message to the protesters in Syria and Yemen (and Gaza and Iran): overthrow your governments and not only will you be free, we (the West) will help you financially. That's worth an A. Telling Syria to stop repressing its people, and voicing support for all those struggling for freedom everywhere, is worth an A+.

His verbal support for 'universal' freedoms is important; but he needs to be more pro-active, and his call for 'reform' in Syrian and insistence on respect for 'universal rights' in Iran, were weak and passive. And the fact that he didn't even mention Saudi Arabia or Jordan or Lebanon is irresponsible and short-sighted. For all this, he deserves a B-. So put together: B+

Second, it's clear the Obama administration still doesn't get the Arab-Israeli conflict. They're learning - not only history and law, but the importance of nuance and language - and Obama's references to Israel as a Jewish State and national homeland for the Jewish people, to Hamas and its rejection of Israel, and to Palestinian (and others') efforts to delegitimize Israel, are important landmarks demonstrating this. President Obama would get an A for this. And his little-noticed reference to the Palestinians 'walking away from negotiations', thereby signalling that he recognizes, and holds them accountable, that they have made excuses for refusing to return to talks, is worthy of an A+.

And while many are suggesting that his reference to '1967 lines' is problematic, I somewhat disagree, and rather agree with Jeffrey Goldberg that there's little new here; as a 'basis' this has been understood for decades, and the words 'with agreed swaps' is code for negotiating the towns and neighborhoods which the Bush letter acknowledged - and all negotiations as well - are realities on the ground' which will be under Israeli sovereignty in the end. I could tweak the sentences to better reflect reality, and/or Israeli preferences, but that's not the point. And none of this, nor the below, has any bearing on whether one supports immediate withdrawal from the disputed territories (Judea/Samaria, the "West Bank") or eternal Jewish control of them; this is not about politics, this is about logic, history, law and morality.

No, my main and significant disappointment with President Obama's speech, and the reason I note they still don't understand the conflict, is the framing he sets, and the suggestions he offers as next steps.

As so many do - wrongly, based on a combination of visceral support for the 'underdog', mis-reading of history, politically-led misunderstanding of international law, and mostly the success of Palestinian propaganda permeating public discourse - Obama views "the occupation' as the primary obstacle to peace in the Middle East, and that Israel is 'in the wrong' at base, and his speech repeatedly reflects this, from references to Palestinian suffering to territory to effects on other countries in the region. He remains captive to the idea that this conflict is a border conflict, rather than a national conflict where one nation - the Arab nation and Palestinians in particular object to and refuse to accept the existence of the Jewish nation in this land.

But more, Obama opined that starting with borders and security, we could move on to what he called "emotional" issues, Jerusalem and refugees. Here too he misstepped, not recognizing Israel's absolute right to Jerusalem (under law* and history, not as a 'pro-Israel' stance), and not calling clearly for Palestinian refugees to return only to a Palestinian state. And moreover, he could have used this platform both to note the fundamental responsibility of the Arab world FOR those refugees, and to recognize the similar number of Jewish refugees from Arab lands (who have never been compensated nor recognized, but rather were simply absorbed into their country as so many millions of other refugees were over the past half-century).

All this deserves at least a C.

But here's the rub: he didn't even mention, let alone focus on, the real primary obstacle to peace in the Middle East, the continual rejection of any Jewish connection to this land, and hence of the establishment of the Jewish State of Israel, by a century of Arab, Muslim, and then Palestinian leaders. This is what makes this a national conflict, not a simple border dispute; this is where the Obama administration once again has flunked the class.

Obama himself said, " people -– not just one or two leaders -- must believe peace is possible." But he did not note - nor insist - that Arab leaders, and in particular Palestinian leaders, have continually taught their people that peace is not only not possible, but not desirable with Israel and the Jews. In fact, instead, he repeated the old mantra (and not very strongly at that) that Hamas (or Hizbollah, or Al Quaida, take your pick) are the bad guys, rejecting Israel's existence, instead of boldly demanding of Palestinian and all Arab leaders to finally accept Israel, as a Jewish state, and to cease attacking Israel and the Jews not only with missiles and bombs and threats of destruction but with textbooks and speeches and TV shows and statues dedicated to 'heroic martyr' terrorists.

This is not propaganda; had Obama and his advisors taken the time to notice, the events of Sunday underscore this very fact. Demonstrations on May 15, the date of Israel's founding, commemorated/mourned by Arabs (Palestinian and other) as "the Catastrophe", were organized throughout the region. These are not against 'the occupation'. (Were they so, they would be held on June 4 or 6, ie. commemorating Israel's advance into the territories.) In fact, in the disputed territories and Palestinian Authority (Judea/Samaria, the "West Bank") protests were decidedly muted - as most Palestinians living in the territories are aware that they are on their way to establishing a State there, are ready to live with Israel in peace, and are interested in protesting mainly against their own corrupt and authoritarian leaders. The demonstrations which made the news (and in which people were injured and killed, mostly by Lebanese forces it turns out) were on the borders of Israel, not in the "occupied" areas - and the calls were for Israel's destruction, not withdrawal from the territories.

President Obama does get that in a non-democracy, leaders focus on an external enemy to justify their own repression - he referred to Arabs' criticism of Israel being their only 'free speech'. He just doesn't get that this focus on Israel and the Jews as being responsible not only for all Palestinian suffering but for all the ills of the region (and often the world) is coordinated and propagated and allowed by all Arab and Muslim regimes, to a greater or lesser degree, and not at all least by the Fatah 'moderate' leadership of the PLO and PA. And he doesn't get that this - and nothing Israel actually does, even when it makes mistakes - is the real thing preventing peace and reconciliation in the Middle East.

This is the crux of the matter; these are the facts, and they are not disputed at all by the majority of Arabs and Muslims and especially their leaders, with a few enlightened and courageous exceptions. The Obama administration doesn't get it; they deserve an F, and to be kicked out of the class.

Had the Obama administration understood this, they could and would never focus on 'borders and security' as the first steps in any potential renewal of the 'peace process'. Nor would they ignore the demands of the quartet for Hamas to recognize Israel, renounce terror, and abide by earlier agreements - none of which Obama mentioned. Referring to Hamas, while ignoring the evidence that Fatah and Hamas (and the rest of the Arab world's leaders) are different only in style and degree, he says Palestinians have to find a 'credible answer' to the question "How can one negotiate with a party that has shown itself unwilling to recognize your right to exist?" But he offered no demand for what that answer is, which goes directly to the heart of the matter. You can't; America wouldn't; Israel won't, either.

The larger picture is still clear: Israel has negotiated, and continues to call for a return to talks, with those Palestinians who at the very least make the pretense of accepting our right to be here and renouncing violence, and who at least seem to be more interested in creating their own state than destroying ours.

Unfortunately, even a 'peace agreement' and the establishment of a Palestinian state in most of the disputed territories, won't bring real peace to our region; only leaders and people in the Muslim and Arab world who truly want peace, and not merely a pause in the centuries-old war against the Jews, can make that happen.

If the Obama team wants to really help bring peace to this area, they have a great deal of homework to do. Otherwise, they're receiving a D-, and are pretty close to failing the class.


*Professor, Judge Schwebel, former president of the International Court of Justice in the Hague writing inWhat Weight to Conquest [1994]:

"(a) a state [Israel] acting in lawful exercise of its right of self-defense may seize and occupy foreign territory as long as such seizure and occupation are necessary to its self-defense;

"(b) as a condition of its withdrawal from such territory, that State may require the institution of security measures reasonably designed to ensure that that territory shall not again be used to mount a threat or use of force against it of such a nature as to justify exercise of self-defense;

"(c) Where the prior holder of territory had seized that territory unlawfully [Jordan], the state which subsequently takes that territory in the lawful exercise of self-defense [Israel] has, against that prior holder, better title."

"As between Israel, acting defensively in 1948 and 1967, on the one hand, and her Arab neighbors, acting aggressively, in 1948 and 1967, on the other, Israel has the better title in the territory of what was Palestine, including the whole of Jerusalem."

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