Commentary Magazine


Topic: Passover

Anti-Semitism and False Moral Equivalence

Yossi Klein Halevi is an admirable Israeli thinker, writer, and Jew, who recently authored Like Dreamers, a terrific book about Israel. I don’t know much about Imam Abdullah Antepli, the Muslim chaplain at Duke University, except that Mr. Halevi counts him as a “beloved friend,” so I therefore trust that he is admirable as well.

That is why it is puzzling that Halevi and Antepli jointly posted an article last week entitled “What Muslims and Jews should learn from Brandeis,” on The Times of Israel blog. In their piece, they extol Brandeis and its president for rescinding the offer of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, whom they call a Muslim “renegade.” Halevi and Antepli claim that Brandeis’s president provided Muslims and Jews with an “essential teaching moment,” inasmuch as “one of the ugliest expressions of the antipathy between Muslims and Jews is the tendency within both communities to promote each other’s renegades.” 

This is preposterous. Given the tsunami of anti-Semitism propagated by Muslims all over the world, whether through Jewish “renegades” or otherwise, the moral equivalence the authors posit could not be more misplaced. And this, in an article published just a few days after one of the latest “expressions of antipathy”–the terrorist murder of an Israeli Jew while he was driving his wife and children to a Passover seder.

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Yossi Klein Halevi is an admirable Israeli thinker, writer, and Jew, who recently authored Like Dreamers, a terrific book about Israel. I don’t know much about Imam Abdullah Antepli, the Muslim chaplain at Duke University, except that Mr. Halevi counts him as a “beloved friend,” so I therefore trust that he is admirable as well.

That is why it is puzzling that Halevi and Antepli jointly posted an article last week entitled “What Muslims and Jews should learn from Brandeis,” on The Times of Israel blog. In their piece, they extol Brandeis and its president for rescinding the offer of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, whom they call a Muslim “renegade.” Halevi and Antepli claim that Brandeis’s president provided Muslims and Jews with an “essential teaching moment,” inasmuch as “one of the ugliest expressions of the antipathy between Muslims and Jews is the tendency within both communities to promote each other’s renegades.” 

This is preposterous. Given the tsunami of anti-Semitism propagated by Muslims all over the world, whether through Jewish “renegades” or otherwise, the moral equivalence the authors posit could not be more misplaced. And this, in an article published just a few days after one of the latest “expressions of antipathy”–the terrorist murder of an Israeli Jew while he was driving his wife and children to a Passover seder.

To be sure, Halevi and Antepli disingenuously acknowledge, in passing, that the Muslim assault on Jews is “hardly comparable” to what they call the “public campaign in America by some Jews to discredit Islam.” That could and should have been the point of any intellectually and factually responsible piece on the subject. Instead, the entire point of Halevi and Antepli’s piece, beginning with its title, is precisely to compare the two. 

Moreover, calling Ms. Ali a Muslim “renegade” on a par with Jewish “renegades” is an equally false moral equivalence. Halevi and Antepli surely know Ms. Ali’s history. She was genitally mutilated at age 5; she would have been forced into a marriage had she not escaped eventually to Europe; her film-making colleague was stabbed to death in the Netherlands; she is continually threatened with her own murder–all in the name of Islam–and she has heroically devoted her life to trying to stop these kinds of outrages. That’s why she deserves to be honored, and that’s why it was cowardly for Brandeis to withdraw her honor. Are there Jewish renegades with anywhere close to a comparable history? Of course not. To omit these facts is disingenuous at best. 

In any event, for Halevi and Antepli to focus on what they claim is Muslim sensitivity to Ms. Ali’s statements supposedly “demonizing Islam”–statements that, as Ms. Ali says, her detractors take out of context–instead of the outrages that, as anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear knows she is trying to stop, is disgraceful. Given who she is and what she has gone through and what in totality she says, would Brandeis’s honoring her really have sent a message of “contempt” to Muslims, as Halevi and Antepli claim, or would it instead have sent a message of support to those millions oppressed in and by Muslim countries? And as long as we’re comparing, it is impossible to imagine that Halevi and Antepli believe that, as she is accused of advocating, Ms. Ali or anyone else will succeed in destroying Islam–the religion, as they say, of over a billion believers (who, according to them, are exquisitely sensitive to what one woman says); on the other hand, it’s unfortunately not too hard to imagine that, heaven forbid, Israel and thus Judaism itself could be destroyed.

To be worth anything, “civil dialogue” and “profound discussion,” as Halevi and Antepli say they want, must be based on the truth, and truth is absent from their piece.

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Passover in Fiction

Passover starts in an hour or two. Jewish families everywhere will arrange the seder plate, turn down the heat on the matzah-ball soup, and set a Haggadah in front of each seat — more likely than not, the Maxwell House Haggadah. Ever since Abraham Cahan described the holiday as a “feast and a family renuion which form the greatest event in the domestic life of our people,” Passover has been a fixture on the American Jewish literary calendar.

The theologian and novelist Arthur A. Cohen explains why in The Tremendum (1993), his book on the Holocaust:

The Passover Haggadah commands that every Jew consider himself as though he had gone forth in exodus from Egypt. The grammatical authority of of the Haggadah makes clear that this is no metaphor, whatever our wish to make apodictic language metaphoric. The authority is clear: I was really, even if not literally, present in Egypt and really, if not literally, present at Sinai. God contemplated my virtual presence then, thirty-odd centuries ago. The fact that history could not prevision and entail my presence is irrelevant.

Cohen goes on to argue that what is true for Sinai is true a fortiori for “the death camps,” and perhaps that is so: but the literary and moral imperative derives from Passover. Jewish fiction adopts this apodictic mandate. For it places the reader at far-flung and distant events of Jewish life — really, if not literally.

Cahan explicitly invokes the grammatical authority of the Haggadah in his novel The Rise of David Levinsky (1917). The Yiddish poet Tevkin, although a “free-thinker since his early manhood,” celebrates Passover every year as an expression of his Zionism. Raising the first glass of wine, he tells his children (who are treating the seder as a joke) that “Scenes like this bind us to the Jews of the whole world, and not only to those living, but to the past generations as well.”

Cahan’s poet insists that the seder is not a “religious ceremony” but a “national custom.” Over the years, however, the significance has deepened for him. “He was bent upon having a Passover feast service precisely like the one he had seen his father conduct,” the book’s narrator observes, “not omitting even the white shroud” — the kittel worn by the master of the seder for at least ten different reasons. “Father looks like a Catholic priest,” his Communist son cries. Undaunted, Tevkin lowers the first glass of wine and says: “This is the Fourth of July of our unhappy people.” At the end of the seder, Eastern European Jews used to shout “Next year in America!” instead of “Next year in Jerusalem!” In The Rise of David Levinsky, the next year has come.

Allusions to Passover are not uncommon in American Jewish fiction — David Schearl learns the words to Had Gadya, one of the seder’s concluding songs, in Call It Sleep (he is his parents’ “one little goat”), Augie is caught by the gangsters he tried to double-cross just as the synagogues are letting out on the first night of Passover in The Adventures of Augie March (“I was not permitted to pass by,” he remarks), Frank Alpine makes atonement for robbing Morris Bober’s store in The Assistant (“After Passover he became a Jew,” the novel concludes) — but full-length seders are fairly rare.

“Passover has always been my favorite holiday,” says the narrator of Isaac Rosenfeld’s novel Passage from Home (1946). The reason Bernard likes it so much is that he gets to drink four cups of wine — “and it was to wine, rather than the history of my people,” he says, “that I owed my sense of reverence.”

The day before Passover, “when the house was undergoing the annual cleaning in preparation for the feast,” Cousin Willy comes to visit. Strictly speaking, Willy is not really a cousin; even more strictly, he is not even a Jew. He is a “hillbilly” from Tennessee; he had been a “miner, a newspaperman, a sailor, and had seen the world.” He and Bernard are fast friends. Willy slips him extra cups of wine.

“The first of the ‘four questions’ asks why this night of Passover differs from all other nights of the year,” Bernard says. But the real question was: “how did this Passover differ from all other Passovers of all other years?” The Haggadah furnishes a “lengthy answer” to the first question. Bernard’s answer to the second is shorter: at ten years of age, he gets drunk for the first time. In the middle of the seder, he rises unsteadily to his feet and tries to explain the true meaning of the holiday, but the words spill out “thick and silly, ending in a laugh.” Many years later, apparently writing an autobiographical novel, he recalls the moment as the beginning of his life as a sensualist:

[I]t occurred to me that this holiday, which we celebrated in such worldly fashion with chopped liver and gefülte fish and chicken soup floating a thick scum of yellow fat, the droplets winking like the glass grapes — even the matzoh had such a lively, freckled brown face — this holiday, I suddenly felt, was something my family could not understand, a celebration not even of this earth, its meaning lying beyond the particular individual. . . . It was an event only I could understand.

For Rosenfeld, in short, the holiday commemorates both a personal deliverance and the acceptance of a literary rather than a religious obligation: to tell the story of the young American intellectual, “sensitive as a burn,” whose independence from Jewish tradition is narrated in language deeply embedded within the tradition.

I am going to pass over in silence the wacky 65-page interfaith seder in Michael Chabon’s Wonder Boys (1995), because I have treated it at length elsewhere, in order to conclude with a writer I much prefer. Dara Horn’s third novel, All Other Nights (2009), may be the first American novel to acquire its theme and structure from Passover.

Horn’s title comes from the first of the four questions — the same question Isaac Rosenfeld turned back onto himself. Horn turns the question back onto history. Her novel, the story of a Jewish spy in the Confederacy during the Civil War, finds the place where Jewish history and American history are knotted together — namely, in the experience of slavery.

Jacob Rappaport begins his career as a spy at a Passover seder in New Orleans. Every moment of the service has a double meaning for him. The meal is served by slaves while Southern Jews “sang the Hebrew hymns thanking God for freeing them from bondage.” His host, a Confederate patriot, recites the imperative passage: “In every generation . . . each person is obligated to see himself as if he personally had come out of Egypt.” The Southerners around the seder table smile and nod, confident they will soon “come out of” bondage to the North. “Pour out Thy wrath on the nations that do not know Thee,” Jacob’s host drawls slowly, drawing out the words with passion. To which the assembled company responds: “Death to the Union! Death to Lincoln!”

In every generation, Horn implies, the imperative of freedom must be followed, because in every generation, the Jews must free themselves again — from their ignorance of their own religion, from their dependence upon other people’s thinking, from the mental slavery that holds them in irons. Next year in America! Next year in Jerusalem! Hag kasher v’sameyah!

Passover starts in an hour or two. Jewish families everywhere will arrange the seder plate, turn down the heat on the matzah-ball soup, and set a Haggadah in front of each seat — more likely than not, the Maxwell House Haggadah. Ever since Abraham Cahan described the holiday as a “feast and a family renuion which form the greatest event in the domestic life of our people,” Passover has been a fixture on the American Jewish literary calendar.

The theologian and novelist Arthur A. Cohen explains why in The Tremendum (1993), his book on the Holocaust:

The Passover Haggadah commands that every Jew consider himself as though he had gone forth in exodus from Egypt. The grammatical authority of of the Haggadah makes clear that this is no metaphor, whatever our wish to make apodictic language metaphoric. The authority is clear: I was really, even if not literally, present in Egypt and really, if not literally, present at Sinai. God contemplated my virtual presence then, thirty-odd centuries ago. The fact that history could not prevision and entail my presence is irrelevant.

Cohen goes on to argue that what is true for Sinai is true a fortiori for “the death camps,” and perhaps that is so: but the literary and moral imperative derives from Passover. Jewish fiction adopts this apodictic mandate. For it places the reader at far-flung and distant events of Jewish life — really, if not literally.

Cahan explicitly invokes the grammatical authority of the Haggadah in his novel The Rise of David Levinsky (1917). The Yiddish poet Tevkin, although a “free-thinker since his early manhood,” celebrates Passover every year as an expression of his Zionism. Raising the first glass of wine, he tells his children (who are treating the seder as a joke) that “Scenes like this bind us to the Jews of the whole world, and not only to those living, but to the past generations as well.”

Cahan’s poet insists that the seder is not a “religious ceremony” but a “national custom.” Over the years, however, the significance has deepened for him. “He was bent upon having a Passover feast service precisely like the one he had seen his father conduct,” the book’s narrator observes, “not omitting even the white shroud” — the kittel worn by the master of the seder for at least ten different reasons. “Father looks like a Catholic priest,” his Communist son cries. Undaunted, Tevkin lowers the first glass of wine and says: “This is the Fourth of July of our unhappy people.” At the end of the seder, Eastern European Jews used to shout “Next year in America!” instead of “Next year in Jerusalem!” In The Rise of David Levinsky, the next year has come.

Allusions to Passover are not uncommon in American Jewish fiction — David Schearl learns the words to Had Gadya, one of the seder’s concluding songs, in Call It Sleep (he is his parents’ “one little goat”), Augie is caught by the gangsters he tried to double-cross just as the synagogues are letting out on the first night of Passover in The Adventures of Augie March (“I was not permitted to pass by,” he remarks), Frank Alpine makes atonement for robbing Morris Bober’s store in The Assistant (“After Passover he became a Jew,” the novel concludes) — but full-length seders are fairly rare.

“Passover has always been my favorite holiday,” says the narrator of Isaac Rosenfeld’s novel Passage from Home (1946). The reason Bernard likes it so much is that he gets to drink four cups of wine — “and it was to wine, rather than the history of my people,” he says, “that I owed my sense of reverence.”

The day before Passover, “when the house was undergoing the annual cleaning in preparation for the feast,” Cousin Willy comes to visit. Strictly speaking, Willy is not really a cousin; even more strictly, he is not even a Jew. He is a “hillbilly” from Tennessee; he had been a “miner, a newspaperman, a sailor, and had seen the world.” He and Bernard are fast friends. Willy slips him extra cups of wine.

“The first of the ‘four questions’ asks why this night of Passover differs from all other nights of the year,” Bernard says. But the real question was: “how did this Passover differ from all other Passovers of all other years?” The Haggadah furnishes a “lengthy answer” to the first question. Bernard’s answer to the second is shorter: at ten years of age, he gets drunk for the first time. In the middle of the seder, he rises unsteadily to his feet and tries to explain the true meaning of the holiday, but the words spill out “thick and silly, ending in a laugh.” Many years later, apparently writing an autobiographical novel, he recalls the moment as the beginning of his life as a sensualist:

[I]t occurred to me that this holiday, which we celebrated in such worldly fashion with chopped liver and gefülte fish and chicken soup floating a thick scum of yellow fat, the droplets winking like the glass grapes — even the matzoh had such a lively, freckled brown face — this holiday, I suddenly felt, was something my family could not understand, a celebration not even of this earth, its meaning lying beyond the particular individual. . . . It was an event only I could understand.

For Rosenfeld, in short, the holiday commemorates both a personal deliverance and the acceptance of a literary rather than a religious obligation: to tell the story of the young American intellectual, “sensitive as a burn,” whose independence from Jewish tradition is narrated in language deeply embedded within the tradition.

I am going to pass over in silence the wacky 65-page interfaith seder in Michael Chabon’s Wonder Boys (1995), because I have treated it at length elsewhere, in order to conclude with a writer I much prefer. Dara Horn’s third novel, All Other Nights (2009), may be the first American novel to acquire its theme and structure from Passover.

Horn’s title comes from the first of the four questions — the same question Isaac Rosenfeld turned back onto himself. Horn turns the question back onto history. Her novel, the story of a Jewish spy in the Confederacy during the Civil War, finds the place where Jewish history and American history are knotted together — namely, in the experience of slavery.

Jacob Rappaport begins his career as a spy at a Passover seder in New Orleans. Every moment of the service has a double meaning for him. The meal is served by slaves while Southern Jews “sang the Hebrew hymns thanking God for freeing them from bondage.” His host, a Confederate patriot, recites the imperative passage: “In every generation . . . each person is obligated to see himself as if he personally had come out of Egypt.” The Southerners around the seder table smile and nod, confident they will soon “come out of” bondage to the North. “Pour out Thy wrath on the nations that do not know Thee,” Jacob’s host drawls slowly, drawing out the words with passion. To which the assembled company responds: “Death to the Union! Death to Lincoln!”

In every generation, Horn implies, the imperative of freedom must be followed, because in every generation, the Jews must free themselves again — from their ignorance of their own religion, from their dependence upon other people’s thinking, from the mental slavery that holds them in irons. Next year in America! Next year in Jerusalem! Hag kasher v’sameyah!

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“Peace” Group Promotes Anti-Semitic Passover Seder

As I wrote earlier, there is a disreputable modern American Jewish tradition of attempting to use Jewish liturgy and especially the Passover seder as an excuse to promote non-Jewish political issues. When Arthur Waskow created his “Freedom Seder” to make the holiday about American civil rights rather than the Exodus one could at least say it was an attempt to use Judaism to promote a good cause rather than a bad one. Other such attempts to make Haggadahs about immigration, the Labor movement or any other left-wing cause are less defensible. And using Passover to play partisan politics is simply pathetic. But the anti-Zionist group Jewish Voices for Peace (JVP) has now gone completely beyond the pale with a new version of Passover in which Israel is transformed into Egypt and the Palestinians have become the Jews.

This Haggadah, which was brought to our attention by the Anti-Defamation League, isn’t merely an expression of dissent against the policies of the Israeli government about which Israelis and Americans may differ. By appropriating the symbolism of the Festival of Freedom to promote a cause whose purpose is to deny the Jewish people their rights and liberty, the group is committing an act of spiritual vandalism. Identifying Israel with Pharaoh and Egyptians is an effort at delegitimization that crosses the boundary from bad taste to anti-Semitic invective.

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As I wrote earlier, there is a disreputable modern American Jewish tradition of attempting to use Jewish liturgy and especially the Passover seder as an excuse to promote non-Jewish political issues. When Arthur Waskow created his “Freedom Seder” to make the holiday about American civil rights rather than the Exodus one could at least say it was an attempt to use Judaism to promote a good cause rather than a bad one. Other such attempts to make Haggadahs about immigration, the Labor movement or any other left-wing cause are less defensible. And using Passover to play partisan politics is simply pathetic. But the anti-Zionist group Jewish Voices for Peace (JVP) has now gone completely beyond the pale with a new version of Passover in which Israel is transformed into Egypt and the Palestinians have become the Jews.

This Haggadah, which was brought to our attention by the Anti-Defamation League, isn’t merely an expression of dissent against the policies of the Israeli government about which Israelis and Americans may differ. By appropriating the symbolism of the Festival of Freedom to promote a cause whose purpose is to deny the Jewish people their rights and liberty, the group is committing an act of spiritual vandalism. Identifying Israel with Pharaoh and Egyptians is an effort at delegitimization that crosses the boundary from bad taste to anti-Semitic invective.

The point of this seder is to demonize Israel and Zionism. Though Passover is fundamentally a celebration of the national liberation of the Jewish people, the JVP seder is one in which only the Palestinians have rights and seeks to brand the return of the Jews to their homeland and the creation of their state into an act comparable to the enslavement of the Jews. It even urges Jews to add an olive to their Passover plates along with the traditional symbols as an expression of solidarity with the Palestinians and “an invitation for Jewish communities to become allies to Palestinian liberation struggles.” The authors are apparently so imbued with hatred for Israel that they ignore the fact that those “struggles” have mainly consisted of violent attempts to eradicate the national existence of the Jews.

In this parody of a Haggadah, the ten plagues are represented as Israeli actions and the bitter herbs that Jews eat to remember slavery are used instead to speak of the bitterness of Palestinian existence. Even more egregious is the l’chayim(toast) over the traditional cups of wine to BDS — the economic war on Israel which seeks to boycott, isolate and sanction the Jewish state — and the traditional breaking of the middle matzah which to the JVP symbolizes the destructive impact of Israel’s creation.

To single out the Jewish state for denial of rights in a way that no other country would be treated is an expression of prejudice. One of the standard tropes of anti-Semites is to try and paint Jews as the mirror image of their oppressors. Calling Israelis Nazis is a commonplace slur, but for Passover, the JVP has made them Egyptians and attempted to transform one of the sacred rites of Judaism into a vicious exercise in Israel-bashing.

In doing so, JVP has demonstrated that it has no place within the organized Jewish community or among the society of decent Americans. Their desire to wage economic war on Israel already places them outside the boundaries of normal political dissent. But their compendium of Passover-themed slurs is an act so despicable that it merits their being shunned the same way we would any other hate group.

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Dems Turn Passover Into Obama Worship

One of the most disturbing aspects of modern American Jewish life is the almost obsessive desire of many Jews to universalize every aspect of Jewish belief while downplaying the original meanings of customs and ritual. Leftist Rabbi Arthur Waskow help set this in motion decades ago with his “Freedom Seder” in which he hijacked the Haggadah recited by Jews on Passover to promote other causes. Since then, transposing the seder in order to morph the Jewish holiday that celebrates the freedom of the Jewish people into something that has nothing to do with the Jews and Judaism has become so commonplace it is something of a cliché.

This year, there are more egregious examples of this trend. The National Jewish Democratic Council has published a new version of the “Four Questions” from the Haggadah that is a paean, not to the liberation of the Jews from Egypt, but to the wonders of Barack Obama, to whom the NJDC directs Americans to express thanks rather than their Creator. One need only read the NJDC’s questions to understand their desperation to make up for three years of Israel-bashing by President Obama as well as to get a feel for the attitude of the group toward the president that can only be characterized as worshipful.

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One of the most disturbing aspects of modern American Jewish life is the almost obsessive desire of many Jews to universalize every aspect of Jewish belief while downplaying the original meanings of customs and ritual. Leftist Rabbi Arthur Waskow help set this in motion decades ago with his “Freedom Seder” in which he hijacked the Haggadah recited by Jews on Passover to promote other causes. Since then, transposing the seder in order to morph the Jewish holiday that celebrates the freedom of the Jewish people into something that has nothing to do with the Jews and Judaism has become so commonplace it is something of a cliché.

This year, there are more egregious examples of this trend. The National Jewish Democratic Council has published a new version of the “Four Questions” from the Haggadah that is a paean, not to the liberation of the Jews from Egypt, but to the wonders of Barack Obama, to whom the NJDC directs Americans to express thanks rather than their Creator. One need only read the NJDC’s questions to understand their desperation to make up for three years of Israel-bashing by President Obama as well as to get a feel for the attitude of the group toward the president that can only be characterized as worshipful.

The president’s shaky record on Israel — which was made all too clear by the constant fights and sniping against the Jewish state that only abated once his re-election campaign began — has made it imperative for Democrats to pretend as if the administration’s stands on Jerusalem, the 1967 borders and years of failed engagement with Iran never happened. They can rightly claim he has not trashed the alliance with Israel and has even done the right thing at the United Nations and continued to fund programs begun under his predecessor like the Iron Dome missile defense system (which Obama falsely claims credit for initiating). He has also said all the right things about stopping Iran’s nuclear threat though his actions (and a series of insidious leaks from his staffers) have demonstrated that he is more concerned about stopping Israel from defending itself than actually doing something about Iran.

The NJDC’s questions also attempt to use Passover to promote their party’s stands on ObamaCare and the defense of entitlement spending that is bankrupting the nation. There is nothing wrong with Democrats taking those positions if that’s what they believe, but the attempt to link these partisan stands on divisive issues — about which Jews as well as non-Jews can disagree — with Judaism is absurd.

An old joke about Reform Judaism had it that the movement’s concept of the faith was merely the Democratic Party Platform with holidays thrown in. As unfair as such a characterization was, it appears the NJDC wants to go it one better by attempting to transform Jewish holidays into partisan talking points. Such things show no respect for Judaism by trivializing the Exodus as merely an excuse for political rhetoric.

Passover is the occasion for Jews to remember their liberation from Egypt and to embrace not only the gift of freedom but also the ability to worship God and His laws as a people. While seders are appropriate moments to remember those in need as well as other Jewish communities — such as that in Israel — which are assailed by foes, it is not the time to be delivering obsequious paeans to American politicians, no matter which party they belong to. That sort of absurd distortion of the festival of freedom bears a closer resemblance to idol worship than it does to Judaism.

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The Miracle of Modern Jewish Experience

News about the Jews these days is dominated (for good reason) by negatives. Their homeland is threatened by an Islamist regime in Iran that openly seeks its destruction while rushing to acquire the means to do the job. Meanwhile, their other great population center in the United States slowly withers, lacking the confidence or will to do much about it.

Yet it’s worth taking a step back to wonder at the many miracles of contemporary Jewish life. A video posted recently by Warren Goldstein, the chief rabbi of South Africa, is an opportunity to do just that.

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News about the Jews these days is dominated (for good reason) by negatives. Their homeland is threatened by an Islamist regime in Iran that openly seeks its destruction while rushing to acquire the means to do the job. Meanwhile, their other great population center in the United States slowly withers, lacking the confidence or will to do much about it.

Yet it’s worth taking a step back to wonder at the many miracles of contemporary Jewish life. A video posted recently by Warren Goldstein, the chief rabbi of South Africa, is an opportunity to do just that.

Goldstein begins the video by quoting Yaakov Emden, an 18th century German rabbi, who wrote in a siddur he published that he considered the simple existence of the Jewish people in his own day a greater miracle than all those performed by God in the Exodus from Egypt. Why? Because the continued survival of a people thousands of years following its dispersion from its homeland and persecuted across the globe was a historical fact without precedent.

Emden lived in the period of the aftermath of the rise and fall of Shabbetai Tzvi, who for a brief period in the 17th century was hailed – likely by a majority of the world’s Jews – as the messiah. His ultimate forced conversion to Islam forced most of his many followers to reassess his significance, the entire episode representing perhaps the greatest collective spiritual crisis in Jewish history. The affair rose not long after (and was likely, as drawn immortally in Isaac Bashevis Singer’s first novel Satan in Goray, influenced by) the Chmielnicki Massacre, a series of pogroms accompanying a nationalist uprising in the Ukraine that killed as many as 100,000 Jews and that stood, for 300 years, as the greatest collective murder of Jews in Europe.

Emden, in other words, had immediate reasons for feeling satisfied solely by continued Jewish survival.

As Goldstein notes, we today have our own reasons and many more of them. We are the generation that has merited to see the Jewish state reborn in the Land of Israel, and to watch it flourish culturally, economically, and scientifically in ways past counting. So too in an extraordinarily short period of time have we witnessed the explosive rebirth of a world of traditional Jewish learning decimated by the Holocaust.

Many Jews, especially those of the United States, may be put off by an Orthodox feel to the video. That quibble though shouldn’t rightly dissuade anyone from enjoying the video’s celebration of a Jewish era whose heights match any other.

For all the problems, the world today is witness to a perhaps unprecedented flourishing of one of its most ancient peoples. The festival of their original redemption should serve as an inspiration to all.

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RE: Palin and the Blood Libel

As Sarah Palin has just learned, keeping up with the rules about using phrases that are associated with Jewish history is not as simple as it used to be. I was under the impression that the list of phrases that were considered off limits for general consumption was confined more or less to those associated with the Holocaust. Meaning, for instance, that the use of the word “holocaust” should be confined to discussion of events surrounding the genocide of Jews in Europe between 1933 and 1945. But even that stricture has been hard to enforce. Indeed, when an episode of the TV show The X-Files once referred to the mysterious death of amphibians in a lake as a “frog holocaust,” you knew that the word had become more of a metaphor than a specific historical term.

But when it comes to some people, the rules are apparently even more stringent than any of us might have thought. Thus, today Sarah Palin is being widely condemned for using the term “blood libel” when referencing the slanderous suggestions that she is in some way connected to the tragedy in Arizona. According to those who claim that Palin has somehow caused pain to the Jewish people, it is wrong to use that phrase to describe anything other than the false accusation that Jews kidnap and murder Christian children and use their blood to help bake matzoh for Passover. This canard was popularized during the Middle Ages by European Christians and has been revived in recent decades in the Arab world as Jew-hatred has become an unfortunate staple of contemporary Islamic culture.

But the idea that this term cannot be used to describe anything else is something new. Granted, most of the uses of this phrase that come quickly to mind have had Jewish associations. For example, the accusation that right-wing Zionists were behind the murder of Haim Arlosoroff, a Labor Zionist official who was killed on a Tel Aviv beach in 1933, has always been called a “blood libel” by those who believed the failed effort to pin the killing on Labor’s Jewish opposition was a political plot to discredit them. In just the past couple of years, the term “blood libel” has been applied by writers here at COMMENTARY to describe the false charges put forward by Human Rights Watch and the UN Goldstone Commission against Israeli forces fighting Hamas terrorists in Gaza, as well as to the malicious falsehoods published by a Swedish newspaper that claimed Israel was murdering Palestinians and then harvesting their organs for medical use.

So the claim that Palin has crossed some bright line in the sand and “stolen” a phrase that has always and should always be used to describe only one thing is absurd. Like so much else that has been heard from the left in the wake of the shootings in Arizona, this further charge against Sarah Palin is groundless. The fact is, those who are trying to link her or other conservatives to this crime are committing a kind of blood libel. Take issue with her politics or dislike her personality if that is your inclination, but the idea that she has even the most remote connection to this event is outrageous. So, too, is the manufactured controversy over “blood libel.”

As Sarah Palin has just learned, keeping up with the rules about using phrases that are associated with Jewish history is not as simple as it used to be. I was under the impression that the list of phrases that were considered off limits for general consumption was confined more or less to those associated with the Holocaust. Meaning, for instance, that the use of the word “holocaust” should be confined to discussion of events surrounding the genocide of Jews in Europe between 1933 and 1945. But even that stricture has been hard to enforce. Indeed, when an episode of the TV show The X-Files once referred to the mysterious death of amphibians in a lake as a “frog holocaust,” you knew that the word had become more of a metaphor than a specific historical term.

But when it comes to some people, the rules are apparently even more stringent than any of us might have thought. Thus, today Sarah Palin is being widely condemned for using the term “blood libel” when referencing the slanderous suggestions that she is in some way connected to the tragedy in Arizona. According to those who claim that Palin has somehow caused pain to the Jewish people, it is wrong to use that phrase to describe anything other than the false accusation that Jews kidnap and murder Christian children and use their blood to help bake matzoh for Passover. This canard was popularized during the Middle Ages by European Christians and has been revived in recent decades in the Arab world as Jew-hatred has become an unfortunate staple of contemporary Islamic culture.

But the idea that this term cannot be used to describe anything else is something new. Granted, most of the uses of this phrase that come quickly to mind have had Jewish associations. For example, the accusation that right-wing Zionists were behind the murder of Haim Arlosoroff, a Labor Zionist official who was killed on a Tel Aviv beach in 1933, has always been called a “blood libel” by those who believed the failed effort to pin the killing on Labor’s Jewish opposition was a political plot to discredit them. In just the past couple of years, the term “blood libel” has been applied by writers here at COMMENTARY to describe the false charges put forward by Human Rights Watch and the UN Goldstone Commission against Israeli forces fighting Hamas terrorists in Gaza, as well as to the malicious falsehoods published by a Swedish newspaper that claimed Israel was murdering Palestinians and then harvesting their organs for medical use.

So the claim that Palin has crossed some bright line in the sand and “stolen” a phrase that has always and should always be used to describe only one thing is absurd. Like so much else that has been heard from the left in the wake of the shootings in Arizona, this further charge against Sarah Palin is groundless. The fact is, those who are trying to link her or other conservatives to this crime are committing a kind of blood libel. Take issue with her politics or dislike her personality if that is your inclination, but the idea that she has even the most remote connection to this event is outrageous. So, too, is the manufactured controversy over “blood libel.”

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Palin and the Blood Libel

So Sarah Palin said this morning that she and others are the victims of “a blood libel.” This has immediately ignited a controversy over Palin’s words, which is just like the last controversy over Palin’s words, and the controversy over Palin’s words before those: she uses provocative phrasing, her critics scream, and then they scream more loudly, and they scream following each other’s screams, and the phrase is amplified and amplified and amplified, getting a cultural currency it would never have achieved otherwise (“death panels,” “lock and load,” “hopey-changey thing”). The overreaction by her enemies triggers heated defense among her supporters and an ah-shucks tone among those who find her interesting and tend to agree with her views but are uneasy with her loose command of wonky facts and detail.

As for the use of the phrase “blood libel,” it’s perfectly appropriate if taken as two words strung together. We have all, those of us on the right, been accused of having blood on our hands in the wake of this massacre, it is a libel, and it is therefore a blood libel. But “blood libel” is also a term to describe a very specific brand of anti-Semitism. It’s the accusation, born in medieval England, that Jews sought out Christian babies for their blood to use in Passover matzah. It has been repeated and echoed over the centuries, and the term has come to mean, very generally, the evil notion that Jews are killing non-Jews to make use of their corpses in some fashion.

So in the sense that the words “blood” and “libel” in sequence are to be taken solely as referring to this anti-Semitic slander, Palin’s appropriation of it was vulgar and insensitive. I guess. The problem is that I doubt Sarah Palin knew this history, because most people don’t know this history, including most of the anti-Palin hysterics screaming about it on Twitter at this very moment. She used it as shorthand for “false accusation that the right bears responsibility for the blood of the innocent.” She shouldn’t have, though she certainly had no intention of giving offense to those sensitive about it, because it would be an act of lunacy to open that can of worms for no reason.

But here’s the thing. Sarah Palin has become a very important person in the United States. Important people have to speak with great care, because their words matter more than the words of other people. If they are careless, if they are sloppy, if they are lazy about finding the right tone and setting it and holding it, they will cease, after a time, to be important people, because without the discipline necessary to modulate their words, those words will lose their power to do anything but offer a momentary thrill — either pleasurable or infuriating. And then they will just pass on into the ether.

If she doesn’t serious herself up, Palin is on the direct path to irrelevancy. She won’t be the second Ronald Reagan; she’ll be the Republican incarnation of Jesse Jackson.

So Sarah Palin said this morning that she and others are the victims of “a blood libel.” This has immediately ignited a controversy over Palin’s words, which is just like the last controversy over Palin’s words, and the controversy over Palin’s words before those: she uses provocative phrasing, her critics scream, and then they scream more loudly, and they scream following each other’s screams, and the phrase is amplified and amplified and amplified, getting a cultural currency it would never have achieved otherwise (“death panels,” “lock and load,” “hopey-changey thing”). The overreaction by her enemies triggers heated defense among her supporters and an ah-shucks tone among those who find her interesting and tend to agree with her views but are uneasy with her loose command of wonky facts and detail.

As for the use of the phrase “blood libel,” it’s perfectly appropriate if taken as two words strung together. We have all, those of us on the right, been accused of having blood on our hands in the wake of this massacre, it is a libel, and it is therefore a blood libel. But “blood libel” is also a term to describe a very specific brand of anti-Semitism. It’s the accusation, born in medieval England, that Jews sought out Christian babies for their blood to use in Passover matzah. It has been repeated and echoed over the centuries, and the term has come to mean, very generally, the evil notion that Jews are killing non-Jews to make use of their corpses in some fashion.

So in the sense that the words “blood” and “libel” in sequence are to be taken solely as referring to this anti-Semitic slander, Palin’s appropriation of it was vulgar and insensitive. I guess. The problem is that I doubt Sarah Palin knew this history, because most people don’t know this history, including most of the anti-Palin hysterics screaming about it on Twitter at this very moment. She used it as shorthand for “false accusation that the right bears responsibility for the blood of the innocent.” She shouldn’t have, though she certainly had no intention of giving offense to those sensitive about it, because it would be an act of lunacy to open that can of worms for no reason.

But here’s the thing. Sarah Palin has become a very important person in the United States. Important people have to speak with great care, because their words matter more than the words of other people. If they are careless, if they are sloppy, if they are lazy about finding the right tone and setting it and holding it, they will cease, after a time, to be important people, because without the discipline necessary to modulate their words, those words will lose their power to do anything but offer a momentary thrill — either pleasurable or infuriating. And then they will just pass on into the ether.

If she doesn’t serious herself up, Palin is on the direct path to irrelevancy. She won’t be the second Ronald Reagan; she’ll be the Republican incarnation of Jesse Jackson.

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Capturing the Imagination of the World

Barack Obama’s description of the barbaric butchering of Daniel Pearl — “one of those moments that captured the world’s imagination because it reminded us of how valuable a free press is” — represents, as Mark Steyn writes, a remarkably fatuous statement.

Pearl was beheaded by the architect of 9/11, on video, immediately after he pronounced himself an American Jew. No one watching it was reminded of how valuable a free press is; nor did it capture anyone’s imagination, other than that of the jihadists who downloaded it to congratulate themselves, re-energize their efforts, and recruit others. It came five months after jihadists flew two aircraft into the World Trade Center, murdering 3,000 people, and two months before a jihadist murdered another 30 people (the demographic equivalent of 1,350 people in a country the size of Israel) during a Passover seder at the Park Hotel in Netanya. These were not moments reminding us of the importance of tall buildings and nice hotels.

Ironically, Barack Obama will not be prosecuting Khalid Sheikh Mohammed for beheading Daniel Pearl (perhaps because reminding us of the value of a free press is not technically a crime), but rather for the act of war committed on September 11, 2001. Obama wants to try him not as an enemy combatant but as a common criminal, in a civilian trial, giving him a public platform to create another video to be watched by jihadists around the world. It will undoubtedly be one of those moments that capture the imagination of the world.

Barack Obama’s description of the barbaric butchering of Daniel Pearl — “one of those moments that captured the world’s imagination because it reminded us of how valuable a free press is” — represents, as Mark Steyn writes, a remarkably fatuous statement.

Pearl was beheaded by the architect of 9/11, on video, immediately after he pronounced himself an American Jew. No one watching it was reminded of how valuable a free press is; nor did it capture anyone’s imagination, other than that of the jihadists who downloaded it to congratulate themselves, re-energize their efforts, and recruit others. It came five months after jihadists flew two aircraft into the World Trade Center, murdering 3,000 people, and two months before a jihadist murdered another 30 people (the demographic equivalent of 1,350 people in a country the size of Israel) during a Passover seder at the Park Hotel in Netanya. These were not moments reminding us of the importance of tall buildings and nice hotels.

Ironically, Barack Obama will not be prosecuting Khalid Sheikh Mohammed for beheading Daniel Pearl (perhaps because reminding us of the value of a free press is not technically a crime), but rather for the act of war committed on September 11, 2001. Obama wants to try him not as an enemy combatant but as a common criminal, in a civilian trial, giving him a public platform to create another video to be watched by jihadists around the world. It will undoubtedly be one of those moments that capture the imagination of the world.

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RE: In the Shadow of Iran

Jonathan, to emphasize your point that the president’s Holocaust Remembrance Day statement is entirely devoid of any connection to the existential threat facing the Jewish state:

I  join people here at home, in Israel, and around the world in observing Holocaust Remembrance Day. This year, on the 65th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps, we must recommit ourselves to honoring the memories of all the victims and ensuring that they remain a part of our collective memory. On my visit to Buchenwald last year — and during my visit to Yad Vashem in 2008 — I bore witness to the horrors of anti-Semitism and the capacity for evil represented by the Nazis’ campaign to annihilate the Jewish people and so many others. But even at places like Buchenwald, the dignity and courage of those who endured the horrors of the Holocaust remind us of humanity’s capacity for decency and compassion.

The memories of the victims serve as a constant reminder to honor their legacy by renewing our commitment to prevent genocide, and to confront anti-Semitism and prejudice in all of its forms. We must never tolerate the hateful stereotypes and prejudice against the Jewish people that tragically continues to this day. We must work, instead, on behalf of a world of justice and peace, in which all nations and peoples value the humanity that we share, and the dignity inherent in every human being.

First of all, it’s typically “me” oriented — Obama’s own visit and his own witness-bearing figure prominently. What doesn’t figure at all is the genocidal intention of the Iranian regime. You’d think that not merely generic “hate” and “prejudice” against Jews would be of concern but also a regime dedicated to the extermination of Israel and its Jewish inhabitants. But nothing. Zip. For Obama, the Holocaust is a historical event and a civil rights talking point. Like his Passover proclamation, it is simply fodder for the civil rights lawyers in the Justice Department.

But then Obama is unwilling to talk too much or focus on the nature of the Iranian regime. If he did, it might become obvious that pinprick sanctions and engagement are ill-suited to weaning a genocidal regime off its nuclear aspirations. It might require that we attempt to isolate and change the regime and consider a military option. And that he certainly has no interest in considering.

Jonathan, to emphasize your point that the president’s Holocaust Remembrance Day statement is entirely devoid of any connection to the existential threat facing the Jewish state:

I  join people here at home, in Israel, and around the world in observing Holocaust Remembrance Day. This year, on the 65th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps, we must recommit ourselves to honoring the memories of all the victims and ensuring that they remain a part of our collective memory. On my visit to Buchenwald last year — and during my visit to Yad Vashem in 2008 — I bore witness to the horrors of anti-Semitism and the capacity for evil represented by the Nazis’ campaign to annihilate the Jewish people and so many others. But even at places like Buchenwald, the dignity and courage of those who endured the horrors of the Holocaust remind us of humanity’s capacity for decency and compassion.

The memories of the victims serve as a constant reminder to honor their legacy by renewing our commitment to prevent genocide, and to confront anti-Semitism and prejudice in all of its forms. We must never tolerate the hateful stereotypes and prejudice against the Jewish people that tragically continues to this day. We must work, instead, on behalf of a world of justice and peace, in which all nations and peoples value the humanity that we share, and the dignity inherent in every human being.

First of all, it’s typically “me” oriented — Obama’s own visit and his own witness-bearing figure prominently. What doesn’t figure at all is the genocidal intention of the Iranian regime. You’d think that not merely generic “hate” and “prejudice” against Jews would be of concern but also a regime dedicated to the extermination of Israel and its Jewish inhabitants. But nothing. Zip. For Obama, the Holocaust is a historical event and a civil rights talking point. Like his Passover proclamation, it is simply fodder for the civil rights lawyers in the Justice Department.

But then Obama is unwilling to talk too much or focus on the nature of the Iranian regime. If he did, it might become obvious that pinprick sanctions and engagement are ill-suited to weaning a genocidal regime off its nuclear aspirations. It might require that we attempt to isolate and change the regime and consider a military option. And that he certainly has no interest in considering.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

You don’t say: “The trademark suit sported by North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il is now in fashion worldwide thanks to his greatness, Pyongyang’s official website said Wednesday. Uriminzokkiri, quoting an article in communist party newspaper Rodong Sinmun, said the modest-looking suits have gripped people’s imagination and become a global vogue. … Kim and his deceased father Kim Il-Sung are at the heart of a personality cult that borders on religion, with near-magical powers ascribed to the younger Kim. Rainbows supposedly appeared over sacred Mount Paekdu where Kim Jong-Il was allegedly born, and he is said once to have scored 11 holes-in-one in a single round of golf.”

ObamaCare seems not to have helped: “A record-low percentage of U.S. voters — 28% — say most members of Congress deserve to be re-elected. The previous low was 29% in October 1992.”

It might be more satisfying for Republicans to beat him at the polls, but forced retirement would be a fitting end: “Amidst growing speculation he might retire, Rep. Bart Stupak’s (D-Mich.) office declined to rule it out on Wednesday.”

It might have something to do with the 14.1 percent unemployment rate: “A new poll of Michigan voters’ preferences in the governor’s race has troubling results for Democrats. The two leading Democratic candidates would lose to any of the three top Republican challengers if the election were held today. … That indicates a more energized Republican voter base, just two years after Democrat Barack Obama’s historic election as president had increased the number of voters identifying with the Democratic Party. In 2008, the number of self-described Democrats in Michigan was as much as eight percentage points above the Republican number.”

Jobs do appear to be a popular campaign theme for Republicans: “Delaware businesswoman Michele Rollins announced Wednesday she will run for the at-large House seat currently held by Republican Rep. Mike Castle, landing the GOP a credible recruit in a tough open-seat race. In an e-mail soliciting contributions from supporters, Rollins blasted Democrats for putting job creation on ‘the back burner’ and acknowledged the campaign would be ‘difficult and challenging.’”

You knew this was coming: “White House adviser Paul Volcker said the United States may need to consider raising taxes to control deficits. He also said a European-style value-added tax could gain support. The former chairman of the Federal Reserve who is an outside adviser to President Barack Obama, said the value-added tax ‘was not as toxic an idea’ as it has been in the past, according to a Reuters report.”

Marco Rubio’s star keeps rising: “Ex-FL House Speaker Marco Rubio (R) has seen a fundraising surge over the last 3 months, pulling in $3.6M in what was once an insurgent bid against an insurmountable foe. Rubio’s jaw-dropping figure likely puts him atop, or near the top, of the list of most successful candidates over the first quarter.”

The Orthodox Union writes to Bibi, praising his defense of a unified Jerusalem: “Mr. Prime Minister, we cannot state strongly enough our belief that the Government and people of the State of Israel hold Yerushalayim in trust for the Jewish People no matter where they may live, for we all have a share in the holy city. We applaud your faithfulness to this trust, which realizes the ancient Jewish dream of ascending the foothills of Jerusalem, and keeps alive the hopes of millions of Jews who, for centuries, could not set foot in Jerusalem, yet raised their voices at the end of innumerable Pesach sedarim gone by to say, as we all did last week, with full conviction and deep longing la-shana ha-ba’a bi-Yerushalayim.”

You don’t say: “The trademark suit sported by North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il is now in fashion worldwide thanks to his greatness, Pyongyang’s official website said Wednesday. Uriminzokkiri, quoting an article in communist party newspaper Rodong Sinmun, said the modest-looking suits have gripped people’s imagination and become a global vogue. … Kim and his deceased father Kim Il-Sung are at the heart of a personality cult that borders on religion, with near-magical powers ascribed to the younger Kim. Rainbows supposedly appeared over sacred Mount Paekdu where Kim Jong-Il was allegedly born, and he is said once to have scored 11 holes-in-one in a single round of golf.”

ObamaCare seems not to have helped: “A record-low percentage of U.S. voters — 28% — say most members of Congress deserve to be re-elected. The previous low was 29% in October 1992.”

It might be more satisfying for Republicans to beat him at the polls, but forced retirement would be a fitting end: “Amidst growing speculation he might retire, Rep. Bart Stupak’s (D-Mich.) office declined to rule it out on Wednesday.”

It might have something to do with the 14.1 percent unemployment rate: “A new poll of Michigan voters’ preferences in the governor’s race has troubling results for Democrats. The two leading Democratic candidates would lose to any of the three top Republican challengers if the election were held today. … That indicates a more energized Republican voter base, just two years after Democrat Barack Obama’s historic election as president had increased the number of voters identifying with the Democratic Party. In 2008, the number of self-described Democrats in Michigan was as much as eight percentage points above the Republican number.”

Jobs do appear to be a popular campaign theme for Republicans: “Delaware businesswoman Michele Rollins announced Wednesday she will run for the at-large House seat currently held by Republican Rep. Mike Castle, landing the GOP a credible recruit in a tough open-seat race. In an e-mail soliciting contributions from supporters, Rollins blasted Democrats for putting job creation on ‘the back burner’ and acknowledged the campaign would be ‘difficult and challenging.’”

You knew this was coming: “White House adviser Paul Volcker said the United States may need to consider raising taxes to control deficits. He also said a European-style value-added tax could gain support. The former chairman of the Federal Reserve who is an outside adviser to President Barack Obama, said the value-added tax ‘was not as toxic an idea’ as it has been in the past, according to a Reuters report.”

Marco Rubio’s star keeps rising: “Ex-FL House Speaker Marco Rubio (R) has seen a fundraising surge over the last 3 months, pulling in $3.6M in what was once an insurgent bid against an insurmountable foe. Rubio’s jaw-dropping figure likely puts him atop, or near the top, of the list of most successful candidates over the first quarter.”

The Orthodox Union writes to Bibi, praising his defense of a unified Jerusalem: “Mr. Prime Minister, we cannot state strongly enough our belief that the Government and people of the State of Israel hold Yerushalayim in trust for the Jewish People no matter where they may live, for we all have a share in the holy city. We applaud your faithfulness to this trust, which realizes the ancient Jewish dream of ascending the foothills of Jerusalem, and keeps alive the hopes of millions of Jews who, for centuries, could not set foot in Jerusalem, yet raised their voices at the end of innumerable Pesach sedarim gone by to say, as we all did last week, with full conviction and deep longing la-shana ha-ba’a bi-Yerushalayim.”

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Don’t Wait for Obama’s Condemnation

Another day in the Middle East, another vilification of Israel:

A Saudi cleric has announced on his television show that he will visit Jerusalem next week to bolster Muslim claims to the city. … [Sheikh Mohammed] al-Areefi told his viewers Sunday on the religious satellite channel Iqra that the next episode of his show would be about Muslim claims to Jerusalem and Palestine. Al-Areefi said he would visit the city next week, though he did not specify when. He said he was not afraid of any “treachery from the Jews,” as he had put his trust in God. Officials in Israel, which is in the midst of the Passover holidays, could not immediately be reached for comment. Al-Areefi is viewed as a comparative moderate among Saudi Arabia’s conservative clergy.

That’s the moderate face of Saudi Arabia. Has anyone told Maureen Dowd? And don’t expect much of a reaction from the Obami either. That’s simply par for the course, the accepted provocation and hate talk as far as the administration is concerned. After all, if they started talking about Saudi behavior where would it end? They’d have to bring up child brides, honor killings, brutality toward women, state-sponsored anti-Semitism, Wahhabi school indoctrination, and the like. Makes the whole ingratiation with the “Muslim World” so much more complicated.

Another day in the Middle East, another vilification of Israel:

A Saudi cleric has announced on his television show that he will visit Jerusalem next week to bolster Muslim claims to the city. … [Sheikh Mohammed] al-Areefi told his viewers Sunday on the religious satellite channel Iqra that the next episode of his show would be about Muslim claims to Jerusalem and Palestine. Al-Areefi said he would visit the city next week, though he did not specify when. He said he was not afraid of any “treachery from the Jews,” as he had put his trust in God. Officials in Israel, which is in the midst of the Passover holidays, could not immediately be reached for comment. Al-Areefi is viewed as a comparative moderate among Saudi Arabia’s conservative clergy.

That’s the moderate face of Saudi Arabia. Has anyone told Maureen Dowd? And don’t expect much of a reaction from the Obami either. That’s simply par for the course, the accepted provocation and hate talk as far as the administration is concerned. After all, if they started talking about Saudi behavior where would it end? They’d have to bring up child brides, honor killings, brutality toward women, state-sponsored anti-Semitism, Wahhabi school indoctrination, and the like. Makes the whole ingratiation with the “Muslim World” so much more complicated.

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Encouraging Palestinian Rejectionism

How’s Obama’s Jerusalem gambit working out? (By the way, note to White House: don’t assail Israel by concocting an international incident centered on Jerusalem, the most emotional symbol of the Jewish people, in the weeks before Pesach — it gets even liberal Jews very riled up.) Well, as anyone who has been following Palestinian rejectionism and victimology for the past few decades anticipated (no, this doesn’t include the Obami), the Palestinians now perceive an opportunity to extract even more concessions from Israel and to gin up the violence:

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction on Wednesday called for escalating the “popular struggle” against the security barrier and the settlements in the West Bank. … Veteran members of the Fatah Central Committee, including Nabil Shaath, Mahmoud al-Aloul, Muhammad Dahlan, Hussein al-Sheikh and Jibril Rajoub, said that the decision to escalate popular protests against the security fence and settlements was part of the faction’s political platform

They said the Sixth General Assembly of Fatah, which met last year in Bethlehem for the first time in over 20 years, had endorsed “popular resistance” as a means of confronting Israel’s measures in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

By seizing upon and escalating an issue on which no Israeli government could relent, the Obami have made clear that the “game” here is not compromise or resolution but rather high-pressure tactics directed against the Israeli government. The Obami holler while the PA throws stones. The aim of  both is to squeeze the Netanyahu government to the breaking point and shift the focus away from the Palestinians’ inability to enter into any meaningful peace deal (or, for that matter, even to come face-to-face with their Israel counterparts). The Palestinians now are certain that they can have both violence and a “peace process” in which the administration can be counted on to browbeat the Israelis into providing more concessions:

Shaath, a former PA foreign minister, said that peaceful protests were now a popular demand to confront Israel’s policies in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

“We need to strengthen and back this option in the face of the Israeli occupation’s policies,” he said. “We can’t return to the negotiations unless Israel halts all settlement construction in the West Bank and occupied Jerusalem.”

Shaath urged the US administration to pressure Israel to stop its policy of settlement construction, which, he claimed, jeopardized US interests in the region.

The results of the Obami’s handiwork once again suggest that “realism” is not the animating rationale behind their Middle East policy. In their animosity toward Israel and obsession with aligning themselves with the Palestinian bargaining position, the Obami have reinforced the Palestinians’ worst tendencies and convinced Israel (not to mention other nervous allies) that this administration is not to be trusted. In their frenzy to separate the U.S. from Israel and impress their Palestinian clients (who could hardly expect a more sympathetic ear and more overtly sympathetic approach than what this administration is delivering), the Obami have succeeded only in encouraging violence and postponing the hard work Palestinians must do if they are ever to achieve statehood. Perhaps the Obami should stop worrying about the collapse of the proximity talks and start worrying about the intifada their actions are helping to promote.

How’s Obama’s Jerusalem gambit working out? (By the way, note to White House: don’t assail Israel by concocting an international incident centered on Jerusalem, the most emotional symbol of the Jewish people, in the weeks before Pesach — it gets even liberal Jews very riled up.) Well, as anyone who has been following Palestinian rejectionism and victimology for the past few decades anticipated (no, this doesn’t include the Obami), the Palestinians now perceive an opportunity to extract even more concessions from Israel and to gin up the violence:

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction on Wednesday called for escalating the “popular struggle” against the security barrier and the settlements in the West Bank. … Veteran members of the Fatah Central Committee, including Nabil Shaath, Mahmoud al-Aloul, Muhammad Dahlan, Hussein al-Sheikh and Jibril Rajoub, said that the decision to escalate popular protests against the security fence and settlements was part of the faction’s political platform

They said the Sixth General Assembly of Fatah, which met last year in Bethlehem for the first time in over 20 years, had endorsed “popular resistance” as a means of confronting Israel’s measures in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

By seizing upon and escalating an issue on which no Israeli government could relent, the Obami have made clear that the “game” here is not compromise or resolution but rather high-pressure tactics directed against the Israeli government. The Obami holler while the PA throws stones. The aim of  both is to squeeze the Netanyahu government to the breaking point and shift the focus away from the Palestinians’ inability to enter into any meaningful peace deal (or, for that matter, even to come face-to-face with their Israel counterparts). The Palestinians now are certain that they can have both violence and a “peace process” in which the administration can be counted on to browbeat the Israelis into providing more concessions:

Shaath, a former PA foreign minister, said that peaceful protests were now a popular demand to confront Israel’s policies in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

“We need to strengthen and back this option in the face of the Israeli occupation’s policies,” he said. “We can’t return to the negotiations unless Israel halts all settlement construction in the West Bank and occupied Jerusalem.”

Shaath urged the US administration to pressure Israel to stop its policy of settlement construction, which, he claimed, jeopardized US interests in the region.

The results of the Obami’s handiwork once again suggest that “realism” is not the animating rationale behind their Middle East policy. In their animosity toward Israel and obsession with aligning themselves with the Palestinian bargaining position, the Obami have reinforced the Palestinians’ worst tendencies and convinced Israel (not to mention other nervous allies) that this administration is not to be trusted. In their frenzy to separate the U.S. from Israel and impress their Palestinian clients (who could hardly expect a more sympathetic ear and more overtly sympathetic approach than what this administration is delivering), the Obami have succeeded only in encouraging violence and postponing the hard work Palestinians must do if they are ever to achieve statehood. Perhaps the Obami should stop worrying about the collapse of the proximity talks and start worrying about the intifada their actions are helping to promote.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Pat Buchanan or Joe Klein? “Each new report of settlement expansion … each new seizure of Palestinian property, each new West Bank clash between Palestinians and Israeli troops inflames the Arab street, humiliates our Arab allies, exposes America as a weakling that cannot stand up to Israel, and imperils our troops and their mission in Afghanistan and Iraq.” Hard to tell these days.

Here’s someone who’s not confused about the meaning of Passover: “‘Next year in Jerusalem’ will be the refrain echoed by Jewish families as they finish their Seders. … It is a stark reminder that whatever the threats the Jewish people have faced, whatever the struggles, their connection to Jerusalem is ancient and unshakable. On this Passover holiday, our family sends our best wishes to all who are celebrating. Chag kasher V’Sameach. Happy Passover. And next year in Jerusalem.”

The Obami’s not-at-all smart diplomacy: “Benny Begin, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s inner cabinet, described Washington’s scrutiny on Jerusalem as departing from previous U.S. administrations’ view that the city’s status should be resolved in peace negotiations. ‘It’s bothersome, and certainly worrying,’ Begin told Israel Radio. ‘This change will definitely bring about the opposite to the declared objective. It will bring about a hardening in the policy of the Arabs and of the Palestinian Authority.’”

Sound familiar? “A consummate and genteel academic who holds degrees from two of the nation’s top universities.” The Los Angeles Times praises Tom Campbell. But maybe a Republican version of Obama (especially one so comfortable with Obama’s assault on Israel) isn’t going to win over Republican voters.

Peter Brown of the Quinnipiac poll on the public reaction to ObamaCare: “The Democrats said the American people will grow to love this. We’ll find out. At this point, they’re not exactly jumping up and down.” It sure isn’t helping Democrats in Missouri: “Missouri voters continue to be unhappy with Barack Obama and his health care plan and that’s helped Roy Blunt to take the lead in the US Senate race. Blunt is up 45-41 on Robin Carnahan, but that result probably has more to do with how the state feels about Barack Obama than it does about the candidates themselves.”

But it solved the enthusiasm gap, right? Uh, no. “Fully 55% of voters registered as GOPers describe themselves as ‘extremely’ or ‘very’ enthusiastic about voting for Congress, while just 36% of Dems describe themselves the same way.”

Actually, the majority of the electorate is jumping up and down to repeal it: “One week after the House of Representatives passed the health care plan proposed by President Obama and congressional Democrats, 54% of the nation’s likely voters still favor repealing the new law. The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey shows that 42% oppose repeal.”

That may include younger voters: “Health insurance premiums for young adults are expected to rise about 17 percent once they’re required to buy insurance four years from now.”

Who knew, right? “Nearly two-thirds of Americans say the health care overhaul signed into law last week costs too much and expands the government’s role in health care too far, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds, underscoring an uphill selling job ahead for President Obama and congressional Democrats. Those surveyed are inclined to fear that the massive legislation will increase their costs and hurt the quality of health care their families receive, although they are more positive about its impact on the nation’s health care system overall. … The risk for them is that continued opposition will fuel calls for repeal and dog Democrats in November’s congressional elections.”

CNN’s a ratings flop, explains the New York Times. But you have to read to the 14th and last graph to learn: “At the same time, Fox News, which had its biggest year in 2009, continues to add viewers.”

Pat Buchanan or Joe Klein? “Each new report of settlement expansion … each new seizure of Palestinian property, each new West Bank clash between Palestinians and Israeli troops inflames the Arab street, humiliates our Arab allies, exposes America as a weakling that cannot stand up to Israel, and imperils our troops and their mission in Afghanistan and Iraq.” Hard to tell these days.

Here’s someone who’s not confused about the meaning of Passover: “‘Next year in Jerusalem’ will be the refrain echoed by Jewish families as they finish their Seders. … It is a stark reminder that whatever the threats the Jewish people have faced, whatever the struggles, their connection to Jerusalem is ancient and unshakable. On this Passover holiday, our family sends our best wishes to all who are celebrating. Chag kasher V’Sameach. Happy Passover. And next year in Jerusalem.”

The Obami’s not-at-all smart diplomacy: “Benny Begin, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s inner cabinet, described Washington’s scrutiny on Jerusalem as departing from previous U.S. administrations’ view that the city’s status should be resolved in peace negotiations. ‘It’s bothersome, and certainly worrying,’ Begin told Israel Radio. ‘This change will definitely bring about the opposite to the declared objective. It will bring about a hardening in the policy of the Arabs and of the Palestinian Authority.’”

Sound familiar? “A consummate and genteel academic who holds degrees from two of the nation’s top universities.” The Los Angeles Times praises Tom Campbell. But maybe a Republican version of Obama (especially one so comfortable with Obama’s assault on Israel) isn’t going to win over Republican voters.

Peter Brown of the Quinnipiac poll on the public reaction to ObamaCare: “The Democrats said the American people will grow to love this. We’ll find out. At this point, they’re not exactly jumping up and down.” It sure isn’t helping Democrats in Missouri: “Missouri voters continue to be unhappy with Barack Obama and his health care plan and that’s helped Roy Blunt to take the lead in the US Senate race. Blunt is up 45-41 on Robin Carnahan, but that result probably has more to do with how the state feels about Barack Obama than it does about the candidates themselves.”

But it solved the enthusiasm gap, right? Uh, no. “Fully 55% of voters registered as GOPers describe themselves as ‘extremely’ or ‘very’ enthusiastic about voting for Congress, while just 36% of Dems describe themselves the same way.”

Actually, the majority of the electorate is jumping up and down to repeal it: “One week after the House of Representatives passed the health care plan proposed by President Obama and congressional Democrats, 54% of the nation’s likely voters still favor repealing the new law. The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey shows that 42% oppose repeal.”

That may include younger voters: “Health insurance premiums for young adults are expected to rise about 17 percent once they’re required to buy insurance four years from now.”

Who knew, right? “Nearly two-thirds of Americans say the health care overhaul signed into law last week costs too much and expands the government’s role in health care too far, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds, underscoring an uphill selling job ahead for President Obama and congressional Democrats. Those surveyed are inclined to fear that the massive legislation will increase their costs and hurt the quality of health care their families receive, although they are more positive about its impact on the nation’s health care system overall. … The risk for them is that continued opposition will fuel calls for repeal and dog Democrats in November’s congressional elections.”

CNN’s a ratings flop, explains the New York Times. But you have to read to the 14th and last graph to learn: “At the same time, Fox News, which had its biggest year in 2009, continues to add viewers.”

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Passover Mush

Obama, as presidents have traditionally done, released a Passover message. It is typical Obama — off-key, hyper-political, and condescending. The core of the message is this:

The enduring story of the Exodus teaches us that, wherever we live, there is oppression to be fought and freedom to be won. In retelling this story from generation to generation, we are reminded of our ongoing responsibility to fight against all forms of suffering and discrimination, and we reaffirm the ties that bind us all.

No, he didn’t have the nerve to recite the emphatic exhortation “Next year in Jerusalem.” And frankly, it sounds like Eric Holder and his civil rights lawyers drafted it. Is Passover really about discrimination? Or is it about the deliverance of God’s Chosen People by God from bondage to the land of Israel? Hmm. Obama notes the “rich symbols, rituals, and traditions” but skips the God part. What is missing from Obama’s secularized spiel is the unique, historic, and, indeed, religious message of the Jewish holiday.

After a similarly tone-deaf message last year, a sharp wit contrasted Obama’s politically correct pablum with a message George Bush delivered on April 7, 2007, which adroitly affirmed the distinctive message of Passover (which fell the same week as Easter that year), and which read in part:

This week, people around the world celebrate Passover and Easter. These holy days remind us of the presence of a loving God who delivers His people from oppression, and offers a love more powerful than death. We take joy in spending this special time with family and friends, and we give thanks for the many blessings in our lives.

One of our greatest blessings as Americans is that we have brave citizens who step forward to defend us. Every man or woman who wears our Nation’s uniform is a volunteer, a patriot who has made the noble decision to serve a cause larger than self. This weekend, many of our service men and women are celebrating the holidays far from home. They are separated from their families by great distances, but they are always close in our thoughts. And this Passover and Easter, I ask you to keep them in your prayers.

As Rachel Abrams noted then: “This religion without God thing is a tricky business.” And indeed a Passover message without Jerusalem is not only off-putting but it also reveals Obama’s mindset and lack of sympatico with the Jewish state and its centrality in the history and religious memory of the Jewish people. After all, the president who delivered the Cairo speech suggesting that Israel’s legitimacy rests on Holocaust guilt is really not the sort to get the Passover message right.

Obama, as presidents have traditionally done, released a Passover message. It is typical Obama — off-key, hyper-political, and condescending. The core of the message is this:

The enduring story of the Exodus teaches us that, wherever we live, there is oppression to be fought and freedom to be won. In retelling this story from generation to generation, we are reminded of our ongoing responsibility to fight against all forms of suffering and discrimination, and we reaffirm the ties that bind us all.

No, he didn’t have the nerve to recite the emphatic exhortation “Next year in Jerusalem.” And frankly, it sounds like Eric Holder and his civil rights lawyers drafted it. Is Passover really about discrimination? Or is it about the deliverance of God’s Chosen People by God from bondage to the land of Israel? Hmm. Obama notes the “rich symbols, rituals, and traditions” but skips the God part. What is missing from Obama’s secularized spiel is the unique, historic, and, indeed, religious message of the Jewish holiday.

After a similarly tone-deaf message last year, a sharp wit contrasted Obama’s politically correct pablum with a message George Bush delivered on April 7, 2007, which adroitly affirmed the distinctive message of Passover (which fell the same week as Easter that year), and which read in part:

This week, people around the world celebrate Passover and Easter. These holy days remind us of the presence of a loving God who delivers His people from oppression, and offers a love more powerful than death. We take joy in spending this special time with family and friends, and we give thanks for the many blessings in our lives.

One of our greatest blessings as Americans is that we have brave citizens who step forward to defend us. Every man or woman who wears our Nation’s uniform is a volunteer, a patriot who has made the noble decision to serve a cause larger than self. This weekend, many of our service men and women are celebrating the holidays far from home. They are separated from their families by great distances, but they are always close in our thoughts. And this Passover and Easter, I ask you to keep them in your prayers.

As Rachel Abrams noted then: “This religion without God thing is a tricky business.” And indeed a Passover message without Jerusalem is not only off-putting but it also reveals Obama’s mindset and lack of sympatico with the Jewish state and its centrality in the history and religious memory of the Jewish people. After all, the president who delivered the Cairo speech suggesting that Israel’s legitimacy rests on Holocaust guilt is really not the sort to get the Passover message right.

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Watch Out, A. B. Yehoshua

This one is likely to tick off American Jews. A few months ago, the novelist A.B. Yehoshua set off a firestorm when he told members of the American Jewish Committee that “[Being] Israeli is my skin, not my jacket. You are changing jackets . . . you are changing countries like changing jackets. I have my skin, the territory.” As a result, he claimed Jewish life in Israel is far more complete than in America. (Yehoshua issued a semi-apology, in which he did not retract his remarks, but merely insisted that they were no different from what he’s said in the past.)

Now Uri Orbach, the influential Israeli journalist and TV personality, has written a column singing the praises of Israeli secular Jewish life, as opposed to the expressions of non-Orthodox Judaism found in the United States:

Israeli seculars enjoy a Jewish existence that is more intense than that enjoyed by any non-Orthodox American Jew. In America, if you do not observe the mitzvahs and are not connected to your community, your religion has not expression in your daily life. If someone would remind you, there is a chance that you would mark Passover or Hanukah (it takes place around Christmas time.)

If you are a non-religious Jew in America, the probability that your children will marry gentiles is huge, and the likelihood that this won’t bother you too much is also quite high. Based on various estimates, the Jewish people lose about 50,000 Jews annually in the US alone. Even within Reform communities the struggle is no longer against intermarriage, but rather, focuses on guaranteeing minimal Jewish education for the children even if their parents intermarried.

In Israel, on the other hand, it is easy to spot the scope of secular Zionism’s achievement. The Zionism that established the Jewish State managed to create a reasonable Jewish environment for seculars. Israelis enjoy a Jewish atmosphere thanks to Hebrew and political mechanisms: The Hebrew language and culture, Shabbats and holidays, life in the land of the Bible, the Jewish environment and the army.

Only in Israel do seculars have the opportunity to celebrate Shabbat and the holidays a little bit, to eat kosher a little, to wed, and divorce, be born and die as Jews, and all that without observing the mitzvahs. Only in Israel nobody will tell you: What, you’re Jewish? I would have never thought that… (unless you are a construction worker.)

Zionism’s great achievement is therefore the guarantee of a Jewish existence for secular Jews.

I’m looking forward to the comments on this one. . .

This one is likely to tick off American Jews. A few months ago, the novelist A.B. Yehoshua set off a firestorm when he told members of the American Jewish Committee that “[Being] Israeli is my skin, not my jacket. You are changing jackets . . . you are changing countries like changing jackets. I have my skin, the territory.” As a result, he claimed Jewish life in Israel is far more complete than in America. (Yehoshua issued a semi-apology, in which he did not retract his remarks, but merely insisted that they were no different from what he’s said in the past.)

Now Uri Orbach, the influential Israeli journalist and TV personality, has written a column singing the praises of Israeli secular Jewish life, as opposed to the expressions of non-Orthodox Judaism found in the United States:

Israeli seculars enjoy a Jewish existence that is more intense than that enjoyed by any non-Orthodox American Jew. In America, if you do not observe the mitzvahs and are not connected to your community, your religion has not expression in your daily life. If someone would remind you, there is a chance that you would mark Passover or Hanukah (it takes place around Christmas time.)

If you are a non-religious Jew in America, the probability that your children will marry gentiles is huge, and the likelihood that this won’t bother you too much is also quite high. Based on various estimates, the Jewish people lose about 50,000 Jews annually in the US alone. Even within Reform communities the struggle is no longer against intermarriage, but rather, focuses on guaranteeing minimal Jewish education for the children even if their parents intermarried.

In Israel, on the other hand, it is easy to spot the scope of secular Zionism’s achievement. The Zionism that established the Jewish State managed to create a reasonable Jewish environment for seculars. Israelis enjoy a Jewish atmosphere thanks to Hebrew and political mechanisms: The Hebrew language and culture, Shabbats and holidays, life in the land of the Bible, the Jewish environment and the army.

Only in Israel do seculars have the opportunity to celebrate Shabbat and the holidays a little bit, to eat kosher a little, to wed, and divorce, be born and die as Jews, and all that without observing the mitzvahs. Only in Israel nobody will tell you: What, you’re Jewish? I would have never thought that… (unless you are a construction worker.)

Zionism’s great achievement is therefore the guarantee of a Jewish existence for secular Jews.

I’m looking forward to the comments on this one. . .

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Scott Wilson’s War

An interesting ombudsman column in Sunday’s Washington Post: Back in December 2007, Scott Wilson, then the Post‘s Jerusalem bureau chief, wrote a piece entitled “For Israel’s Arab Citizens, Isolation and Exclusion.” The story included the following assertion, which is simply and flatly false: “Except for a relatively small Druze population, Arabs are excluded also from military service.”

The Post‘s ombudsman asks: was “excluded” the wrong word to describe the treatment of Israeli Arabs by the IDF? According to the dictionary, “excluded” means “to prevent the entrance of” or to “shut out from consideration.” It would mean, in Scott Wilson’s telling, that save for a few Druze, there are no Israeli Arabs in the Israeli military.

Well, there is in fact no prohibition against or exclusion of Israeli Arabs in the IDF. What does exist is a sensible if regrettable accommodation that has been struck on behalf of the social harmony of everyone involved. For the Israeli Arabs, it derives from a general desire not to serve in the Jewish state’s army; for the IDF, it derives from an entirely legitimate fear of security risks from soldiers whose loyalties are not to the IDF. As is typical, such nuance had no place in Wilson’s story, and the ombudsman says that “The Post‘s Wilson is firm on his word choice.”

But reality has a way of correcting fantasy. Here is a paragraph from today’s Haaretz story about Hamas’s attempt to crash through the Gaza border on Passover eve:

IDF success depends greatly on the quick judgment of the commander in the field. Saturday it was the Bedouin Desert Battalion deputy commander, Major Wahid, who correctly foresaw the impending explosion of a booby-trapped vehicle, and ordered his men into protected vehicles, certainly limiting casualties.

Major Wahid? Oops.

An interesting ombudsman column in Sunday’s Washington Post: Back in December 2007, Scott Wilson, then the Post‘s Jerusalem bureau chief, wrote a piece entitled “For Israel’s Arab Citizens, Isolation and Exclusion.” The story included the following assertion, which is simply and flatly false: “Except for a relatively small Druze population, Arabs are excluded also from military service.”

The Post‘s ombudsman asks: was “excluded” the wrong word to describe the treatment of Israeli Arabs by the IDF? According to the dictionary, “excluded” means “to prevent the entrance of” or to “shut out from consideration.” It would mean, in Scott Wilson’s telling, that save for a few Druze, there are no Israeli Arabs in the Israeli military.

Well, there is in fact no prohibition against or exclusion of Israeli Arabs in the IDF. What does exist is a sensible if regrettable accommodation that has been struck on behalf of the social harmony of everyone involved. For the Israeli Arabs, it derives from a general desire not to serve in the Jewish state’s army; for the IDF, it derives from an entirely legitimate fear of security risks from soldiers whose loyalties are not to the IDF. As is typical, such nuance had no place in Wilson’s story, and the ombudsman says that “The Post‘s Wilson is firm on his word choice.”

But reality has a way of correcting fantasy. Here is a paragraph from today’s Haaretz story about Hamas’s attempt to crash through the Gaza border on Passover eve:

IDF success depends greatly on the quick judgment of the commander in the field. Saturday it was the Bedouin Desert Battalion deputy commander, Major Wahid, who correctly foresaw the impending explosion of a booby-trapped vehicle, and ordered his men into protected vehicles, certainly limiting casualties.

Major Wahid? Oops.

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The Matza Wars

The latest bit of Israeli infighting concerns the sale of bread during Passover. According to Jewish tradition, for the full week of Passover bread is banned, not just from our mouths but from our homes and businesses as well. Israel, though a secular state, has traditionally upheld certain Jewish customs by law, closing restaurants on Yom Kippur and prohibiting the sale of bread and other leavened products during Passover.

This year, however, a Jerusalem court overturned the latter practice, ruling that the law was never meant to ban the selling of bread but only its public display, and that businesses could now sell bread on Passover as long as they didn’t put it in the store window. This has sparked a major outcry among the Orthodox (and promises to make for another fleeting coalition crisis).

Lest you think this is another case of the small Haredi minority imposing its will on the secular Israeli majority, think again. A poll just came out showing that fully 81 percent of Jewish Israelis refrain from eating bread on Passover. Not only that, 51 percent said they would refuse to patronize a store that sells it.

All sorts of interesting conclusions may be drawn here, but let’s start with the most obvious: The famous Israeli 80-20 split between secular and Orthodox is highly misleading when it comes to respect for Jewish tradition. It may not be an Orthodox country, but it is a conservative one, seeing in the Jewish past and in some Jewish practices central elements in their collective identity.

The latest bit of Israeli infighting concerns the sale of bread during Passover. According to Jewish tradition, for the full week of Passover bread is banned, not just from our mouths but from our homes and businesses as well. Israel, though a secular state, has traditionally upheld certain Jewish customs by law, closing restaurants on Yom Kippur and prohibiting the sale of bread and other leavened products during Passover.

This year, however, a Jerusalem court overturned the latter practice, ruling that the law was never meant to ban the selling of bread but only its public display, and that businesses could now sell bread on Passover as long as they didn’t put it in the store window. This has sparked a major outcry among the Orthodox (and promises to make for another fleeting coalition crisis).

Lest you think this is another case of the small Haredi minority imposing its will on the secular Israeli majority, think again. A poll just came out showing that fully 81 percent of Jewish Israelis refrain from eating bread on Passover. Not only that, 51 percent said they would refuse to patronize a store that sells it.

All sorts of interesting conclusions may be drawn here, but let’s start with the most obvious: The famous Israeli 80-20 split between secular and Orthodox is highly misleading when it comes to respect for Jewish tradition. It may not be an Orthodox country, but it is a conservative one, seeing in the Jewish past and in some Jewish practices central elements in their collective identity.

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Farewell Fatah al-Islam

“A crime of especial notoriety,” is what the Guardian called it in 2002 when Israel entered a Palestinian refugee camp in the West Bank city of Jenin to root out terrorists who had organized a suicide bombing that killed 29 at their seder tables in a hotel in Netanya on the first night of Passover. In all, 52 Palestinians, almost all of them terrorists, died in this supposed genocide, while Israel, in a costly effort to to conduct itself in the most humane fashion possible, lost 23 soldiers of its own.

In Tripoli right now, the Lebanese army is pounding a Palestinian refugee camp with tank shells and other heavy weapons far less discriminating in their lethal effects than anything fired by Israeli ground troops in Jenin—and many Lebanese are cheering them on. The choir of Europeans and American leftists who routinely champion the Palestinian cause is strangely silent—or maybe not so strangely silent. Perhaps their real interest lies not in defending Palestinian rights but in bashing Israel—and Israel, of course, is not engaged in this particular fray.

Whatever explains the silence, we should welcome it as an opportunity and join the Lebanese civilians who are cheering the Lebanese army on. On September 20, 2001, George W. Bush addressed a joint session of Congress and laid out a strategy for protecting our country from another disaster like September 11: “Our war on terror begins with al Qaeda,” he said, “but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped, and defeated.”

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“A crime of especial notoriety,” is what the Guardian called it in 2002 when Israel entered a Palestinian refugee camp in the West Bank city of Jenin to root out terrorists who had organized a suicide bombing that killed 29 at their seder tables in a hotel in Netanya on the first night of Passover. In all, 52 Palestinians, almost all of them terrorists, died in this supposed genocide, while Israel, in a costly effort to to conduct itself in the most humane fashion possible, lost 23 soldiers of its own.

In Tripoli right now, the Lebanese army is pounding a Palestinian refugee camp with tank shells and other heavy weapons far less discriminating in their lethal effects than anything fired by Israeli ground troops in Jenin—and many Lebanese are cheering them on. The choir of Europeans and American leftists who routinely champion the Palestinian cause is strangely silent—or maybe not so strangely silent. Perhaps their real interest lies not in defending Palestinian rights but in bashing Israel—and Israel, of course, is not engaged in this particular fray.

Whatever explains the silence, we should welcome it as an opportunity and join the Lebanese civilians who are cheering the Lebanese army on. On September 20, 2001, George W. Bush addressed a joint session of Congress and laid out a strategy for protecting our country from another disaster like September 11: “Our war on terror begins with al Qaeda,” he said, “but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped, and defeated.”

Although the U.S. is not involved, the fighting in northern Lebanon between the Lebanese army and Fatah al-Islam, a Palestinian group affiliate of al Qaeda, is nonetheless a potentially important testing ground for the Bush doctrine of denying “safe haven to terrorism.”

Parts of Lebanon, like Afghanistan under the Taliban, have become lawless sanctuaries for terrorist groups of global reach. The Iranian-backed Hizballah is the most significant of these. Not only does this Shiite movement retain powerful influence throughout Lebanon, but it is organized to strike abroad and is widely believed to have sleeper cells in Europe, Latin America, and the United States.

Unlike the Taliban in Afghanistan, however, the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora has never welcomed the terrorists in Lebanon’s midst. Rather, the terrorist presence is a consequence of his country’s chronic weakness, which flows from deep ethnic and religious divisions and continuing Syrian interference in Lebanese affairs.

Unwilling and unable to confront Hizballah directly, Siniora has deployed some 15,000 troops in Lebanon’s south, where the Shiite militia had enjoyed unlimited freedom of action until it provoked last summer’s war with Israel.

If Siniora successfully manages to extinguish Fatah al-Islam and the threat it represents to Lebanon, perhaps he will be emboldened to check more resolutely and ultimately disarm the Iranian-backed Hizballah. Movement in that direction could certainly be counted as a critical interest of the United States. We should be bending every diplomatic and military effort to help him accomplish it.

“We will starve terrorists of funding, turn them one against another, drive them from place to place, until there is no refuge or no rest,” said President Bush on September 20, 2001. Time is running out on his administration. Let’s hope he keeps his word.

 

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Michael Lerner, Vulgarian

April 15 is Yom haShoah, the day of commemoration of the Holocaust. The Nazis killed one-third of the world’s Jewish population, and most Jews, at least most Ashkenazi Jews, lost an ancestor or cousin in this unparalleled slaughter. Many lost their whole families. Around the world, Jews will pray for these lost ones and lament the immense part of the body of our people that was torn away from us—a wound that will never heal. It is a moment of deepest grief and solemnity.

Except, that is, to one Michael Lerner, who has just announced that he will use the occasion to launch a “campaign for a Global Marshall Plan.”

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April 15 is Yom haShoah, the day of commemoration of the Holocaust. The Nazis killed one-third of the world’s Jewish population, and most Jews, at least most Ashkenazi Jews, lost an ancestor or cousin in this unparalleled slaughter. Many lost their whole families. Around the world, Jews will pray for these lost ones and lament the immense part of the body of our people that was torn away from us—a wound that will never heal. It is a moment of deepest grief and solemnity.

Except, that is, to one Michael Lerner, who has just announced that he will use the occasion to launch a “campaign for a Global Marshall Plan.”

Michael Lerner is someone about whom I would not ordinarily comment, except that this display of vulgarity cannot be allowed to pass unnoticed. Lerner was a 1960′s New Leftist, founder of the Seattle Liberation Front. When a demonstration he organized turned into a riot, he was tried as part of the “Seattle Seven.” While many other 60′s radicals eventually rethought their juvenile beliefs, Lerner set his mind instead to carving out new turf. He reappeared as a psychotherapist, dressing his old ideology in a new robe by founding the Institute for Labor and Mental Health, which purported to study the “psychodynamics of American society.”

Lerner married wealth, and although the marriage did not last, the wealth did, enabling him to found the magazine Tikkun. A few years later, a disillusioned employee revealed that letters to the editor that ran in its pages, lavishing praise on the magazine and Lerner, were in fact fabricated by Lerner himself.

In his next self-reinvention, Lerner appeared as a rabbi, although his theological training was as sketchy as that of such other famous self-promoters as the Reverends Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. In this guise, he propounded the “politics of meaning”—the meaning of which was indecipherable. Of greater moment, Lerner used his rabbinic title as cover for a relentless campaign against Israel, including the embrace of such unsavory enemies of the Jewish state as Cindy Sheehan, prompting the scholar Edward Alexander to observe, “nothing anti-Semitic is entirely alien to him.”

Like other leftists cloaking themselves in rabbinic garb, Lerner redefined Passover as a vehicle on which to display ideological bumper stickers rather than as a commemoration of the creation of Judaism through the exodus from Egypt, the receipt of the Ten Commandments, and the settlement of the promised land.

However, his use of Yom haShoah for his own purposes sets a new standard of coarseness. Lerner writes: “I want to explain to you why we picked the Holocaust Memorial Day to launch this initiative. To the starvation and suffering on the planet today (with 2.4 billion people living on less than $2 a day) we say: Never Again.” If taken seriously, this is moronic. Never again? Again what? There has always been starvation and suffering. And while suffering is impossible to measure, there is, proportionately, less starvation today than ever before. However sad the perdurance of these afflictions may be, it is not a discrete event. What can it possibly mean to say “never again” in this context?

But of course, Lerner’s explanation is not to be taken seriously. The true explanation is that this is just one more stage performance by a “rabbi” whose self-absorption is bottomless and for whom nothing, apparently, is sacred. As attorney Joseph Welch said famously to Senator McCarthy: “Have you no sense of decency, sir?”

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Weekend Reading

Passover begins on Monday evening. This weekend is an excellent time to read up on the holiday, and COMMENTARY’s archive is the most lucid entry point, as well as the most accessible (both physically and spiritually). A terrific introduction that lays it all out is Theodor Gaster’s “What Does the Seder Celebrate?”

Many anecdotal accounts of the seder have appeared in our pages, too. Leslie Fiedler wrote about a “Seder in Rome” in 1954, and Sidney Alexander wrote about Passover in Venice in 1951. Closer to home, perhaps, is Morris Freedman’s “Grossinger’s Green Pastures,” the fabled Catskill vacation resort and site of many 20th-century American Jewish seders.

If scholarly is what you have in mind, COMMENTARY published (March 1953) selections from an 11th-century commentary on the Song of Songs, a biblical text attributed to King Solomon that is read at the synagogue during Passover. The commentary is by Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki, better known as Rashi. A more recent meditation on the same biblical book is “Levels of Love,” which appeared in COMMENTARY’s April 1958 issue; this essay is by Abraham Isaac Kook, the first chief rabbi of the Jewish return to the land of Israel. Still more recent, not to say with-it, is Hyam Maccoby’s “Sex According to the Song of Songs” (June 1979).

Finally, if you think that the Wall Street Journal’s kosher wine lists are a modern invention, check out “Wine Like Mother Used to Make” (May 1954), which begins: “Kosher wine, once bought exclusively by Jews and only during Jewish holiday seasons, seems on the way to becoming as popular as the cola drinks.” Indeed. And if you think Passover nouvelle cuisine is really nouvelle, read Ruth Glazer’s review of “The Jewish Festival Cookbook” (March 1956). Glazer opens: “Not the least of places in which the Jewish revival has caused added bustle is the kitchen.” To quote from a different book by King Solomon, there is nothing new under the sun.

Passover begins on Monday evening. This weekend is an excellent time to read up on the holiday, and COMMENTARY’s archive is the most lucid entry point, as well as the most accessible (both physically and spiritually). A terrific introduction that lays it all out is Theodor Gaster’s “What Does the Seder Celebrate?”

Many anecdotal accounts of the seder have appeared in our pages, too. Leslie Fiedler wrote about a “Seder in Rome” in 1954, and Sidney Alexander wrote about Passover in Venice in 1951. Closer to home, perhaps, is Morris Freedman’s “Grossinger’s Green Pastures,” the fabled Catskill vacation resort and site of many 20th-century American Jewish seders.

If scholarly is what you have in mind, COMMENTARY published (March 1953) selections from an 11th-century commentary on the Song of Songs, a biblical text attributed to King Solomon that is read at the synagogue during Passover. The commentary is by Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki, better known as Rashi. A more recent meditation on the same biblical book is “Levels of Love,” which appeared in COMMENTARY’s April 1958 issue; this essay is by Abraham Isaac Kook, the first chief rabbi of the Jewish return to the land of Israel. Still more recent, not to say with-it, is Hyam Maccoby’s “Sex According to the Song of Songs” (June 1979).

Finally, if you think that the Wall Street Journal’s kosher wine lists are a modern invention, check out “Wine Like Mother Used to Make” (May 1954), which begins: “Kosher wine, once bought exclusively by Jews and only during Jewish holiday seasons, seems on the way to becoming as popular as the cola drinks.” Indeed. And if you think Passover nouvelle cuisine is really nouvelle, read Ruth Glazer’s review of “The Jewish Festival Cookbook” (March 1956). Glazer opens: “Not the least of places in which the Jewish revival has caused added bustle is the kitchen.” To quote from a different book by King Solomon, there is nothing new under the sun.

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