Jewish Current Issues

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Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Day One of the New Palestinian Government

The new Palestinian Prime Minister (Abu Mazen) has stated publicly he will refuse to travel abroad until Israel guarantees Arafat's freedom of movement. Today's London Times reports on why Arafat is staying put:

"Israel has accused Mr Arafat of refusing to leave his headquarters in Ramallah because while there he is affording protection to about 200 wanted militants. Yesterday Palestinian sources confirmed that al-Aqsa Brigades members were being given protection."

Last night, at least three people were killed and 35 people wounded as a result of a Palestinian attack on a popular beachfront pub in Tel Aviv. Haaretz reports on the authorship of the attack:

"The Tanzim branch of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat's Fatah organization and Hamas both took responsibility for the attack, Israel Radio reported. A statement said the bombing was a joint operation."

Tuesday, April 29, 2003

The Torch Still Burns

Today is Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Day, dedicated this year to the 60th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising in 1943.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, addressing the opening ceremony at Yad Vashem in Israel, began as follows:

"58 years ago, the canons were silenced in Europe. The Nazi beast was defeated, and the world was delivered from the dark, racist regime - the cruelest and most profane ever known. Reeking mountains of ash and ruin remained, burying a Judaism so splendid, ancient and rich in tradition, mercilessly destroyed by the eradicating hand.

This year . . . marks the 60th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. The uprising became the symbol of Jewish resistance in the ghettos, forests and Partisan groups, and of the courageous struggle of one and a half million Jews in the Red Army, United States Army, the armies of the British Empire and other forms of mobilization which rose to defend freedom and human civilization from oppression and destruction.

The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising will forever be remembered as a burning torch - the beacon of heroes lit by young Jews - headed by members of all the Zionist youth movements - facing the inferno."

President Moshe Katsav summarized the incredible story story of the uprising:

"Sixty years ago, on Seder night, the Jews in the Warsaw ghetto read the Haggadah to the sounds of gunfire, explosions, windows shattering, houses burning and people crying.

"On Passover eve, Jewish fighters - the last prisoners of the Warsaw ghetto who remained - rose up and fought against the Nazis. The revolt continued for about a month. It was the first uprising against the Nazi regime in occupied Europe.

"There were about 1000 fighters, comprising members of the underground organizations - the Jewish Fighting Organization led by Mordechai Anielewicz, and the Jewish Military Union led by Pawel Frenkel, and all the different movements, ranging from Hashomer Hatzair to the Revisionist movement, and from members of Akiva to the Bundists.

"They were joined by the rest of the Jews living in the ghetto, and it was this handful of people from the tormented remnants of a glorious Jewish community, these pure, daring individuals with almost no resources, who fought against the forces of evil, the mighty barbarians who possessed an overwhelming military advantage.

"From the outset, it was clear to the fighters that they could not defeat the Nazis in battle - the uprising broke out while the Nazi killing machine was working at full strength. More than anything else, the rebellion symbolizes the daring and the determination of a few individuals, for the sake of freedom and justice. . . .

"Four days after the uprising broke out, Mordechai Anielewicz wrote the following to Antek Zuckerman:

"'... Things have surpassed our boldest dreams. The Germans ran away from the ghetto twice . . . . It is impossible to describe the conditions in which the Jews are living. Only a few individuals will hold out. All the rest will be killed sooner or later. The die is cast. . . . Be well my friend. Perhaps we shall meet again. The main thing is that the dream of my life has come true. I've lived to see Jewish defense in the ghetto in all its greatness and glory.'

"Anielewicz fell a few days later, and the Warsaw ghetto lay in ruins, but the stand taken by the Jews in Warsaw became the symbol of their struggle, a national symbol."

Yad Vashem has put the opening ceremony on line, with an exhibit that includes the "Call to Resistance by the Jewish Fighting Organization in the Warsaw Ghetto, January 1943," the full text of the last letter of Mordechai Anielewicz, and numerous photographs.

Monday, April 28, 2003

An Expert Comes Up With a Plan; Even Better Than the Last One

Martin Indyk, Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs (1997-2000) and U.S. Ambassador to Israel (2000-01) during the Clinton Administration, writes about a "defining moment in the Middle East," with the U.S. in "an unprecedented position of dominance in the region," and "idealists" arguing that "it was time to spread democracy" to that part of the world:

"Even while the Iraq crisis was raging, [our] Arab allies . . . anticipated the idealistic U.S. impulses and . . . found a way to deflect them. They extracted from the president and his secretary of state . . . a promise that after the war the United States would focus on solving the Arab-Israeli conflict. . . . [T]hose with responsibility for the Middle East (myself included) put forward a . . . powerful argument in favor of focusing on peacemaking rather than democratization . . . .There was a window of opportunity to negotiate a comprehensive peace in the Middle East."

Indyk is writing about 1991, and the situation immediately after the first Gulf war. His article was in Foreign Affairs last year and described how the bargain the United States struck with Egypt and Saudi Arabia in 1991 to substitute peacemaking for democratization -- based on the "powerful arguments" then being made -- contributed to the rise of al Qaeda.

Indyk has a new article in next month's issue of Foreign Affairs: "A Trusteeship for Palestine?" He writes that the current road map is "likely to meet the same fate as all previous failed attempts" because there is no "credible Palestinian partner for any political initiative" -- including Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), since "Arafat will do everything he can to undermine him in order to retain power." According to Indyk, the road map's "chances of success are slim."

Indyk proposes a "much more ambitious" approach instead: The United States should "lead an international push to create a trusteeship for Palestine" -- which would "take formal control of Palestinian territories from Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority and hold them in trust for the Palestinian people," while overseeing the establishment of democratic political institutions, an independent judiciary, free elections, and "accountable economic institutions:"

". . . U.S.-commanded special forces units and other troops would be put at the disposal of the U.S.-led trusteeship. These would not be peacekeepers or monitors; rather, they would be tasked with maintaining order, suppressing terrorism . . . roles similar to those currently being played by U.S. troops in Afghanistan. . . . [A] UN resolution would vest the powers to run the trusteeship in a U.S.-led steering committee of participating states . . . [with] troops from countries such as the United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada."

Hmm . . . get a U.N. resolution giving the U.S. and a Coalition of the Willing a trusteeship over Palestine, with U.S. troops authorized to change the regime, suppress terrorism and build a nation.

One is reminded of the anecdote of the three men trapped at the bottom of a well; one of them -- the expert -- comes up with a plan: "First, assume a rope . . . "

The "Real" Road Map, On the Other Hand, Might Work

DEBKAfile has a fascinating special report on "Washington's real, updated Middle East road map" ("US Middle East Road Map Goes Well Beyond Palestinian Dispute"), based on its analysis of the scheduled trips by Powell and Rumsfeld to the region. The real focus of both trips, says DEBKAfile, is Syria. Moreover:

"Abu Mazen will not be let off more lightly than Bashar Assad. This does not mean that Israel will escape demands for concessions, even painful ones, but not before the blight of terror is seriously addressed by the two Arab regimes. The Syrian president must take tough action against the Hizballah, as well as the Jihad Islami, Hamas and other Palestinian terror groups headquartered in Damascus; the Palestinian prime minister and his government will be required to actively beat down the Fatah, the Al Aqsa Brigades as well as the Jihad Islami and Hamas organizations in Palestinian areas. . . . If the Palestinian 'reformists' fail, they will be denied US backing for Palestinian independence and statehood. The Bush administration did not extinguish Saddam Hussein’s reign of terror in order to tolerate and treat with terror-sponsoring regimes in Damascus and Ramallah."

Friday, April 25, 2003

This Week's Portion: Aharei Mot (Leviticus 16:1 - 18:30)

The portion deals with the rituals to be followed by Aaron as he enters the Shrine, descibes the ritual of the scapegoat sent into the wilderness, sets forth the requirements for Yom Kippur ("And this shall be to you a law for all time: to make atonement for the Israelites for all their sins once a year"), and has various instructions on sexuality spoken by the Lord to Moses.

Rabbi Neil Gillman discusses the relationship of ritual ("rite") and ethics ("right") in "When Rite Makes Right:"

"Ritual infuses religion with poetry and drama. Without our rituals, Judaism would be dry, abstract, intellectualized and cold. . . . [E]ach ritual moment takes some abstract notion, some theoretical truth from our tradition, and infuses it with life, concretely, dramatically. . . . What was in our heads becomes acted out in our lives, in community for all to see and feel. . . . That is the priceless gift of great ritual."

Rabbi Debra Orenstein discusses the instruction "Do not lie with a man as with a woman. It is an abomination." (Leviticus 18:22). She writes that the verse is subject to rabbinic interpretation (particularly since there is no restriction on lesbian activity) and concludes it is about "Holy Boundaries:"

"Monogamous partnership is a Jewish standard we can and should prize, regardless of sexual orientation. Even if one regards both adultery and monogamous gay partnership as sexual sins, the former hurts people and breaks covenant; the latter increases love in the world. It is hard to convey the pain and damage caused to our neighbors by excluding gays from Jewish communal acceptance . . . ."

Rabbi David Wolpe recalls the words of King Alfred the Great, in the eighth century CE, advising "each of us who are strong . . . [to] build a fair enclosure . . . [and] dwell therein pleasantly and at his ease, winter and summer, as I have not yet done."

"The pathos of that last phrase, 'as I have not yet done,' strikes us across the centuries. Alfred dreams of a time when he will live quietly in his own sturdily constructed home, though we may doubt if it was granted to this king who died in his mid-50s in a turbulent time."

He compares the isolation of Alfred to the loneliness of Moses, who "spiritually constructed a home he could never enter. . . . but envision[ed] a home for the people he loved" and created the inspiration of a home that still animates his people thousands of years later.

Gary Rosenblatt parlays a bittersweet memory from his childhood ("Getting Ready for the Big Game") into a nice contemplation of the interval between Passover and Shavuot:

"This curious time, the seven-week period between the festival of freedom and the festival of the giving of the Torah, is, according to tradition, both one of recalling past tragedies and anticipating a wondrous promise fulfilled. In a sense, the permanent Jewish condition."

Shabbat Shalom!

Thursday, April 24, 2003

Well That Was Easy

On March 18, Tony Blair, near the end of his speech to Parliament on Iraq, said that the "Roadmap for peace . . . will now be presented to the parties as Abu Mazen is confirmed in office, hopefully today." That was a bit optimistic.

Five weeks later -- after the "head of Egyptian Intelligence, Omar Suleiman, placed heavy pressure on Arafat," and a "senior U.S. official phoned Arafat on Tuesday night," and "Tony Blair also called Arafat on Tuesday . . . [with] a stern message" -- Yasser Arafat and his prime minister-designate Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) reached an agreement on the composition of the new cabinet, a "major step" toward the "presentation of the U.S-backed road map to Middle East peace."

According to this account, Arafat also received phone calls from "several Arab leaders, EU representatives, and US and Russian officials over the past 48 hours," with the pressure (according to a "senior PA official") including "imprudent threats." Another account says even German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer put "enormous pressure" on Arafat.

Five weeks and enormous pressure from the entire international community (except Cuba, Libya and France) -- just to get the permission of Yasser Arafat to allow the prime minister to pick his cabinet. The Prime Minister remains subject to dismissal by Arafat, even assuming he is confirmed.

We will have to wait to see if Mahmoud Abbas can end the war the Palestinians started in September 2000, in response to the offer of a state by Ehud Barak.

Wednesday, April 23, 2003

An Important Review of an Important Book

Brett Stephens reviews Paul Berman's new book "Terror and Liberalism." He finds it "impassioned, but also measured and philosophical:"

"Berman's thesis is that Islamism of the sort preached by al Qaida and the Muslim Brotherhood is just another species of fascism, with identifiable roots in the Western political tradition. . . . [ineffectively opposed by] what Berman describes as 'the liberalism of denial' . . . .[which is animated by] 'a faith in universal rationality... The belief that, in the modern world, even the enemies of reason cannot be the enemies of reason. Even the unreasonable must be, in some fashion, reasonable.'

"Berman sees in Islamism much that is essentially Western. The idea of terror as a political instrument we get from St. Just, not Arafat; al Qaida's conception of itself as the 'vanguard of the vanguard' is basically a Leninist notion. As for the phenomenon of the suicide bomber, Berman quotes Camus: 'The theory of the gratuitous act,' he wrote in The Rebel, 'is the culmination of the demand for absolute liberty' -- not a bad explanation for the course taken in recent years by the Palestinian movement."

Stephens finds Berman's book ultimately hopeful: "Muslims, in other words, need not be condemned to backwardness simply by dint of their faith. Arab liberalism is an experiment worth attempting."

Interesting that, nearly sixty years after the end of World War II, fascism is still the animating force of much of the evil of the world. James C. Bennett ("Where Have the Fascists Gone?") would agree.

Tuesday, April 22, 2003

The Dark Side of Old Europe

James C. Bennett continues the analysis of Old Europe he began last week (see April 18 below), pondering "Where Have the Fascists Gone?"

He describes the rise of proto-fascism from the late 19th century through the 1940s as a "Counter-Industrial Revolution" that has never really gone away:

"That Counter-Revolution is far from over, as globalization and the spread of competitive free markets continue to disrupt local elites and undermine the ruling narratives upon which their local hegemony depends.

"European fascism was like a large river, flowing and carrying along millions of willing and enthusiastic adherents across the European continent. The question now is, where did this river disappear to in 1945? These people and their underlying sentiments were the culmination of generations of political evolution. It defies reason to believe that they simply changed their minds, all of them. . . .

"Integral to the fascist message were the hatred of individualism and free markets and hostility to the Anglo-American culture that they saw (accurately enough) as the source of those values in the modern world. . . . Of course, they despised the Jews as agents of modernism among them, but that current was muted in post-war Europe, since the fascists had successfully achieved their agenda of destroying the Jewish communities . . . .

"With the end of the Cold War, many of the more repressed elements of European fascist culture were able to come out of hiding and return to political respectability. Of course, they avoided the old symbols, and generally continued to substitute a pan-European cultural identity for the old national chauvinisms pre-war fascists had displayed . . . . Even anti-Semitism came back in the lightly disguised form of anti-Zionism . . . .

"Where have all the fascists gone? The answer seems to be that the river of fascist sentiments merely flowed underground for a few decades, and now they are seeping back to the surface. Looking at the pro-Baathist demonstrations that swept Europe in the last month, it is clear that these sentiments have regained more overt respectability than at any time since 1945. . . ."

Worth Reading in its Entirety

Passover and Modern Miracles

Hillel Halkin has an elegant essay ("'Next Year' is This Year for Some Jews") that connects Passover to the creation of the state of Israel and the American civil rights movement -- and comments on the historicity of the Passover story.

Halkin has an imaginative suggestion about the skepticism that 600,000 could have left Egypt: maybe that was actually the number that stayed behind. And what about us, he asks; would we have stayed or left?

Michael Walzer's remarkable book Exodus and Revolution traces the historical influence of the Exodus story. An excerpt is here.

Sunday, April 20, 2003

The End of [Military] History?

Victor Davis Hanson, writing in the New York Post on "The Arab Disconnect," says the military clash of civilizations is inherently unwinnable by an Arab culture that looks backward rather than forward:

"[W]hy would many Arabs resent scenes of freed Iraqis and the tottering statues of Saddam Hussein, who had killed as many Muslims at home and abroad as the United States had saved in Kuwait, Kosovo, Bosnia, Afghanistan and Somali from Saddam, Milosevic, Soviet commissars and tribal killers? . . . .

"After such a devastating and globally televised military defeat, the Muslim world is again at a crossroads. It can blame the collapse of the Iraqi army on Zionist intrigue, the fumes of colonialism, Saddam's secret treaties with Israel, CIA plots and fantastic stories of U.S. atomic bombs - or it can confront reality.

"As long as democracy is unknown, religion mixed in with government, sexual apartheid practiced, tribalism promoted over meritocracy, freedom squashed, statism preferred over open markets and governments created by censorship and terror rather than votes, no Arab army, despite its oil-fuelled gallery of bristling imported arms, will ever defeat a Western military. . . .

Religious Totalitarianism

Bernard Lewis writes in The Atlantic on the path toward tolerance followed by Judaism, Christianity and Islam ("I'm Right, You're Wrong, Go To Hell"):

"In one of his sermons the fifteenth-century Franciscan Saint John of Capistrano . . . denounced the Jews for trying to spread a 'deceitful' notion among Christians: 'The Jews say that everyone can be saved in his own faith, which is impossible.' For once a charge of his against the Jews was justified. The Talmud does indeed say that the righteous of all faiths have a place in paradise. . . . The relativist view was condemned and rejected by both Christians and Muslims, who shared the conviction that there was only one true faith, theirs, which it was their duty to bring to all humankind. The triumphalist view is increasingly under attack in Christendom, and is disavowed by significant numbers of Christian clerics. There is little sign as yet of a parallel development in Islam."

Friday, April 18, 2003

Burlington Buries a Hero in the Hebrew Holy Society Cemetery

Raj Chawla has sent me 20 pictures that he and other photographers for the Burlington Free Press took of the funeral of Marine Cpl. Mark Evnin on Monday. Like the funeral itself (see April 16 below), they are very moving.

The Decline and Fall of France

Pascal Bruckner, André Glucksmann and Romain Goupil, in an op-ed in Le Monde, translated at EuroPundits (April 17), write that Chirac's conduct reflected the thoughts of 90% of the French population:

"The second Gulf War has been a wonderfully revealing incident. An outbreak of anti-Semitism and ethnic hatred, an economic and social crisis, the desecration of a British military cemetery, the beating up of Jews and Iraqi opposition during the great 'peace' marches, an alliance . . . with the unsavory Vladimir Putin, butcher of Chechnyans, the reception of the African despot Robert Mugabe in Paris, public insults directed to Eastern European countries who committed the sin of not slavishly obeying us—our great nation is not in the process of writing its most glorious page in the Book of History."

The Convergence of Anti-Semitism and Anti-Americanism

James C. Bennet writes on the convergence of anti-Americanism and anti-semitism -- "Anglosphere: Why Do They Hate Us?"

The root source of anti-Americanism lies in the "deep-rooted anti-modern tradition of Continental Europe" -- a product of an Industrial Counter-Revolution:

"The . . . rise of totalitarianism set the stage for the end of the great Judaeo-German hybrid civilization of Europe and its French counterpart. Those European Jews who were left alive at the end of the war overwhelmingly desired to leave, and they left to two destinations: Israel, and the Anglosphere.

"With this emigration, on top of the previous great Jewish emigration to London and New York in the late 19th century, much of the energy, creativity and contributions of European Jews were given to the Anglosphere rather than the Continent. . . . Europe seemed to run out of creativity, in everything from arts, to academia, to demographic vigor, to the will to political reform.

"Consider that the current war has seen the rapid re-emergence of the classical anti-Semitic themes in Europe . . . The whitewashing of anti-Semitism as 'anti-Zionism' grows more and more transparent by the day. French television has begun to adopt the terminology of the Vichy propagandists in reporting on the 'Anglo-American attack' on Iraq. 'Neo-con' serves the same code-word duty that 'rootless cosmopolite' did in Stalin's anti-Jewish purges. . . .

"It would not be surprising if the twin anti-modernist themes of anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism, now rapidly coalescing into a single nasty mess visible in many of the pro-Saddam demonstrations of the past year, become once again the predominant political-cultural theme in Western Continental Europe . . . .

"And we should not be surprised if such people hate us."

Worth Reading in its Entirety.

Wednesday, April 16, 2003

Religion as a Place Setting at the Table

Passover begins with the first seder this evening.

Adria Popkin wrote a lovely article -- "My Grandfather's Seder" -- that captures the mixture of remembrance, family, love and hope that can emerge from the seder.

"That night religion revealed itself as a background setting to the story of my life and a place setting at my table. My family felt connected to something bigger, back to a time even before my grandfather, back to a very old history and powerful beliefs. . . . That seder was the finest meal I have ever prepared: It was a eulogy and a commencement all in one dish -- seasoned with nostalgia and savored like hope."

"He Is My Hero"

John Briggs, Emily Stone and Matt Sutkoski, staff writers for the Burlington Free Press, have a heart-breaking report: "Mark Evnin Buried at Hebrew Cemetery."

Corporal Mark Evnin, 21, the only child of Mindy and Michael Evnin, was killed in combat near Kut, Iraq, as his Marine unit crossed the Tigris River on its drive toward Baghdad. His funeral was Monday in Burlington, and was shown live on local TV.

"More than 1,000 people attended his funeral at Ohavi Zedek Synagogue . . . . The procession passed South Burlington High School, where hundreds of students and teachers stood outside to watch. Evnin graduated from the school three years ago.

"A Marine Corps League color guard and Burlington firefighters flanked the walkway into the synagogue. . . . The gathering included Gov. Jim Douglas, Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie and Bishop Kenneth Angell of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington. . . .

"Max Wall, Evnin's grandfather and a rabbi at Ohavi Zedek for more than 40 years, was the first of five to offer eulogies. He remembered his grandson as 'a tall, straight, proud human being' who was 'ready to do what duty demanded of him.' . . . . Tim Comolli, who taught Evnin in high school, told the gathering that Mark would have been amused to get his old teacher, an Irish Catholic, finally to visit his synagogue . . .

"Rabbi [Joshua] Chasan addressed Mindy Evnin. 'You gave Mark freedom to be himself,' he said, 'even when the risks for a mother were as high as they could be.'

"More than 100 people had begun to gather at the cemetery long before the funeral procession arrived. Standing by the side of the crowd, John Dyke, a former Special Forces NCO who served two years in Vietnam, said he scarcely knew the family but felt obligated to attend. . . .

"The simple wooden coffin was draped with an American flag adorned with a small Star of David. . . . Men and women wiped at tears as the casket lowered into the grave. The crying became more audible as Mindy Evnin stepped to the grave and dropped a shovelful of dirt onto the coffin. . . . LT. Gov. Brian Dubie stared into the grave for a moment after he shoveled. . . . Soon the grave was filled with dirt . . . [and] the long-drawn notes of taps floated softly with the wind across the grave."

There will be more than a hundred of these funerals for our soldiers, each an entire world. Each of the fallen was taken in the prime of life, in the line of duty, in the service of freedom or safety for others. As Passover begins this evening, it is particularly appropriate that we remember what they did for us.

What Mark Evnin Did For Others

Lee Harris has two articles in Tech Central Station that emphasize the moral and historical significance of America's action in Iraq. In "Confronting the Myth," he calls it "one of the great challenges that we have ever undertaken," the significance of which extends far beyond Iraq. In "Bush's Blunder," he writes of the remarkable action Bush took for "both those now living and those of future generations."

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

And We're Sticking to It

In response to President Bush's statement that Syria has chemical weapons and Donald Rumsfeld's statement that Syria allowed fleeing Iraqis into Syria, Syria's deputy UN Ambassador Fayssal Mekdad -- in a quote that suggests the Iraqi Information Minister may have made it safely to Syria and changed his name to "Fayssal Mekdad" -- says:

"We have no chemical weapons. Israel is the only state in the region that has nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. We did not give any facilities for Iraqis running away, and this is our position."

Why Syria is Next

Stephen Pollard, senior fellow at the Centre for the New Europe in Brussels, writes in The Telegraph (U.K) that "If Syria Isn't Next on America's Hit List, It Certainly Should Be."

In 1992, "the Pentagon ranked Syria as the sole Muslim state possessing a 'chemical systems capability in all critical elements' for chemical weapons. In the decade since, Syria has spent between $1 billion and $2 billion annually on its ballistic, chemical and biological weapons capabilities. . . .

"Satellite intelligence shows that Syria's Scud-C missiles, integrated with its chemical warheads, are sited to provide the option of a first strike against Israel's nuclear reactor in Dimona, and take out airports and large cities. In April 2000, General Mustafa Talas, the defence minister, published Biological (Germ) Warfare: A New and Effective Method in Modern Warfare . . . .

"Syria has long manufactured aerial bombs with sarin and has thousands of other chemical aerial bombs carried by Su-22, Su-24, and MiG-23 planes."

In its report entitled "Patterns of Global Terrorism 2001," the U.S. State Department designated Syria as a "state sponsor of terrorism."

John Podhoretz writes that "Syria is 'Next'" -- in part because peace on Israel's northern border is a necessary condition for the "road map" to have any chance of success.

Why Syria Hasn't Responded So Far

Ze'ev Schiff, the respected military analyst for Ha'aretz, writes in "Washington Turns Its Sights on Damascus" that Syria has incurred "America's rage" because Syria allowed Palestinian and Syrian volunteers to cross the border into Iraq during the war -- and didn't stop even in the face of American pressure.

"This was not a matter of slow response but of deliberate disregard to America's requests, which would not have happened without President Bashar Assad's approval. He seems to be drawing courage from recent talks with the French, who are still encouraging anti-American activities."

Fayssal Mekdad -- Call Your Office

Nathan Guttman reports that "Some Senior U.S. Figures Say Syria Has Crossed the Red Line."

Guttman reports that, in a report submitted to Congress in January, the CIA stated it had "determined that Syria possesses a known inventory of nerve gas and that it has recently stepped up efforts to acquire materials for production of more effective and more stable chemical weapons. The report also states 'there is high probability' that Syria is developing biological weapons."

In another article, Guttman and Daniel Sobelman report that:

"A CIA report for 2002 said that Syria not only has chemical weapons but is actively trying to update its arsenal. The report says Syria has sarin nerve gas, 'but is trying to develop a more toxic' poison. . . .

"There are three known plants for producing the chemicals - near Damascus, Hama and in the Aleppo area.

"The CIA report also says Syria has long-range missiles and is working with North Korea on developing liquid fuel long-range missiles . . . ."

Monday, April 14, 2003

Lost on the Road Map

Ariel Sharon gave an interview, published Sunday in Ha'aretz, in which he said that "if it turns out that we have someone to talk to, that they understand that peace is neither terrorism nor subversion against Israel, then I would definitely say that we will have to take steps that are painful for every Jew and painful for me personally." Here is the full text of the interview.

The interview has caused a stir within the Israeli cabinet. The Palestinians -- always eager to miss another opportunity -- dismiss the interview as a "ploy" and a "fraud." One influential Palestinian "reformer" says the Sharon statement is "not bad," but he stresses that Palestinians will "never give up the 'sacred' right of return for the refugees."

Even the most liberal Israelis recognize that the "right of return" is a code for the destruction of the Jewish state.

Yasser Arafat Sunday evening rejected a reformist cabinet proposed by incoming Palestinian prime minister Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen).

Sunday, April 13, 2003

Hollywood Moves on Campus

Rachel Brand writes about the "Campus Campaign" of Project Communicate -- a $400,000 advertising campaign by an organization of executives in the entertainment industry to shake up unaffilliated Jewish students at major Southern California colleges.

It is an important commitment by an industry with world class communication skills to engage in a battle of facts and ideas -- at the places they are most in danger. "'We asked ourselves, why don't we take what this community is known for, which is communicating effectively, and try to see if we can affect some change,' said Dan Adler, chief strategic officer of the Convex Group and former head of New Media at CAA."

The project is supported by 90 Hollywood executives, including a "core group of heavy-hitters, such as political activist Donna Bojarsky; producer Tom Barad [of Barad Entertainment, Inc.]; Howard Bragman, founding partner of Bragman Nyman Caffarelli; Roger Fishman, head of the marketing group at CAA, and political consultant Brent Cohen" as well as "movie producer Sean Daniel; entertainment attorney Ken Hertz; screenwriter Andrea King, television writer-producer Jay Kogen; Art Levitt, CEO of Fundango; marketing specialist [Azi] Tabachnik, columnist Tom Teicholz; writer Michael Tolkin, [author of "The Player"]; writer-director Jon Turteltaub; activist and philanthropist Lynne Wasserman; Sherry Lansing, chairman of Paramount Pictures; producer Zvi Rosenman, and producer and writer Jason Venoker." Also involved are television producer Stan Brooks, Lee Kovel of Kovel-Fuller advertising agency, who took on the project pro bono, and coordinator Shanit Hassid.

The project has a web site with facts on the Middle East, links to additional information, and ways for students to get involved: A book with facts for students about Israel and the conflict with the Palestinians is available at

"Beyond Kabbala Kitsch"

Rabbi David Wolpe reviews Arthur Green's "Ehyeh: A Kabbalah for Tomorrow."

In the midst of the "dumbed-down restatements" and "new-age platitudes" of the current "Kabbala kitsch," Green has written a book that is both scholarly and accessible to the general reader. It "relays his own spiritual journey and educates the reader along the way."

A nice example: In writing about his journey, Green recalls the thought-provoking observation of Rabbi Pinhas of Koretz: "People think you pray to God, but that is not the case. Rather prayer itself is the essence of divinity."

Friday, April 11, 2003

This Week's Portion: Metsora (Leviticus 14:1 - 15:33)

The portion covers the purification rituals for cleansing those with leprosy, discharges and other uncleanness.

Rabbi Melissa Crespy writes that the ceremonies "at first struck me as odd, messy and inaccessible in its ancientness" -- until she realized that they are rituals of re-entry into life. Just as we mark bithdays, anniversaries and marriages with ceremonies, "those who have suffered life-threatening illness may also want or need to mark that moment with a meaningful ritual" -- and to do it with the community with them.

Rabbi Peter Knobel writes in "Healing the Whole Person" that the rituals reflect Judaism's belief that "body and soul are not separate realms. . . . The priest acts both as a religious and medical functionary." He notes that in visiting the sick, the community lifts the spirits of those who feel isolation, loss of identy and indignity in the hospital gown. "It is the magical presence of another person that has the same effect as the priestly ritual."

Rabbi David Wolpe writes in "The Beauty of Differences" that "there is blessing in plurality and variegation. . . . [God] creates each human face, and all are different."

Shabbat Shalom.

Thursday, April 10, 2003

The Beginning of a New Era in the Middle East

Abdul Rahman-Al-Rashid, Editor in Chief of the Arab News, in today's edition ("Saddam Did Not Fall Alone"):

"Saddam Hussein didn’t fall alone yesterday. Along with him, more important things fell.

"The big lies that accompanied him and glorified him and cheered him fell. The minds that refused to refer to today’s truths and yesterday’s history and spoke for the Iraqi people falsely fell as well.

"In front of the whole world, the Iraqis clinched the truth themselves in their own capital Baghdad — about which it was said that if Basra was a passing city that cheered for the American and British soldiers, the capital would be the stronghold of the invincible regime.

"That is exactly why yesterday’s news shocked the Arabs more than the rest of the world. It shocked the Arabs from the utmost east in Kuwait to the utmost west in Morocco, and in all the cities in between. . . .

"The news shocked the people of Cairo, where the fundamentalists, nationalists, leftists and the deceived headed numerous campaigns to declare their preparedness to defend Saddam’s Iraq.

"But by yesterday morning, the TV stations — including that advocated the campaign to defend Saddam and his regime — didn’t succeed in hiding the images of the happy people celebrating in the capital.

"That’s why yesterday's images, in which the people of Baghdad tore down their dictator’s pictures and pissed on them, overthrew the biggest lie in the contemporary history of the Arabic world.

"And I say with confidence that the collapse of Saddam and his regime was not an important event itself . . . but the real event was challenging Arab political and cultural certainties. This was one of the rare times that they were examined and then disappeared into thin air. . . .

"[T]he truth . . was apparent to the whole world."

Perhaps a New Era in the Rest of the World Too

Charles Krauthammer writes that the Three Week War is a "revolution in world affairs:"

"It is one thing to depose tin-pot dictators. Anyone can do that. It is another thing to destroy a Stalinist demigod and his three-decade apparatus of repression -- and leave the country standing. From Damascus to Pyongyang, totalitarians everywhere are watching this war with shock and awe."

Amir Taheri, Iranian author of 10 books on the Middle East and Islam, writes ("Freedom and Dignity") on the cries of "Shukran Ya Bush (Thank You Bush)" by the Iraqi people:

"Here is the first lesson to draw from the liberation of Baghdad: Iraqis, and Arabs in general, are no different from other human beings.

"They, too, prefer to live in freedom and dignity. They, too, are grateful to those who come to their aid in their hour of need. They, too, reject the disease of anti-Americanism that prevents so many otherwise sane people from acknowledging that the United States can be a force for the good."

William Shawcross writes that April 9, 2003 will henceforth be known as "Baghdad Day." It is a day that:

". . . will live in legend like the fall of the Bastille, V-E Day or the fall of the Berlin Wall."

Christopher Hitchens writes in today's Mirror (U.K.) that "nothing can erase the memory of Baghdad's dawn" and says in Slate that he wants to go to the next anti-war rally and celebrate what happened yesterday:

"All of this has been done in my name, and I feel like bearing witness."

Wednesday, April 09, 2003

Support at the AIPAC Policy Conference from Evangelical Christians

AIPAC (American Israeli Public Affairs Committee) has posted the major speeches from its recent conference, including addresses by Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, and Minority Leader Tom Daschle.

Gary Bauer, who visited Israel last year and personally delivered to Ariel Sharon a letter of support signed by dozens of Christian leaders, gave an impassioned speech: "Israel and America are joined at the hip and joined at the heart." He also addressed a common concern about Christian support of Israel:

"Some have played on your understandable fears by suggesting that Christian support for Israel is predicated on an
'end times' scenario that inevitably involves suffering for you.

"My friends, if you remember nothing else I said this afternoon remember this: I speak at hundreds of Christian events every year. The support for Israel I find from Dallas to
Atlanta, from Denver to Tallahassee, is based on something both simple and profound.
We believe in the Abrahamic covenant. We believe God owns the land and he has deeded it to the Jewish people, a deed that cannot be canceled by Yasser Arafat and cannot be
amended - even by a president. This God has spoken clearly. He said, 'He who blesses
Israel I will bless, he who curses Israel, I will curse.' For believing Christians that is clear
enough, and good enough for us."

Dennis Prager wrote an article last year entitled "A Jew Defends Evangelical Christians" that is worth re-reading. His "Those Who Curse the Jews and Those Who Bless the Jews" is also worth another read.

Tuesday, April 08, 2003

Hollywood Produces an Important Project

Rachel Abramowitz writes in yesterday's Los Angeles Times about Project Communicate, a group of young Hollywood screenwriters, talent agents and others organized by Dan Adler, who are urging Jewish students on campus to get involved in issues relating to Israel ("Jewish Students Urged to Speak Up").

Some important Hollywood names are involved in the project, including Sherry Lansing, Michael Tolkin and Art Levitt.

Tom Tugend had an article last year that described the project and the difficulty of penetrating an industry that has traditionally had "more indignation . . .reserved for smokers" than homicide bombers. ("Middle East Conflict Doesn't Fit Storyline for Jews of Hollywood").

A good reference for Jewish students is a new book that provides accessible and balanced information for students confronted with anti-Israel protests and similar campus activities: "On One Foot: A Middle-East Guide for the Perplexed." Information about the book can be found at

Monday, April 07, 2003

Taking the Road Map on the Road

David Weinberg, director of public affairs at Bar-Ilan University, Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, writes that the "road map" for Palestine should be applied in Iraq, since "If It's Good for Arafat . . . " it ought to be fine in Iraq.

Good article. Convinces me.

Iraq and Islamic History

Bernard Lewis writes in the National Post on the history of Iraq, and notes that Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath Party is literally a Nazi creation -- a result of the Vichy regime's control of the Middle East ("Saddam's Regime is a European Import").

He writes that there is in fact a tradition of limited government in Islamic history, which provides a "good basis for the development of democratic institutions -- as has happened elsewhere in the world. I remain cautiously optimistic for [the peoples of the Muslim Middle East's] future."

France's Continuing Moral Slide

Kim Willsher, of the London Sunday Telegraph, reports on the latest anti-semitic violence in France, and Jacques Chirac's silence about it.

More on Michael Kelly

The Jerusalem Post ran an editorial yesterday honoring Michael Kelly: 1957-2003. It captures him both as a person and a writer, and more:

"Kelly died in the service of a mighty cause in which he passionately believed. He died not just as a reporter or a pundit, but as a patriot, an American to his core. There is great honor in this. The Jerusalem Post mourns him as a columnist, as a thinker, as a humane and sensible man and as a mighty pen for the right."

Maureen Dowd (!) had a beautiful eulogy in yesterday's New York Times.

"[His father] told friends his son was lucky: He had had the best possible life for a journalist and died well, better than full of tubes in a hospital somewhere. Michael died for two things he believed in: Journalism and ridding the world of jackboots. And as Pat Moynihan said when he learned J.F.K. was dead: 'I don't think there's any point in being Irish if you don't know that the world is going to break your heart eventually.'"

Hanna Rosin has a remembrance this morning in the Washington Post that focuses on Kelly as a person ("Worshipping Mike").

"Here was a person whose prose you couldn't help but memorize, and yet he acted like he'd be honored to edit our stories. There is a club of his former writers who sort of hero-worship him; I guess now we can admit it."

Sunday, April 06, 2003

Michael Kelly -- One of the Greatest -- is Gone

Michael Kelly, the prodigiously talented political columnist for the Washington Post, the former editor of The New Republic, National Journal and The Altantic Monthly, died on Friday in Iraq while covering the war.

Over the last few years, Kelly's column in the Washington Post was eagerly awaited every Wednesday morning. Virtually every column was a combination of remarkable insight, extraordinary eloquence, and political courage. He was relentless on the issues about which he cared.

With respect to Israel, he wrote a series of articles that are even more powerful and prescient now.

He was present as a reporter in Gaza on July 1, 1994, when Yasser Arafat arrived to establish the Palestinian Autonomous Region. He later described Arafat's arrival ("Promises But Never Peace") as follows:

"Arafat's entry into Gaza was an object lesson: a purposely uncaring display of brute power. He arrived from the Sinai in a long caravan of Chevrolet Blazers and Mercedes-Benzes and BMWs, 70 or 80 cars packed to the rooflines with men with guns. The caravan roared up the thronged roads and down the mobbed streets, with the overfed, leather-jacketed, sunglassed thugs of Arafat's bodyguard detail all the time screaming and shooting off their Kalashnikovs to make their beloved people scurry out of their beloved leader's way.

"This was the whole of the Palestinian Authority from the beginning, an ugly little cartoon of Middle East despotism. There was never any pretense of democracy, of rule of law, of a free press, of a working system of taxes or courts or hospitals. There was never any real government. No one ever bothered to build an economy or create jobs or even pick up the trash or pave the streets. There were only security forces -- many, many of these -- and villas by the sea for Arafat's cronies, and millions of dollars in foreign aid that seemed to always turn up missing, and prisons and propaganda. And in the middle of it all: "President" Arafat sitting in a room -- surrounded by waiting sycophants and toadies and respectful ladies and gentlemen of the press . . . ."

Kelly's May 8, 2002 piece about "Israel's Phony 'Partner'" was typical of his caustic view of the "peace of the brave:"

". . . we have been a little disappointed, haven't we? You give a fellow a perfectly good peace process, not to mention the Nobel Peace Prize; award him much of the land he demands and a $90 million monthly budget; let him build an armed force on Israeli territory; and, finally . . . get both the president of the United States and the prime minister of Israel to promise him all of Gaza and nearly all of the West Bank as an independent and joined Palestinian state, with a right of Palestinian return to that state, plus a multibillion-dollar reparations fund -- and what does he do? He goes to war against you. Yes, a disappointment to us all."

Writing just three weeks -- three weeks -- before 9/11, Kelly had an article "(Mideast Myths Exploded) about the Sbarro bombing in Tel Aviv, in which 15 were killed and as many as 100 others maimed. Kelly was outraged -- in a manner that now looks prophetic -- that Colin Powell had lectured the Israelis in the language of moral equivalency:

""I hope that both sides will act with restraint,' Powell said. 'They both have to do everything they can to restrain the violence, restrain the provocation and the counter-response to the provocation.'

"This official U.S. policy statement is beyond stupid. It is immoral, hypocritical, obscene. It is indefensible. Israel is at war with an enemy that declines, in its shrewdness and its cowardice, to fight Israel's soldiers but is instead murdering its civilians, its women and children.

"This enemy promises, credibly, more murders. In the face of this, in the aftermath of an attack expressly and successfully designed to blow children to bits, how dare a smug, safe-in-his-bed American secretary of state urge 'restraint' by 'both sides?' How does the secretary imagine his own country would respond to such a 'provocation' as the Sbarro mass murder?"

Three weeks later, such a "provocation" occurred, on a beautiful September morning in New York, and the U.S. war on terrorism began the following month. Michael Kelly gave his life covering it. But the truths he courageously set down in print will live on after him, as will the example of his personal courage and his extraordinary journalism.

May his memory be a blessing.

Friday, April 04, 2003

This Week's Portion: Tazria (Leviticus 12:1 - 13:59)

Rabbi Lauren Berkun Eichler, a JTS Rabbinic Fellow, has a lovely d'var Torah on how her "spiritual and intellectual journey as a teacher of Torah began with the purity system in Leviticus."

Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson discusses "reclaiming our severed half -- learning from the men and women with whom we share our lives how to allow our soul to blossom and infuse the full range of human potential."

Rabbi David Wolpe discusses the reasons for "Rereading Torah" every year: the "deepest wisdom . . . is not new but must be learned, relearned, applied." He explains why the Talmud teaches that "one who reads the Torah 100 times cannot be compared to one who reads it 101 times."

Thursday, April 03, 2003

Report on Jewish Philanthropy

Nacha Cattan writes on a new report about Jewish philanthropy ("Few Large Donations Go to Jewish Causes"). The report indicates that only about 10 percent of the mega-gifts ($10 million or more) by Jewish donors go to Jewish institutions. Stewart Ain's article about the study ("Mega-Gifts Eluding Jewish Community") discusses whether this is good or bad.

More Debate About the "Road Map Process"

Ori Nir has a report on the status of the "road map process" that is more nuanced and interesting than its title suggests ("Foreign Minister Brings Word of Concessions on 'Road Map'").

The Forward has dueling articles entitled "'Road Map' to Peace . . . or Undue Pressure?" by David Forman, an Israeli liberal and Chair of Israeli Rabbis for Human Rights (who doesn't like the process) and Marvin Lender, Chair of Israel Policy Forum's executive committee (who does).

Wednesday, April 02, 2003

More Than a Map is Required

Barry Freedman of Los Angeles and William Langman of Florida have letters in today's Jerusalem Post commenting on the road map and the conditions necessary for its success.

Another Pass for Palestinians

Michael Freund asks why it was a cause for concern three years ago when Austria's Jorge Haider, a Holocaust denier, was made part of the Austrian government, but a similar concern does not apply to the Palestinian Prime Minister ("Arafat's 'Pragmatic' Protege").

This Month's Somewhat Accessible Commentary Magazine

The April issue of Commentary is out. The table of contents includes two important articles:

Ruth Wisse: "At Home in Jerusalem" ("In standing up to evil, the Jews of Israel have much to teach the world").

Hillel Halkin: "'Boiling a Kid': Reflections on a New Bible Commentary" ("The inconsistencies of modern Conservative Judaism are not just practical, but intellectual").

Neither of these articles is yet available on the web, even at a charge, but will be available later for $2.00 per article, with a complicated payment process. (The letters and book reviews can be accessed for free).

$2.00 per article? Hey, Commentary, c'mon -- don't you want these articles to be read?

If you're going to charge for web access, at least make the entire issue available online for $4.50 -- which is the single issue price. Actually, the price should be less, since online publication saves Commentary mailing and printing costs, builds a larger readership for the magazine, and helps create an e-mail contact list.

Maybe $3.50 would be good.

Tuesday, April 01, 2003

Colin Powell and Others Address AIPAC

Secretary of State Colin Powell addressed the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) on Sunday evening. A transcript of his address is here.

In his remarks relating to the Palestinian war against Israel, Powell said that "[a]s written and passed," the law creating the new Palestinian Prime Minister gives him "real power and authority" and that, once he is confirmed in office, the road map will be presented to both sides. But the map is not an "edict" -- just steps that Israel "must take:"

"The roadmap is not an edict, it is not a treaty. It is a statement of the broad steps we believe Israel and the Palestinians must take to achieve President Bush's vision of hope and the dream that we all have for peace."

Silvan Shalom, Israel's Foreign Minister, speaking after Powell, also addressed AIPAC. A copy of his address is here. He called the election of the Palestinian Prime Minister a "first step" in the right direction and said that "Israel shares President Bush's vision on the resolution of the Middle East conflict, and is committed to the ideas in principle set forth in the president's speech of June 24, 2002."

The key phrase is "in principle." Israel has numerous comments on the specifics of the plan, but the principal issue is whether the first step in the road map is a cessation of Palestinian terror, or whether Palestinian "declarations" and "efforts" will suffice.

Haaretz has a report on the current status of the parties' reaction to the prospective plan, as well as a summary of Condoleezza Rice's speech to AIPAC, in which she indicated that there will be no changes to the map.

David Harris, head of the American Jewish Committee, on a visit to Israel, has an extensive interview about the road map. He questions whether Israel will be called upon to make concessions to mollify Old Europe.

Gary Bauer reports in his March 31 "End of Day" e-mail on the reception accorded his own AIPAC speech:

"Sunday afternoon I was able to give a speech here in Washington, D.C. to 4,
500 people attending the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC)
annual convention. I wish you could have been there. The speech was
interrupted repeatedly with thunderous applause and I received a prolonged
standing ovation. No, I am not bragging. I'm just excited about the
growing alliance of Christians and Jews! "