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Friday, February 27, 2004

This Week's Portion: Terumah (Exodus 25:1-27:19)

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart so moves him.

And these are the gifts that you shall accept from them: gold, silver, and copper; blue, purple, and crimson yarns, fine linen, goats' hair; tanned ram skins, dolphin skins, and acacia wood; oil for lighting, spices for the anointing oil and for the aromatic incense; lapis lazuli and other stones for setting, for the ephod and for the breastpiece.

And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.
(Exodus 25:1-8)

Rabbi Ismar Schorsch concentrates on the above verse in his d'var Torah:

"And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them." (Exodus 25:8). Put differently: "Easy come, easy go."

What lands in our lap without effort quickly loses its meaning for us. Though miracles were to abound in the wilderness, the Tabernacle was not built by divine fiat. The deep involvement of all Israelites in its construction, as both donors and craftsmen, not only expressed their consent at the outset but also heightened their commitment at the end. Work creates value. . . .

We are fated to complete the work of creation, to turn wheat into bread or grapes into wine, not because God is limited but because we humans are. We are all too ready to disparage and dismiss that which has not been achieved by the sweat of our brow.

Rabbi Schorsch recounts another midrash on the above verse that reflects "the virtue of participating:"

Unlike the instructions for all the other appurtenances, which were directed to Moses alone in the second person singular, the instructions for the ark were intended for everyone and hence cast in the third person plural (the imperative plural): "They shall make an ark of acacia wood" (Exodus 25:10). . . .

Hence God said to Moses: "Let everyone come to participate in the making of the ark so that all of them might one day merit the crown of Torah" (Sh'mot Rabbah, 34:2).

Rabbi Cheryl Peretz, Associate Dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the University of Judaism, gives a beautiful meaning to the portion, with a more personal memory:

One of my most vivid childhood memories is of my father giving me birthday and/or Hanukah presents. . . . Sitting in his chair in the living room, he would call me to the room, saying he dropped something behind the chair, and needed me to get it for him.

In reading . . . Terumah, I finally figured out why [it is that] . . . the presents themselves have long since departed from my memory, while the . . . look of delight on his face remains etched on the walls of my heart . . . .”

God’s Tabernacle was made by those who willingly gave of themselves and of their wealth. And it is from this giving that God could ultimately dwell in the sanctuary that was created and in the people who built it.

And, so I think back to my father and the gifts he used to give. He could easily have wrapped those presents, handed them to me, and left it at that. And, just as now, I would have no recollection of what they were . . . .

But, in doing so with the creative "behind the chair" trick . . . the presents have built for me memories that remain and moments more precious than any physical gift could ever have been.

And, in so doing, he and I have a sanctuary, transcending time and creating a space in which, even in his absence, both he and God dwell with me.

Shabbat Shalom.

Thursday, February 26, 2004

Kerry Staffers Strike Again!

Only one month after they successfully inserted Jimmy Carter's name in John Kerry's speech to the Council on Foreign Relations, forcing Kerry to name Carter by mistake as a potential special Middle East envoy, Kerry's staffers did it again!

This time, the staffers successfully inserted Carter's name in the answer Kerry gave to a question asked in Newton, Iowa on January 3, 2004:

Q. If elected, would you plan to negotiate with Yasser Arafat, or do you believe in the Bush administration's isolation of Arafat, or is there someone on the Palestinian side who you believe you could negotiate with?

A. Thank you, I believe it was appropriate to isolate Arafat. . . . The last time I was in the Middle East I met at great length with President Mubarak, with Crown Prince Abdullah, with King Abdullah, with Prime Minister Sharon. I met with Arafat the last time I was in the Middle East. . . .

It is clear to those who thought hard about it, that what happened in Taba, which is where they negotiated in the last months of the Clinton Administration, is a close framework of what some kind of vision of peace is gonna look like.

The question now is can we have a President who knows how to get from here to there. I think I do -- I'm not gonna lay it all out today, but I will tell you that I've talked to President Clinton, I've talked to President Carter. One, either, both, are ready and willing to serve as a special envoy.

Stop those staffers before they insert again. They apparently don't even need to prepare a speech any more to get Kerry to name Carter by mistake.

Monday, February 23, 2004

John Kerry and Israel

In his December 2003 speech to the Council on Foreign Relations, John Kerry proposed appointing Jimmy Carter, James Baker or Bill Clinton as his envoy to the "peace process."

According to The Forward, Kerry received "major grief for the Carter-Baker remarks from Jewish communal leaders who consider Carter and Baker to be pro-Arab and anti-Israel."

But guess what? Just before the New York primary, we are told it was a staff mistake.

A top New York supporter of Massachusetts Senator John Kerry is saying that the candidate told him he made a "mistake" when he named former president Jimmy Carter or former secretary of state James Baker as possible Middle East envoys in a December speech at the Council on Foreign Relations.

New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said Kerry told him that he never intended to name the men in the speech, and that Kerry had blamed the insertion of the names on a staff mistake.

According to Silver, who endorsed Kerry last week, Kerry told him that when he discovered the names of the two men had been inserted into a draft of his speech by staffers, he had requested they be removed, but was told that the draft remarks already had been distributed to reporters, so there was no way to deliver the speech minus the names without causing a stir. . . .

"Kerry is saying, 'Look, this is a mistake.'"

Really? A staff mistake? Let’s go to the videotape and decide for ourselves.

Here is what the staffers "inserted" in Kerry’s speech, based on the "As Prepared for Delivery" version that can be found on Kerry’s website.

In the first days of a Kerry Administration, I will appoint a Presidential Ambassador to the Peace Process who will report directly to me and the Secretary of State -- and who will work day-to-day to move that process forward.

There are a number of uniquely qualified Americans who I would consider appointing, including: President Carter, former Secretary of State James Baker, or, as I suggested almost two years ago, President Clinton.

But in the actual speech, based on the transcript on the Council on Foreign Relations website, Kerry ad-libbed a little more:

In the first days of a Kerry administration, I will appoint a presidential ambassador to the peace process who will report directly to me and the secretary of State, and who will work day to day to move that process forward.

There are a number of uniquely qualified Americans among whom I would consider appointing, including President Carter, former Secretary of State James Baker or, as I suggested almost two years ago, President Clinton.

And I might add, I have had conversations with both President Clinton and President Carter about their willingness to do this, and I think they would welcome it and embrace it as a means of moving forward.

In the question-and-answer session that followed, a questioner told Kerry it was "one of the finest foreign policy speeches I've heard" and asked him to "say a little bit more about this very interesting idea of presidential envoys . . . ."

KERRY: David, thank you for your comments on the speech. Look. Jimmy Carter, President Clinton, President George Herbert Walker Bush, Jim Baker.

I think Jim Baker made 14 trips there. I know he wasn't all that popular at the end of a number of them and there were some issues. But Larry Eagleburger, Brent Scowcroft. There's great talent out there with people who have been through this.

And it's astonishing to me that we are not picking up somewhere near where we left off at Taba . . . .

I was in the Middle East after September 11th. I met at length with President Mubarak, with Crown Prince Abdullah, with King Abdullah, with Prime Minister Sharon, with Arafat in the West Bank. All of them.

And every single leader, including our own ambassador, said to me, "Senator, where is General Zinni? Why isn't there a special envoy here? This is a moment of opportunity." . . .

And I believe that a special envoy of the quality of President Clinton or of President Carter, or a combination of people, bipartisanly, would have the ability to be able to raise the day-to-day diplomacy to a level that helps to give strength to those who seek peace.

He met with Arafat. After September 11. After Bill Clinton blamed Arafat for the Oslo collapse. After George W. Bush refused to meet with Arafat. After Arafat had commenced a barbaric war against Israel. After that -- and in the midst of that -- he meets with Arafat.

And he came away from that meeting thinking the answer is to appoint Jimmy Carter as presidential envoy and start the negotiations with Taba.

It was not a staff mistake.

Friday, February 20, 2004

This Week's Portion: Mishpatim (Exodus 21:1-24:18)

You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. You shall not ill-treat any widow or orphan.

If you do mistreat them, I will heed their outcry as soon as they cry out to Me, and My anger shall blaze forth . . . .
(Exodus 22:20-23).

Dr. Lawrence Layfer quotes Nachmonides (the Rambam) on the significance of the above lines:

"You should not think that the stranger has no one to save him from the violence or oppression of your hands.

On the contrary, you should know that when you were strangers in Egypt, I saw the oppression with which the Egyptians were persecuting you and I brought punishment upon them.

For I see the sufferings that are inflicted by evildoers on people and the tears of the oppressed who have none to comfort them. And I free every person from the hand of violence.

Therefore, do not afflict the stranger, thinking there is no one to save him, for he will be helped more than any other person."

Shabbat Shalom.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Why Are the Democrats AWOL?

George Packer -- one of the "liberal hawks" who participated in last month’s Slate dialogue on Iraq -- has an article on the Democrats' foreign policy in the current New Yorker:

[H]ere is a remarkable fact: since the nineteen-sixties, the Democratic Party has had no foreign policy.

Its leaders have continued to speak the language of liberal internationalism, but after Vietnam most Democrats haven’t wanted to back up the talk with power.

They continued to put their faith in institutions like the United Nations (where Saddam’s Iraq was a member in good standing and Libya chaired the human-rights commission) long after it was apparent that these institutions needed repair. . . .

In [Senator Joseph] Biden’s words, most Democrats still “worship at the shrine of multilateral institutions, and without absolute consensus there’s no action.”

Packer argues that the Democrats’ position on Iraq is unfortunate, because:

[F]or Democrats and for Americans, the first step is to realize that the war on terrorism is actually a war for liberalism -- a struggle to bring populations now living under tyrannies and failed states into the orbit of liberal democracy. . . .

Whatever [the Democrats] thought of the Iraq war, the struggle there is now the epicenter of the war of ideas . . . .

Paul Berman -- another of the "liberal hawks" -- echoed these points in his article in the current issue of Dissent:

Look at some of our big, influential liberal magazines -- one article after another about Israeli crimes and stupidities, and even a few statements in favor of abolishing Israel, and hardly anything about the sufferings of the Arabs in the rest of the world. . . .

It is 1943 right now in huge portions of the world -- and people don't see it. And so, people simply cannot detect the fascist nature of all kinds of mass movements and political parties. In the Muslim world, especially. . . .

[T]he Baath Party is very nearly a classic fascist movement, and so is the radical Islamist movement . . . . Mass graves, three hundred thousand missing Iraqis, a population crushed by thirty-five years of Baathist boots stomping on their faces -- that is what fascism means!

Liberal blogger Hak Mao puts it equally well:

The question of whether Saddam Hussein was a monstrous, murderous tyrant has two answers -- "no" or "yes". There is no "yes but".

Every week that people stood around wringing their hands and making excuses saw hundreds more Iraqis die. . . . Hand-wringing has a singular ability to fill mass graves -- Srebrenica, Rwanda. Oh it's terrible, but what can we do?

So yes -- I supported the removal of the fascist Tikriti oligarchy. . . . To have argued for a course which left Hussein and his odious progeny in power one day longer would have meant betraying not only my own principles, but the people of Iraq, a people suffering from more than two decades of countless little daily betrayals.

Lee Harris, in his new book "Civilization and Its Enemies," writes that:

We are now living in a world where decent and sincere men and women attack the United States for removing Saddam Hussein, the archetype of the ruthless gang leader, who brutalized twenty million human beings for three decades.

They condemn the United States president for declaring a war on terrorism -- which is simply the contemporary form of the age-old war on the cult of ruthlessness, a cult that is the enemy of all the diverse and distinct cultures of mankind. . . .

There may be good conservative conservative reasons for preserving a wicked status quo, but there are no liberal progressive ones.

The misnamed "war on terror" is in fact a war against fascism -- a new totalitarianism at least as vicious and virulent as the two that arose in the twentieth century, armed with an ideology and with weapons even more dangerous than before. If the Democrats are put in charge of this war, will they show up?

Here is a remarkable exchange from Sunday’s Democratic presidential debate in Wisconsin:

QUESTION: Senator Kerry, President Bush a week ago on "Meet the Press" described himself as a war president. He said he's got war on his mind as he considers these policies and decisions he has to make. If you were elected, would you see yourself as a war president?

KERRY: I'd see myself first of all as a jobs president, as a health care president, as an education president and also an environmental president. . . .

In other words, he would be everything but.

If elected commander-in-chief, he will be AWOL -- continuing the non-foreign policy of the Democratic party even in the midst of a war.

Monday, February 16, 2004

The Next Chapter of History

Lee Harris's new book -- "Civilization and Its Enemies : The Next Stage of History" (Free Press) -- is a compelling analysis of the current situation, and a provocative intellectual history of extraordinary breadth.

He argues we are "caught in the midst of a conflict between those for whom the category of the enemy is essential to their way of organizing all human experience and those who have banished even the idea of the enemy from both public discourse and even their innermost thoughts." He puts it in an historical context extending several thousand years, and writes that, prior to 9/11:

The very concept of the enemy had been banished from our moral and political vocabulary. An enemy was just a friend we hadn't done enough for yet.

Or perhaps there had been a misunderstanding, or an oversight on our part -- something that we could correct . . . .

Our first task therefore is to try to grasp what the concept of the enemy really means. . . . We are the enemy of those who murdered us on 9/11. And if you are the enemy, then you have an enemy. When you recognize it, this fact must change everything about the way you see the world.

Harris illustrates his point with Theodor Herzl.

Herzl as a student originally thought the solution to the "Jewish Question" lay in complete assimilation. But when he heard the crowd shout "Death to the Jews!" during the Dreyfus trial, he "asked himself why they wanted death to all Jews, rather than the one Jew whom they believed guilty of treason."

Herzl realized that even in France, one of the most liberal and civilized countries in the world, assimilated Jews were still hated for being Jews; and this meant that Herzl too was still hated for being a Jew. . . .

This meant that being a Jew had nothing to do with how Herzl defined himself, but everything to do with how his enemy defined him. If his enemy wished to hate him because he was a Jew, he would, and Herzl's own self-definition mattered to him not at all . . .

This disillusionment spelled the end of Herzl's belief in the Enlightenment dream that all men could one day embrace in the spirit of universal cosmopolitanism and, ultimately, turned Herzl from the path of assimilation to Zionism.

Harris argues the "past tells us that there can be no end of history, no realm of perpetual peace, and that those who are convinced by this illusion are risking the survival of all that they hold dear." In its response to 9/11, the United States is engaged in a "world historical gamble" of immense significance.

An important book. Together with Paul Berman's "Terror and Liberalism" and Robert Kagan's "Of Paradise and Power," part of the trio of books necessary to understand our brave not-so-new world.

Friday, February 13, 2004

This Week’s Portion: Yitro (Exodus 18:1 – 20:23)

On the third new moon after the Israelites had gone forth from the land of Egypt, on that very day, they entered the wilderness of Sinai. . . .

Israel encamped there in front of the mountain, and Moses went up to God.
(Exodus 19:1-3).

Rabbi David Wolpe on "Reaching Out To God:"

The Torah portrays a reciprocal relationship between human beings and God. Contrary to our assumption, there is a clear suggestion that it is human beings who must first reach out.

When the Israelites cross the sea, and Moses cries out to God, God answers, “Why are you crying out to Me? Speak to Israel and tell them to go forward” (Exodus 14:15).

First Israel must move forward. Then God will respond with the miracle of the splitting sea.

[W]hen Moses prepares to ascend Sinai to receive the commandments, Moses first goes up the mountain (19:3) and only then does God call out to him. . . .

The initiative is ours; God’s promise is response. Some sound Jewish advice to one who wishes to experience God? Create a climate of sanctity. Make your tables a tabernacle with prayer and discussion of Torah. Be mindful of holiness in your home. . . . God, so to speak, waits to be welcomed.

Rabbi Neil Gillman on what Moses brought down from Sinai: "The Ten Commandments:"

There is an obvious distinction between the first five and the second five. The first group deals more narrowly with Israel’s religious life, the second with universal, ethical obligations.

The name of God appears in all of the first five, but nowhere in the second five.

The second group has numerous parallels in other ancient Near Eastern texts. What is new here is that now these moral axioms are subsumed under God’s authority.

The middle two statements are particularly fascinating . . . The first deals with the Sabbath, the second with honoring one’s parents. Thus they seem to have nothing in common.

But they do, and it is Martin Buber, in his book "Moses: The Revelation and the Covenant," that provides a strikingly original insight into that common thread.

Buber notes that what connects these two themes is time. Both deal with time. The Sabbath deals with "the closed succession of weeks in the year," and the command to honor our parents deals with "the open succession of generations."

Time is introduced into the constitutional foundation of our national life by being articulated in "the lesser rhythm of the weeks" and "the greater rhythm of the generations." Taken together, both of them ensure "the continuity of national time."

Rabbi Haim Ovadia also sees a difference between the first and second five commandments. The first five deal with our obligations to ourselves. The second five deal with our obligations to others.

So the message of the Decalogue is simultaneously simple and sophisticated, as practical now as it was then, and reverberating for eternity.

Appreciate and cherish that which is yours, and once you have this positive attitude to life, surely you will not be tempted to infringe upon other’s rights or to try and take away from them what is theirs.

Shabbat Shalom.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Call It The Bush Doctrine

Bernard Lewis -- called "the single most important intellectual influence . . . on managing the conflict between radical Islam and the West" -- author of more than 20 books on Islam and the Middle East, is profiled by Peter Waldman:

Bernard Lewis often tells audiences about an encounter he once had in Jordan. The Princeton University historian . . . says he was chatting with Arab friends in Amman when one of them trotted out an argument familiar in that part of the world.

"We have time, we can wait," he quotes the Jordanian as saying. "We got rid of the Crusaders. We got rid of the Turks. We'll get rid of the Jews."

Hearing this claim "one too many times," Mr. Lewis says, he politely shot back, "Excuse me, but you've got your history wrong. The Turks got rid of the Crusaders. The British got rid of the Turks. The Jews got rid of the British. I wonder who is coming here next."

The vignette . . . always garners laughs. Yet he tells it to underscore a serious point. Most Islamic countries have failed miserably at modernizing their societies, he contends, beckoning outsiders -- this time, Americans -- to intervene.

Call it the Lewis Doctrine. . . . [H]is call for a U.S. military invasion to seed democracy in the Mideast, [has] helped define the boldest shift in U.S. foreign policy in 50 years. . . .

Gone is the notion that U.S. policy in the oil-rich region should promote stability above all, even if it means taking tyrants as friends. Also gone is the corollary notion that fostering democratic values in these lands risks destabilizing them.

Instead, the Lewis Doctrine says fostering Mideast democracy is not only wise but imperative.

Bret Stephens encapsulates the reasons the defeat of the fantasy ideology now fueling the war on terror is essential to Middle East peace:

In Israel, where I live and work, suicide bombings are commonly understood by the foreign press as acts of desperation by a people who have lost all hope for a better future. Ease the economic hardships of Palestinians and end the occupation, so the thinking goes, and terrorism will be deprived of its motive.

It's a convenient notion, which more or less excuses mass murder as the deeds of men who have been robbed of their property, pride and patrimony. But is it right?

What if suicide bombings aren't an act of despair at all but something approaching the opposite: a supreme demonstration of contempt for everything Westerners hold dear, not least life itself?

What if, too, suicide bombers are no poor-man's F-16 but a robust expression of confidence that the Palestinians are infinitely more ruthless than Israelis in what amounts to a zero-sum game?

If . . . you think the Palestinian national movement headed by Yasser Arafat seeks only to form a state within the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, then the answer to the problem is to get the Israelis to make way.

If, however, you think Palestinians are in the grip of a fantasy ideology, acting as the vanguard for a Muslim counterattack against a latter-day Crusader state, then granting a Palestinian state becomes a bit like allowing Hitler to march into the Rhineland: It perpetuates a fantasy that deserves to die.

George W. Bush's June 24, 2002 speech put it this way:

My vision is two states, living side by side in peace and security. There is simply no way to achieve that peace until all parties fight terror. . . . Peace requires a new and different Palestinian leadership, so that a Palestinian state can be born.

I call on the Palestinian people to elect new leaders, leaders not compromised by terror. I call upon them to build a practicing democracy, based on tolerance and liberty. If the Palestinian people actively pursue these goals, America and the world will actively support their efforts. . . .

A Palestinian state will never be created by terror -- it will be built through reform. And reform must be more than cosmetic change, or veiled attempt to preserve the status quo. True reform will require entirely new political and economic institutions, based on democracy, market economics and action against terrorism. . . .

Today, Palestinian authorities are encouraging, not opposing, terrorism. This is unacceptable. And the United States will not support the establishment of a Palestinian state until its leaders engage in a sustained fight against the terrorists and dismantle their infrastructure.

Nearly two years later, the Palestinian people have not elected new leaders, much less ones not compromised by terror. Two "prime ministers" have been appointed by Yasser Arafat, both of whom promptly announced they did not intend to dismantle Palestinian terror groups. Arafat himself remains in control.

Under those circumstances, the United States can either (a) adhere to the Bush Doctrine, or (b) elect someone who thinks the answer is to appoint Jimmy Carter or James Baker as envoy to the Middle East. This will be an important election.

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

The Strategic President

John Lewis Gaddis, Professor of Military and Naval History and Acting Director of International Security Studies at Yale, has a new book coming out next month about the grand strategists among American statesmen:

Who, then, have been the great grand strategists among American statesmen?

According to . . . John Lewis Gaddis, the Yale historian whom many describe as the dean of Cold War studies and one of the nation's most eminent diplomatic historians, they are John Quincy Adams, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and George W. Bush.

Gaddis suggests that academics underrate Bush because they overvalue specialized knowledge. In reality . . . after Sept. 11, 2001, Bush underwent "one of the most surprising transformations of an underrated national leader since Prince Hal became Henry V."

Gaddis begins "Surprise, Security, and the American Experience" (Harvard, March) with the observation that . . . the United States has experienced only three surprise attacks on its soil: the British burning of Washington in 1814, Pearl Harbor in 1941, and the terrorist attacks in 2001. Each time, American leaders responded by rethinking grand strategy.

The end of the Cold War . . . found the United States without a grand strategy. President Bill Clinton, says Gaddis, thought that "globalization and democratization were irreversible processes, therefore we didn't need a grand strategy. Clinton said as much at one point. I think that was shallow. I think they were asleep at the switch."

Enter Prince Hal. The Bush administration, marvels Gaddis, undertook a decisive and courageous reassessment of American grand strategy following the shock of the 9/11 attacks.

At his doctrine's center, Bush placed the democratization of the Middle East and the urgent need to prevent terrorists and rogue states from getting nuclear weapons. Bush also boldly rejected the constraints of an outmoded international system that was really nothing more than a "snapshot of the configuration of power that existed in 1945," Gaddis says. . . .

Indeed, Gaddis writes, the United States has emerged "as a more powerful and purposeful actor within the international system than it had been on Sept. 11, 2001."

Saul Singer notes that the missing WMD do not detract from the significance of the Bush Doctrine:

Partly because, as former CIA chief James Woolsey has pointed out, the 8,500 liters of anthrax that Iraq admitted it had, if reduced to powder, could have fit into a number of suitcases.

"Saddam's 'stockpile' of biological agent wasn't in his spider hole with him," says Woolsey, "But it could have been." We also don't know what he stashed away in Syria.

But let's say for a moment that Saddam's entire WMD program was an elaborate bluff and that all the West's intelligence services -- including those of France, Germany, and Israel -- were utterly taken in. Even then, the Bush Doctrine is not dead.

The current debate confuses an extension of the Bush Doctrine with its essence, which is that support for terrorism is punishable by regime change. As Bush put it on September 25, 2001, "If you harbor a terrorist, if you aid a terrorist, if you hide terrorists, you're just as guilty as the terrorists."

This was a fundamental shift from the pre-9/11 world, in which the price for supporting terrorism was at most a tit-for-tat via cruise missiles, not threats to regimes.

Syria, Iran, and North Korea have a lot riding on the coming election, as does Israel.

Monday, February 09, 2004

The U.S. Election and the Middle East

Jonathan Ariel, Editor-in-Chief of Ma’ariv International (somewhere in the middle between The Jerusalem Post and Ha'aretz, with a larger Israeli readership than either), writes about the connections between Iran and Syria and Israel, and how the U.S. election will affect them:

The unfolding political crisis in Iran is intimately linked to the goings-on in Washington. The perception that Bush may be a one-term president is what has emboldened the conservatives in Teheran to make a move on the reformists.

No peace talks between Israel and Syria will take place until it becomes clear how important it is to the White House to uncover the WMD Saddam stashed away in Syria shortly before the balloon went up. . . .

Teheran’s aim is to see Bush defeated. . . . The result, snap elections won by the Shiites [in Iraq], the formation of a new anti-western Damascus-Baghdad-Teheran axis, armed with a large variety of lethal non-conventional weapons.

Nelson Ascher is very worried about the coming election, in a post entitled "Doom:"

It is absolutely, I repeat, ASOLUTELY unbelievable, but the enemies of the war are winning the peace, or rather are managing to reverse a brilliant military victory. What took them years to do in Vietnam, they're doing right now in a matter of months.

Iraq was defeated in weeks, the axis of weasels was demoralized, Saddam was captured and, even before that, his sons were killed. Yet, the guys whose jobs are in jeopardy are Bush and Blair.

In the meantime Sharon freed hundreds of terrorists and declared that he will pull out of Gaza, while Arafat, whose tactics and strategy were soundly defeated, runs no risk at all and may begin to consider himself a winner of sorts. . . .

[C]hoosing for both England and the US governments unconcerned with the Islamist threat, we'll all end up as losers.

John Kerry would "make America secure again" with a bold trip to the U.N., France and Germany:

I will restore diplomacy as a tool of the strong -- and enlist expert and thoughtful Americans of both parties as envoys to carry a new American message around the world.

I will carry that message to the world myself in my first hundred days in office. I will go to the United Nations and travel to our traditional allies to affirm that the United States has rejoined the community of nations.

An ultimatum to Syria or a trip by thoughtful Americans to France. Not much is going to happen in the Middle East until all the players see who the president of the United States will be for the next four years.

Friday, February 06, 2004

This Week's Portion: B'shallah (Exodus 13:17-17:16)

Thus the Lord delivered Israel that day from the Egyptians. . . .

And when Israel saw the wondrous power which the Lord had wielded against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord; they had faith in the Lord and His servant Moses.

Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord. They said:

I will sing to the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously;
Horse and driver He has hurled into the sea.
The Lord is my strength and might;
He is become my deliverance.
This is my God and I will enshrine Him;
The God of my father, and I will exalt Him.

(Exodus 14:30-15:2)

Rabbi Ismar Schorsch has a d'var Torah that emphasizes the connection that Moses makes between a miraculous present and a miraculous past:

Moses . . . alone appreciated that the history of his people did not begin with him or the Exodus. His own relationship with God had been preceded by, if not predicated upon, God's relationship with the patriarchs. In his song of jubilation, Moses spoke tellingly of "the God of my father" (Exodus 15:2).

Unpacking that phrase, Rashi in the eleventh century offered the following brilliant comment: "I am not the beginning of holiness. Rather holiness and its divine source exist and are available to me from the days of my ancestors." . . . .

Moses acknowledged that he was but part of a larger narrative. He subsumed the self to a past redolent with sparks of holiness.

Enslaved for so long, the Israelites were delivered, and given a second chance. The second chance -- given to so many in the Bible (Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Leah, Moses, Ruth, and others), and often to many of us, in ways both small and large, is the gift of God.

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

John Kerry and Israel

Now that he appears to have the Democratic nomination for president in hand, more attention should be paid to John Kerry’s address to the Council on Foreign Relations on December 3, 2003 in New York, where he sought to set out the "specific points of a foreign policy that can make America once again a great leader for freedom."

Here is what he said about the Middle East:

In the first days of a Kerry Administration, I will appoint a Presidential Ambassador to the Peace Process who will report directly to me and the Secretary of State -- and who will work day-to-day to move that process forward. There are a number of uniquely qualified Americans who I would consider appointing, including: President Carter, former Secretary of State James Baker, or, as I suggested almost two years ago, President Clinton.

* * *

I will also appoint a Presidential Envoy for the Islamic world who will seek to strengthen moderate Islam and find new ways to isolate the terrorists – and who will make the case for progress, mutual respect – and yes, our conviction that Israel and the Arab world can and should live together in a secure and lasting peace.

Jimmy Carter showed up at the signing of the Geneva Accord and "blamed President Bush for favoring Israel and allowing 'Palestinians to suffer.'" Carter’s approach to peace is to lean on Israel; and all you need to know about him is here.

James Baker is famous for his 1989 speech that, in Thomas Friedman’s words at the time, "was a turning point. It signaled the end of a honeymoon era in American-Israel relations that existed for the last four years under the Reagan administration."

Bill Clinton has already done enough.

And a "presidential envoy" to "strengthen moderate Islam" and find "new ways" to "isolate" the terrorists and "make the case" for mutual respect. Is that bold, or what?

Monday, February 02, 2004

The Twenty-Third Psalm

Rabbi David Wolpe reviews Harold Kushner’s latest book: "The Lord Is My Shepherd: Healing Wisdom of the Twenty-Third Psalm."

The structure of the book is simple: Each chapter is a phrase from the Psalm, which Rabbi Kushner then explicates. . . .

For example . . . . [t]he second verse is popularly translated as "He leads me in straight paths, for His name's sake," but Kushner points out that it really means something more interesting. Ma'aglei tzedek are "roundabout paths that finally bring us to where we were meant to end up."

This beautifully expands the Psalmist's idea. We know that our life path is rarely straight. The Psalmist affirms that yes, you are not going the way you imagined, but that does not mean this isn't the path God designed for you to get where you need to go.

Publisher’s Weekly also has a favorable review:

Some of his interpretations are quite fresh and interesting; for example, "the straight paths" in which God leads the psalmist are anything but straight, he claims, noting that the Hebrew is more accurately rendered "roundabout ways that end up in the right direction."

Ultimately, that phrase's message is about trusting God when the way does not seem straightforward. The psalm is not Pollyannaish, but realistic: as Kushner points out, the psalmist has enemies, has known failure and has probably lost a loved one.

Kushner's book spends 175 pages explicating the psalm, but it is actually the simple poetry of the psalm -- the imagery of the words -- that is so moving, not its explanation. Here is Anne Lamott's remembrance in "Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith" of spending the summer after the second grade at Belvedere Lagoon, with her friend Shelly and her Mom -- Lee:

Lee lay beside me in bed when I couldn’t sleep and whispered the Twenty-third Psalm to me:

"'The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want' – I am not wanting for anything, Annie. Let’s find a green pasture inside us to rest in. Let’s find the still waters within.”

She’d lay beside me quietly for a while as we listened to the tide of the lagoon lap against the dock. Then she’d go on:

"'Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,' Annie -- not "Yea, as I end up living forever in the valley . . .'"

And she prayed for the Good Shepherd to gather my thoughts like sheep.

[T]he whole house would be so quiet, no shadows at all, and Lee would whisper me to sleep.

Sunday, February 01, 2004

The Rotting of the United Nations

The February issue of Commentary is out.

It includes an article by Anne Bayefsky, professor of political science at York University in Toronto and adjunct professor at Columbia University Law School, entitled "The UN and the Jews."

The article records the U.N.?s shameful history, leading up to its failure in December to pass a resolution condemning anti-Semitism.

On July 10, 2003, Professor Bayefsky presented a paper to the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs entitled "The UN and the Assault on Israel's Legitimacy: Implications for the Roadmap."