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Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Kaddish for the World

For some reason, watching Richard Clarke’s testimony last week -- as he turned in his chair to address the 9/11 families and apologized on behalf of "your government" -- I was reminded of Arnold Beichman's wonderful anecdote, in the April 1994 issue of Commentary, about attending shul as a child with his father:

As I grew older, I began to note something I couldn’t understand.

Usually, over the months, the faces of Kaddish-sayers changed with the expiry of the required year of mourning. One face, I began to notice, never seemed to change -- Reb Moishe Bear’s.

A big, broad-shouldered man . . . he was always saying Kaddish. Week after week, High Holy Days, Sabbath, and weekdays, Reb Moishe Bear, eyes shut tight, face rapt, head swaying from side to side, was always saying Kaddish, and loudly.

At first, I assumed that he had a lot of relatives who were dying all the time, and I felt sorry for him because he was a nice man. But as I approached my bar-mitzvah year, I began to wonder: how could this be?

One Friday night, I decided to satisfy my curiosity. I asked my father about Reb Moishe Bear and what seemed like his terribly sad fate. "For whom is Reb Moishe Bear saying Kaddish?"

My father replied in Yiddish with a gentle smile: "Er zogt Kaddish oyf der velt" -- he is saying Kaddish for the world.

I didn’t know what my father meant. Didn’t you have to have a death in the family?

Not necessarily, said my father. Anybody over the age of 13 could say Kaddish, and if Reb Moishe Bear wanted to say it "oyf der velt," he could do it and maybe even earn the merit of performing a mitzvah.

I persisted: so why didn’t my father do the same?

My father smiled; his sense of tzneeyus (modesty), he said, prevented him from mourning for the world.

Not until years later did I grasp the gentle irony in my father’s answer about people who undertake to say Kaddish "oyf der velt."

In his appearance last week, Richard Clarke also apologized for himself (his personal failing consisting largely of insufficient effort to have the government listen to Richard Clarke). But it is his mea culpa oyf der government I think I will remember the longest.

Monday, March 29, 2004

A Grand Strategy

On "60 Minutes" last night, Condoleezza Rice had this exchange with Ed Bradley:

Bradley: . . . Given the fact that no weapons of mass destruction have been found, and there's no proof that Saddam Hussein was linked to 9/11 or al Qaeda, the country is split about why we're even in Iraq and if we're fighting the right war.

Rice: The war on terrorism is a broad war, not a narrow war. And Iraq, one of the most dangerous regimes . . . in the world's most dangerous region . . . [was] a big reason for instability in the region . . . . He had used weapons of mass destruction. He had the intent and was still developing the capability to do so. . . . And now that Iraq has been liberated and that Iraq has a chance to be a stable democracy, the world is a lot safer. And the war on terrorism is well served by the victory in Iraq. . . .

Rice’s answer was a short-hand description of a much broader strategy, not all of it fully articulated, as this excerpt from John Lewis Gaddis’s "Surprise, Security, and the American Experience" (Harvard University Press March 2004) makes clear:

There are, however, certain aspects of the Bush strategy about which the administration does not speak openly. These have to do with why it regards tyrants, in the post-September 11th world, as at least as dangerous as terrorists -- despite the fact that it has failed, as yet, to connect any tyrant with the events of that day. . . .

Shakespeare might help . . . if you shift the analogy to Henry V. For that monarch understood the psychological value of victory -- of defeating an adversary sufficiently thoroughly that you shatter the confidence of others, so that they’ll roll over themselves before you have to roll over them.

For Henry, the demonstration was Agincourt, the famous victory over the French in 1415. The Bush administration got a taste of Agincourt with its victory over the Taliban at the end of 2001, to which the Afghans responded by gleefully shaving their beards, shedding their burkas, and cheering the infidels . . . Suddenly, it seemed, American values were transportable to the remotest and most alien parts of the earth . . . .

How, though, to maintain the momentum, given that the Taliban was no more and that Al Qaeda wasn’t likely to present itself as a conspicuous target? This was where Saddam Hussein came in: Iraq was the most feasible place in which to strike the next blow. If we could topple that tyrant, if we could repeat the Afghan Agincourt along the banks of the Tigris and the Euphrates, then we could accomplish a great deal.

We could complete the task the Gulf War left unfinished. We could destroy whatever weapons of mass destruction Saddam might have accumulated since. We could end whatever support he was providing for terrorists beyond Iraq’s borders, notably those who acted against Israel. We could liberate the Iraqi people. We could ensure an ample supply of inexpensive oil. We could set in motion a process that could undermine and ultimately remove reactionary regimes elsewhere in the Middle East, thereby eliminating the principal breeding ground for terrorism.

And, as President Bush did say publicly in a powerful speech to the United Nations on September 12, 2002, we could save that organization from the irrelevance into which it would otherwise descend if its resolutions continued to be contemptuously disregarded. . . .

This was then, in every sense, a grand strategy. What appeared at first to be a lack of clarity about who was deterrable and who wasn’t turned out to be a plan for transforming the entire Muslim Middle East: for bringing it, once and for all, into the modern world.

There’d been nothing like this in boldness, sweep, and vision since Americans took it upon themselves, more than half a century ago, to democratize Germany and Japan, thus setting in motion processes that stopped short of only a few places on earth, one of which was the Muslim Middle East.

Next question.

Friday, March 26, 2004

September 12.

Carolyn Glick, writing in today's Jerusalem Post:

There was a world before 9/11. And there was a world after the 9/11. They are not the same world. . . .

Yet here in Israel it seems that our tolerance will never run out.

We continue to distinguish Hamas from the PA even as PA security forces participate in Hamas attacks and carry them out themselves.

We willingly finance the PA even though we know that they use their money to finance terrorists, run schools where children are taught to murder, and indeed build an entire society around the cause of our destruction.

We talk about engaging the PA in negotiations when its leaders embrace Yassin and condemn us for killing him.

We speak of easing restrictions on Palestinian travel at roadblocks when Fatah entices prepubescent children to commit suicide while committing murder at roadblocks with promises of virgins in heaven.

We speak of "containing" terrorism, when the Palestinians openly declare that their aim is the genocide of Jews and call on the entire Arab and Muslim world to join their fight against us. . . .

It has been said that in Israel, everyday is Sept. 11. The question is, when will our leaders finally take it upon themselves to marshal our resources and move us into a Sept. 12 reality?

Thursday, March 25, 2004

On the Frontier of History

Peter Berkowitz writes about the "remarkable gathering of 1,200 Israelis at Tel Aviv University" earlier this month to hear Johns Hopkins University professor Francis Fukuyama discuss "'The End of History' 15 Years Later" with Shimon Peres and Benjamin Netanyahu:

The key question thus far posed by the 21st century, Fukuyama observed, is whether there is a Muslim exception to the end of history.

Fukuyama doubts it. He pointed out that the real democracy deficit is not in Muslim or predominantly Muslim countries but in Muslim Arab countries of the Middle East. And there the problem, he suggested, was not Islam, though he indicated it still awaits its Luther, but bad government and dismal economic prospects that produce an angry alienation on which purveyors of radical Islam prey.

What is necessary on the part of the liberal democracies of the world, according to Fukuyama, is the right kind of politics, one that knows that individual freedom is the long term goal . . . .

Netanyahu agreed with Fukuyama as well as Peres that the world's liberal democracies have a moral and strategic interest in the spread of liberal democracy.

Fukuyama brought the evening to a close by:

remarking with awe that it says a great deal about Israel that two former prime ministers and current members of Knesset would take time from their busy schedules to discuss ideas with a professor, and that 1,200 people would fill an auditorium to watch and listen.

In the middle of a war.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

A Missile Strike on the Spiritual Leader of Terrorists

On August, 20, 1998, after a missile strike intended to kill Osama bin Ladin in Afghanistan, the White House released the following "Statement by Vice President Gore:"

I strongly support the President's decision today to make clear to the world that the United States will respond to the treat of terrorism.

A network of terrorist groups led by Osama bin Ladin have made clear in word and deed that they are waging an all out war against America, targeting all, sparing none.

Today we delivered our response. We will be relentless in defending our interests and our people against the murderous threat of terrorism.

(Two and a half years later, the relentless Clinton Administration bequeathed the Bush Administration a . . . warning that Al Qaeda was waging an all out war against America, targeting all, sparing none -- and no plan.)

Was it okay for the United States to send missiles to kill Osama bin Ladin? We intended to assassinate him, and while we missed our principal target, the missiles killed a score of Al Qaeda "activists" in the camps.

These were "extra-judicial killings," which our friends in Europe condemn. (Actually, Europe is opposed to "judicial" killings as well -- they even refuse to extradite terrorists if they're going to a country that has capital punishment).

The extra-judicial killings in 1998 undoubtedly produced more hatred, created more volunteers for Al Qaeda, and contributed to a "cycle of violence" that only got worse thereafter, and which continues today. Undoubtedly the United States had the right to protect its citizens, but instead of resorting to violence, perhaps we should have shown "restraint."

Earlier this week, Israel sent missiles to kill the Osama bin Ladin of Gaza. Yesterday the London Times reported on Europe’s reaction:

EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels said that Israel's action had inflamed anger in the region and would only further hinder Middle East peace efforts.

"The EU recognizes Israel's right to protect its citizens against terrorist attacks. Israel is entitled to do this under international law. Israel is not, however, entitled to carry out extra-judicial killings," they said in a joint statement.

What a moral cesspool Europe has become.

Fighting headscarves while arsonists attack Jewish community centers and put gasoline bombs in synagogues. Unwilling and unable to take action against genocide in their own backyard, depending on the United States to stop it in Bosnia. Lecturing the rest of the world about what they’ve learned as "Children of the Enlightenment." Exhibitors of anti-Semitic art, publishers of anti-Semitic books. Repressers of reports on European anti-Semitism.

But firm believers in the right of Israel to protect its citizens, as long as it does not involve extra-judicial killings or building a fence.

Monday, March 22, 2004

Two Speeches, Two Views of Life

Sheikh Ibrahim Mudeiris, an employee of the Palestinian Authority, delivered the Friday sermon at the Sheik ‘Ijlin Mosque in Gaza on March 12. His sermon was translated by MEMRI:

We will fight them with Allah's help. The Jews are the ones of whom Allah, who knows them best, said: "You strike more fear into their hearts than Allah does."

Oh Muslims, it is Allah who tells you this. And this is what we see and know well. But the Arabs and Muslims must know that this is a Qur'anic truth. We strike more fear into their hearts than their Maker. Who stated this fact? The Lord of heaven and earth. Allah is the one who created them and knows their nature well.

Allah knows that they love life: "None preserves life more than them" -- life, no matter what kind of life. Even if it is a life of humiliation, disgrace, and submission, they preserve it.

This preservation of life roots miserliness and cowardice in them.

George W. Bush spoke to an audience representing 84 countries at the White House on Friday, on the anniversary of Operation Iraqi Freedom:

[T]here is a dividing line in our world, not between nations, and not between religions or cultures, but a dividing line separating two visions of justice and the value of life.

On a tape claiming responsibility for the atrocities in Madrid, a man is heard to say, "We choose death, while you choose life." We don't know if this is the voice of the actual killers, but we do know it expresses the creed of the enemy.

It is a mindset that rejoices in suicide, incites murder and celebrates every death we mourn.

And we who stand on the other side of the line must be equally clear and certain of our convictions. We do love live, the life given to us and to all.

We believe in the values that uphold the dignity of life, tolerance and freedom, and the right of conscience. And we know that this way of life is worth defending.

There is no neutral ground -- no neutral ground -- in the fight between civilization and terror, because there is no neutral ground between good and evil, freedom and slavery, and life and death.

The Paper Formerly Known as the Paper of Record did not print the text of the president's remarks, which are worth reading in their entirety. Perhaps the Paper is waiting for someone to articulate a third, more nuanced position.

Friday, March 19, 2004

One Year Ago / One Year Later / One Year(s) to Go.

Today is the first anniversary of the commencement of the Iraq War.

One year ago, George W. Bush and Tony Blair had each addressed his country during the two preceding days. On March 19, 2003, Claudia Winkler published an essay on Bush and Blair -- "The Two Towers" -- that is fascinating to read one year later.

Bush and Blair differed in the effects they foresee from their joint (and allied) action.

Both men spoke of enhancing world security and of freeing the Iraqi people from the tyrant's grip. But where only Blair spoke of rescuing the United Nations from irrelevance, only Bush stressed the hope that, in the long term, regime change in Iraq will be a catalyst for change in the Middle East.

Bush believes that a "vital and peaceful and self-governing" Iraq can set an example for its neighbors and that American and allied assistance, over time, will "advance liberty and peace in that region."

This is the visionary project that Bush's critics love to caricature. In a recent column, former Democratic senator Gary Hart dripped with scorn for the idea that "we intend to conduct a political revolution among 1.1 billion people spread from Gibraltar to eastern Indonesia"; that we will "bring democracy to the Arab world at the point of a bayonet."

History will tell whether Bush's confidence in the power of freedom deserved to be so distorted and ridiculed. For now, let me end with an e-mail received yesterday afternoon from an acquaintance in Kuwait.

Dr. Ahmad Bishara, former vice dean of the College of Engineering and Petroleum at Kuwait University, is a writer, magazine publisher, and leading voice for liberal democracy in his part of the world. He writes:

Dear friends everywhere:

The next few weeks will yet again bring this region, our country and our people to the fear of war, that old enemy of mankind.

However, our fear this time is pregnant with hope: that our Iraqi neighbors will be free at last from their yoke; and that our children will sleep their nights and go to their classrooms in peace, fearing no more.

So, as we all pass the forthcoming dreadful hours, we pray that Almighty God showers the brave soldiers of the US, Britain and their allies with His blessings and covers them with His protection in every move and direction.

For they are the saviors of the future of this region's children. We salute them; and may God bless them all

Three weeks later, Saddam Hussein fled, and his statue in the center of Baghdad was torn down.

Coalition forces entered Baghdad without the expected siege or resistance, and without the massive civilian or military casualties, oil well fires, throngs of refugees, uprisings of the Arab “street,” spillover into Turkey or Kuwait, or use of WMD that opponents of the war had predicted.

In the year following, Saddam’s feared and hated sons were killed. Saddam himself was captured without putting up a fight. Almost all of the 55 cards were captured or killed. The Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis adopted a new interim law with freedom of religion, secret ballots, and equality under the law. The unity of Iraq was maintained.

Schools and medical centers were rebuilt throughout the country, with a massive infusion of American aid. The Internet is now available to ordinary Iraqis. A majority of Iraqis think their lives are better than before the war.

The barbaric resistance continues, with recurrent atrocities against Shiites praying in mosques, Iraqis dining in restaurants, civilians staying in hotels -- the same atrocities that Israel has faced continuously over the last three-and-a-half years. Like the Brits during the Blitz, the Israelis have stood their ground -- in a display of courage and stamina that future generations will admire. Iraqis too may be forced to suffer through the death rattle of terror and tyranny before they secure their new country.

But what has been accomplished in just one year is, under the circumstances, close to miraculous. Because Bush and Blair acted, one of the most evil and brutal regimes in the Middle East is gone, and a marker for democracy, freedom and law has been planted in the heart of the region.

Churchill and Roosevelt, Thatcher and Reagan, Blair and Bush. In each case, the Coalition of Two changed the world -- while France surrendered, Germany turned pacifist, and Spain tried to hide. In each case, it took -- and will take -- more than one year.

On this day, we should pause and reflect on the ultimate sacrifice that 500 of our fellow citizens have made, and the service and sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of others. We are the beneficiaries of many ordinary men and women who have made heroic contributions over the past year.

More commentary on this anniversary is available at Kesher Talk today.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Then and Now

From Frederick Turner's poem, "On Hearing that Spain Has Capitulated to the Terrorists:"

El Cid has risen from his tomb,
he's parted with Ximene,

His people, whose bright honor still
has never suffered stain,

Now run from battle, hide their heads:
he is ashamed of Spain.

From Winston Churchill, writing in 1928 in "The Aftermath," under the impression of a future catastrophe:

Without having improved appreciably in virtue or enjoying wiser guidance, [mankind] has got into its hands for the first time the tools by which it can unfailingly accomplish its own extermination. That is the point in human destinies to which all the glories and toils of men have at last led them.

They would be well to pause and ponder upon their new responsibilities. Death stands at attention, obedient, expectant, ready to serve, ready to shear away the peoples en masse; ready, if called on, to pulverize, without hope of repair, what is left of civilization. He awaits only the word of command.

He awaits it from a frail, bewildered being, long his victim, now -- for one occasion only -- his Master.

From Winston Churchill, in "The Gathering Storm:"

In these pages I attempt to recount some of the incidents and impressions which form in my mind the story of the coming upon mankind of the worst tragedy in its tumultuous history. . . .

It is my purpose, as one who lived and acted in these days, to show how easily the tragedy of the Second World War could have been prevented; how the malice of the wicked was reinforced by the weakness of the virtuous . . . .

We shall see how the counsels of prudence and restraint may become the prime agents of mortal danger; how the middle course adopted from desires for safety and a quiet life may be found to lead direct to the bull's-eye of disaster.

From Tony Blair's March 5, 2004 speech to his constituents:

[It] remains my fervent view that the nature of the global threat we face in Britain and round the world is real and existential and it is the task of leadership to expose it and fight it, whatever the political cost . . . .

In truth, the fundamental source of division over Iraq is not over issues of trust or integrity, though some insist on trying to translate it into that. . . . All of it in the end is an elaborate smokescreen to prevent us seeing the real issue: which is not a matter of trust but of judgment. . . .

The characterization of the threat is where the difference lies. Here is where I feel so passionately that we are in mortal danger of mistaking the nature of the new world in which we live. . . . The threat we face is not conventional. It is a challenge of a different nature from anything the world has faced before. . . .

September 11th was for me a revelation. What had seemed inchoate came together. The point about September 11th was not its detailed planning; not its devilish execution; not even, simply, that it happened in America, on the streets of New York. All of this made it an astonishing, terrible and wicked tragedy, a barbaric murder of innocent people.

But what galvanized me was that it was a declaration of war by religious fanatics who were prepared to wage that war without limit. They killed 3,000. But if they could have killed 30,000 or 300,000 they would have rejoiced in it. . . .

This war is not ended. It may only be at the end of its first phase. They are in Iraq, murdering innocent Iraqis who want to worship or join a police force that upholds the law, not a brutal dictatorship; they carry on killing in Afghanistan. They do it for a reason. . . .

The UN Universal Declaration on Human Rights is a fine document. But it is strange the United Nations is so reluctant to enforce them. . . .

That is the struggle which engages us. It is a new type of war. . . . It demands a different attitude to our own interests. It forces us to act even when so many comforts seem unaffected, and the threat so far off, if not illusory.

Read the poem, the book, and the speech in their entirety.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

They R Us

Relatives of Mazal Marciano, 30, mourning at her funeral Monday in Ashdod. (Reuters)

Anne Lieberman, who is more effective than she thinks, describes the 10 Israelis murdered on Sunday. They are:

Moshe Hendler (29), whose last act was to give the terrorist who murdered him a drink of water, and who is survived by his wife and six-month-old daughter;

Ophir Damari (31), who leaves his wife, 2-year old daughter and 7-month old son;

Avi Suissa (55), who leaves a wife and six children, one a daughter in her ninth month of pregnancy;

Mazal Marciano (30), the mother of two small children;

Maurice Tubol (30), who leaves his mother and his three brothers;

Tzion Dahan (30), who leaves a wife and six-month old daughter;

Dani Asulin (51), survived by his wife, two children, and one grandson;

Avi Avraham (34), married just four months ago;

Gil Abutbul (31), married with two children; and

Pinchas Avraham Zilberman (46), who lived in Tel Aviv.

Ten dead, at least seven spouses widowed, sixteen children bereft of a parent, a grandchild and one on the way will not have their grandfathers.

Sixteen people were wounded; ten remain in the hospital, one woman in serious condition.

While at Anne’s blog, scroll down to her March 1 exchange of correspondence with the New York Times on naming Israeli victims of terror. Essential reading for content and example.

Monday, March 15, 2004

Children of the Enlightenment

One day after an apparent Al Qaeda terrorist attack killing 200 in Spain -- and one day before Spain joined France and Germany in opting out of the War on Terror -- the New York Times translated and published this essay by Peter Schneider, a German novelist and essayist:

The war in Iraq has made the Atlantic seem wider. But really it has had the effect of a magnifying glass, bringing older and more fundamental differences between Europe and the United States into focus.

These growing divisions — over war, peace, religion, sex, life and death — amount to a philosophical dispute about the common origins of European and American civilization. Both children of the Enlightenment, the United States and Europe clearly differ about the nature of this inheritance and about who is its better custodian.

Start with religion. The United States is experiencing a revival of the Christian faith in many areas of civic and political life, while in Europe the process of secularization continues unabated.

Today the United States is the most religious-minded society of the Western democracies. In a 2003 Harris poll 79 percent of Americans said they believed in God, and more than a third said they attended a religious service once a month or more. Numerous polls have shown that these figures are much lower in Western Europe. . . .

When American commentators warn about a new fundamentalism, they generally mention only the Islamic one. European intellectuals include two other kinds: the Jewish and Christian variants.

Yesterday Islamic murderers killed 10 Israeli civilians in the latest homicide bombings. The number translates (in terms of national size) to approximately 450 Americans or 100 Spaniards.

Thousands of Palestinians marched in Gaza late Sunday to celebrate the attack. Palestinian "prime minister" Abu Whomever "condemned" the attack -- as not helpful to the Palestinians (he opposes "the targeting of civilians on both sides"). The children of the Enlightenment in Europe had no comment.

Friday, March 12, 2004

Kerry Does Jewish

Despite his knowledge of Middle Eastern affairs, his emotional grasp of the issues, and his incredible intellectual depth, John Kerry was recently the victim of a faux pas (French for "staff mistake") -- naming James Baker and Jimmy Carter as his potential special envoys to the Middle East.

The Forward reports how Kerry’s brother Cam arranged a meeting with Jewish communal leaders, just before the New York primary, to deal with the issue:

On Sunday [February 29], he and his brother met with some 40 Jewish communal leaders in Manhattan at a gathering that got glowing reviews in the next day's newspapers.

The candidate impressed attendees with his knowledge of Middle Eastern affairs and his emotional grasp of the issues. He also got a chance to correct an earlier faux pas, in which he had suggested naming two figures who are unpopular with the Jewish community — former secretary of state James Baker and former president Carter — as possible envoys to the Middle East.

"It was Cam's doing to bring that together and make that happen," said Alan Solomont, a Jewish philanthropist and fund-raiser for Senator Kerry who attended the meeting. "He understood the importance of John getting in front of the community . . . of showing his incredible intellectual depth."

But what exactly did he say? Here is an excerpt from the report of the meeting in The Jewish Week:

"So what we heard at the meeting is that he’s trying to align himself almost entirely behind Bush’s foreign policy; he talked about his understanding of [Ariel] Sharon’s [positions], about the fence. He was laying out his positions to those who care first and foremost about Israel."

His position and emotional grasp is a little different when speaking to those who do not care first and foremost about Israel, but apparently this was sufficient to take care of the fence faux pas. (Although one organization thats cares first and foremost about Israel remained unimpressed).

Another attendee, Rep. Anthony Weiner of Queens, a "leader on Israel issues in the House," was impressed by Kerry’s "command of the issues."

"This was the first time I heard him do Jewish," Weiner said. "I think a lot of people were impressed."

Despite Kerry’s ability to do Jewish, The Jewish Week report predicted the "oft-touted matter of Kerry’s expressed preference for Mideast envoys is likely to continue dogging him."

Although he has said the line about Carter and Baker — who have been panned by some pro-Israel activists — was inserted into a speech by aides, a newly emerged transcript of the address at the Center for Foreign Policy last fall seems to show Kerry reiterating the idea in a question-and-answer session. That transcript is now making the e-mail rounds.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

350 Years

Jonathan Sarna, Professor of American Jewish History at Brandeis University and chief historian of the National Museum of American Jewish History, has published a new book -- "American Judaism" (Yale University Press) -- which chronicles the history of the American Jewish community.

It begins in 1654, as Portugal recaptures Brazil from Holland, and expels all Jews and Protestants. Most of the Jews return to Holland, but a boat with twenty-three of them sails into New Amsterdam (later re-named New York).

The English Pilgrims, who sailed into the bay at Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1620, had migrated voluntarily as Puritan religious separatists seeking a colony of their own where they could worship, work, and live together according to the tenets of their faith.

By contrast, the Jews who arrived in 1654 came involuntarily, penniless, and in need of refuge. They did not want a colony of their own but, rather, permission to reside among the local residents and conduct trade.

Moreover, at least according to one historian, women and children dominated the group; only four among them, he claims, were actually fathers. If they were not Pilgrim Fathers, however, the refugees did initiate the first Jewish communal settlement in North America. With their arrival, the history of American Judaism properly begins.

A timeline of American Jewish history can be found on, the website of The Commission for Commemorating 350 Years of American Jewish History.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

The End of Europe

Niall Ferguson, prolific and provocative Oxford historian, warned in the AEI Bradley Lecture earlier this month that Europe is an "entity on the brink of decline and perhaps ultimately even of dissolution."

I want to speak this evening about what may seem a rather dramatic subject -- the end of Europe, by which I don't mean its disappearance from the map, but a fundamental transformation in the political and economic institutions of the European Union. . . .

The reality is -- and it is perhaps the most striking cultural phenomenon of our times -- that Western and Eastern Europe are no longer in any meaningful sense Christian societies. They are quite clearly post-Christian -- indeed, in many respects, post-religious -- societies.

In the Netherlands, Britain, Germany, Sweden, and Denmark, less than 1 in 10 of the population attends church even once a month. A clear majority do not attend church at all. There are now more Muslims in England than Anglican communicants. More Muslims attend mosque on a weekly basis than Anglicans attend church. In the recent Gallup Millennium Survey of Religious Attitudes conducted just a couple of years ago, more than half of all Scandinavians said that God did not matter to them at all.

This, it seems to me, makes the claim to a fundamental Christian inheritance not only implausible but also downright bogus in Europe. The reality is that Europeans inhabit a post-Christian society that is economically, demographically, but, in my view, above all culturally a decadent society.

A remarkable speech. Worth reading in its entirety.
(Hat tip: AllahPundit).

A debate last year on "The United States Is, and Should Be, an Empire" between Ferguson (pro) and Robert Kagan (con) is here.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

John Kerry's Speech to the Arab American Institute

Much has already been written about the portion of John Kerry's October 17, 2003 speech to the Arab American Institute, in which he criticized Israel's security fence:

And I know how disheartened Palestinians are by the Israeli government’s decision to build the barrier off of the green line -- cutting deep into Palestinian areas. We don’t need another barrier to peace. Provocative and counterproductive measures only harm Israeli’s security over the long term, increase the hardships to the Palestinian people, and make the process of negotiating an eventual settlement that much harder.

But the rest of the speech is equally bad (when it is not simply vacuous), as James Lileks notes in his fisking of the speech on his incomparable blog:

Seven centuries after the death of the Prophet Muhammad, the great scholar Ibn Al Qayyim wrote that "justice is the foundation of the heavens and earth." Justice must always be the foundation of this nation as well. And John Ashcroft and his Department of Justice would do well to remember that.

Let us now pause to recall the speeches where President Bush quoted Islamic scholars in order to criticize the policies of Democrat opponents. Just for grins I googled "Ibn Al Qayyim jews." One hit yielded a footnote:

82. Ibn al-Qayyim mentions more than ten clear indications of the forgery of the document, which the Jews repeatedly attempted to use to deceive the Muslims over the centuries, but each time a scholar of Hadith intervened to point out the forgery . . .

But this is what I found truly interesting.

When I was in the region in early 2002, I saw first hand the devastating impact of this ongoing conflict on the daily lives of both Palestinians and Israelis. In Ramallah, for example, Palestinian women, traveling on foot, were forced to stand in long lines at check points with their children tugging at their sleeves and their arms loaded with groceries or other basic needs. And while they were struggling to get through the day, Israelis were also living in fear of another terrorist attack – not sure whether to get on a bus or go to a restaurant.

I’ll give him credit for the order in which he presents these seemingly equal inconveniences. But note how the first example is described with sympathetic human details -- children, tugging at sleeves! -- but the fear of getting nails shot through your vitals on a bus is described in an abstract, generic fashion.

The speech was made on October 17, two weeks after a suicide bomber in Haifa killed 21 people in an Arab-Jewish owned restaurant; three kids and a baby were among the dead, and the wounded numbered 60.

Here are the faces of the dead.

The word "Haifa" does not appear in the text of the Senator's remarks.

If you click on the faces of the dead, you will see -- among the 21 people murdered -- five members of the Zer-Aviv family from Kibbutz Yagur: Bruria, 59; her son Bezalel, 30, his wife Keren, 29, and their two children Liran, 4, and Noya, 1 -- three generations wiped out.

Lileks' entire post today should be read.

And we should not forget that, when Kerry was "in the region in early 2002" -- after 9/11, after Arafat rejected Oslo, at a time when Arafat's barbaric war against Israel was in its second year -- he met with Arafat.

Monday, March 08, 2004

Old Europe Returns

Nidra Poller -- whose grandparents left Europe before it was too late -- left America in 1972 to live in France, where she currently resides.

Long-settled in Paris, successful writer and translator, with three adult children with fast-growing grandchildren, she is facing a decision about whether to leave, because once again Jews are being "Betrayed by Europe."

I’m being treated to a poignant lesson in European and Jewish history.

The 30’s: why did they stay? Why didn’t they run for their lives? Couldn’t they see what was happening? . . . Why don’t people just pick up and go while they still can?

It’s always the same. There is an ailing grandmother, a son in medical school, a daughter who just got married, a business too good to throw away and not good enough to sell. There are in-laws and obligations and unfinished business and . . . hope. Hope that it will all blow over. . . .

Jews are being persecuted every day in France. Some are insulted, pelted with stones, spat upon; some are beaten or threatened with knives or guns. Synagogues are torched, schools burned to the ground. . . .

Some Jews are simply frightened; they are reluctant to take the subway, walk in certain neighborhoods, go out after dark. Others, clearly identifiable as Jews, are courageous and defiant. Many, perhaps the majority, show no outward signs of Jewishness and do not seek to know the truth about the rampant and increasingly violent anti-Semitism all around them. If you are Jewish but do not defend Israel or act too religious or look too different, you are not yet a target -- so why insist on monitoring the danger when daily life is so delicious? . . .

We have Muslim rage in schools, hospitals, and courtrooms. Police headquarters are attacked, hospital personnel beaten, judges threatened.

The Republic is under siege, and what are the French doing about it? They are trashing America. . . . A foreign land where I was born because Europe vomited up my grandparents as it is now coughing up me and mine.

Should be read in its entirety. (Hat tip: Lynn B, who should be consulted for other important links). Poller has an article in today's National Review Online in which she describes France as "a wannabe world power jockeying for paternalistic leverage in the European Union and drugged on the fantasy of being the leader of the Arab world." Also worth reading in its entirety.

Friday, March 05, 2004

This Week's Portion: Tetsavveh (Exodus 27:20 - 30:10)

You shall bring forward your brother Aaron, with his sons, from among the Israelites, to serve Me as priests. . . .

Next you shall instruct all who are skillful, whom I have endowed with the gift of skill, to make Aaron's vestments, for consecrating him to serve Me as priest. These are the vestments they are to make: a breastpiece, an ephod, a robe, a fringed tunic, a headdress, and a sash.

They shall make those sacral vestments for your brother Aaron and his sons, for priestly service to Me; they, therefore, shall receive the gold, the blue, purple, and crimson yarns, and the fine linen.
(Exodus 28:1-5)

We don't have priests in fine vestments any more. Is that a good thing?

Rabbi Melissa Crespy thinks so, but she also thinks the vestments may not actually be gone:

[W]hat struck me on reading Parashat Tetzaveh this time was how similar the distinguishing garments that Judaism's priests, the Kohanim, were required to wear are to what many Catholic priests and bishops wear today, and how these clothes separated the priests from the people.

Most rabbis today do not wear clothing which identifies them as clergy. We certainly wear nothing like the breastpiece, the long vest (ephod) and the headdress which distinguished the Kohen Gadol [high Priest] from the rest of the Israelites. . . .

Yet, despite the democratization of religious leadership roles in Jewish life, there remains today a distinction between rabbis and lay people. Though we sport no breastpieces, long vest or headdress, rabbis are often held to a different religious and moral standard from the rest of the Jewish population. . . . [I]it seems that many Jews are content to let their rabbis embody that "priestliness" and "holiness" while they watch from the sidelines. This is not the way our lives were meant to be. . . .

Rabbis may serve as role models and teachers for the holy and moral life we all aspire to, but they are not to live that life on their own.

David Curzon has a different take in "The Enterprise of Walking Naked:"

What are we to make of the long descriptions of the High Priest's ceremonial garments in this week's portion?

The garments include a breastplate, a robe, a fringed tunic, a headdress and a sash and an ephod, or long tunic, and each is described in detail. . . . These "holy garments" are to be worn "for dignity and adornment." . .

Why couldn't [Yeats] shake [his] absorption with artifact and show? He gives the best answer in an early poem, "The Mask." When the subsidiary speaker in the poem asks the protagonist to take off his mask, this is the response:

It was the mask engaged your mind,
And after set your heart to beat,
Not what's behind

The robes of the High Priest engaged the minds of those who watched him perform his functions, and helped keep the fire of their awe and belief burning in them.

Ancient Israel was not dedicated to the proposition that there's more enterprise in walking naked, and its beliefs had hems embroidered with blue, purple and crimson pomegranates and hung with golden bells.

But we, who live in the dim times that have come, have to believe whatever we believe without the support of embroidery.

Shabbat Shalom.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

The Essence of John Kerry’s Foreign Policy

John Kerry became the presumptive Democratic nominee last night. He repeated his challenge to George W. Bush: "if he wants to make national security the central issue in 2004, I have three simple words for him I know he understands: Bring it on."

Since it will likely be brought on, let’s take a look at Kerry’s foreign policy.

Kerry’s December 3, 2003 speech before the Council of Foreign Relations contains a number of clues about his approach.

In that speech, Kerry proposed to enlist "thoughtful Americans" as envoys:

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.

In the same speech, he pledged he would become an envoy himself, traveling to the U.N. and France:

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

With respect to the Palestinian war against Israel, Kerry pledged to appoint an envoy:

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.

With respect to the Islamic world, Kerry made another promise:

I will also appoint a presidential envoy for the Islamic world who will seek to strengthen moderate Islam . . . .

Last Friday, Kerry spoke at the Burkle Center for International Relations at UCLA. His topic was "Fighting a Comprehensive War on Terrorism."

One of his major proposals was a presidential envoy -- this time to "other nations."

Fourth, because finding and defeating terrorist groups is a long-term effort, we must act immediately to prevent terrorists from acquiring nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons.

I propose to appoint a high-level Presidential envoy empowered to bring other nations together to secure and stop the spread of these weapons.

This proposal was a little different from his prior ones. Not just a presidential envoy -- a high level one.

And not just an envoy to bring nations together -- an envoy empowered to do it.

Kerry did not put forth anyone’s name as his possible Envoy to Other Nations -- possibly seeking to avoid another staff mistake. But one can almost visualize his envoy's opening words as he or she travels around the world, convening meetings of other nations:

"Hello. I’m John Kerry’s high-level envoy. I’ve been empowered to bring you together."

Last week, Kerry released a statement on Haiti. He recommended the Bush Administration send a "special envoy."

(It would not be just anyone. He thought it should be someone "who understands the Haitian people, understands their terrible problems, and understands the vital US interest in bringing peace and stability to Haiti.").

Is it possible to piece all these clues together and sketch the outlines of the Kerry Doctrine? I think so.

Kerry will not challenge any foreign adversaries to bring it on (he reserves that challenge for his domestic rival). Instead, should a foreign crisis arise during his presidency, he will send in an envoy.

In Iran, they are already celebrating. In Israel, they are already nervous. (Hat tip: Yael).

Monday, March 01, 2004

Judging Mel Gibson's "Passion"

In 1988, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops published "Criteria for the Evaluation of Dramatizations of the Passion."

The document is worth reading in connection with Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of the Christ" -- both for the document’s theological conclusions and its factual material. It includes the following historical background relating to Jesus:

Judaism in the first century, especially, incorporated an extraordinarily rich and diverse set of groups and movements.

Some sought a certain accommodation with Hellenic/Roman culture in the Diaspora and in the Land of Israel. Others vigorously opposed any cultural compromise, fearing ultimate religious assimilation.

Some argued for armed rebellion against Rome (Zealots), others for peaceful but firm resistance to cultural oppression (some Pharisees) and a few, such as the Temple priesthood and its party (Sadducees) acted in the eyes of the people as collaborators with Rome.

Emotions and hopes (both practical and spiritual) ran high, and rhetoric often higher.

Thus, along the lines of great issues of the day, and reacting to the pressure of Roman occupation, there moved a variety of groups, each with its own wide range of internal diversity: Sadducees, Zealots, apocalypticists, Pharisees (of varying dispositions, especially the two major schools of Hillel and Shammai), Herodians, Hellenists, scribes, sages, and miracle workers of all sorts.

Scripture was understood variously: literally, mystically, allegorically, and through mediating principles of interpretation.

Jesus and his teachings can only be understood within this fluctuating mixture of Jewish trends and movements. . . . The gospels reflect only some of this diversity.

Paul Winter’s essay in the September 1964 issue of Commentary -- "The Trial of Jesus" -- is particularly interesting in light of the above context.

Last October, Dennis Prager wrote a perceptive essay about Gibson’s movie. His thesis, worth reading again, is that Jews and Christians are watching different films. It might be good if each group acknowledged the film the other is seeing.

Does the film reflect anti-Semitism? For opposing views, read Michael Medved in Christanity Today, Leon Wieseltier in The New Republic and David Wolpe (with many sidebar comments) on Beliefnet. For a Christian perspective, read David Warren.