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Friday, April 30, 2004

The End of Science?

Freeman J. Dyson reviews Brian Greene’s "The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time and the Texture of Reality" (Knopf 2004) and recounts a fascinating debate they had in Davos, presenting alternative views of the future of science:

Three years ago, in January 2001, I was invited to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Brian Greene was also invited, and we were asked to hold a public debate on the question "When will we know it all?" In other words, when will the last big problems of science be solved?

. . . [His position was that] Within a few years or decades, we will discover the fundamental laws of nature. The fundamental laws will be a finite set of equations, like Maxwell's equations of electrodynamics or Einstein's equations of gravitation. Everything else will then follow from these equations.

Once we have the fundamental equations, we are done. There will be no fundamental problems left. When we know the fundamental equations of physics, everything else, chemistry, biology, neurology, psychology, and so on, can be reduced to physics and explained by using the equations. . . .

Greene said his confidence in our ability to find the fundamental laws is based on the marvelous fact that the laws of nature are simple and beautiful. . . . This happened over and over again, first with Newton's laws of motion and gravitation, then with Maxwell's equations of electromagnetism, then with Einstein's equations of special and general relativity, then with Schrödinger's and Dirac's equations of quantum mechanics. Now with string theory the game is almost over. . . .

I began my reply by saying that nobody denies . . . the truth of Einstein's triumphant words: "The creative principle resides in mathematics. In a certain sense, therefore, I hold it true that pure thought can grasp reality, as the ancients dreamed."

. . . But the reduction of other sciences to physics does not work. Chemistry has its own concepts, not reducible to physics. Biology and neurology have their own concepts not reducible to physics or to chemistry. The way to understand a living cell or a living brain is not to consider it as a collection of atoms. . . .

Science has three advancing frontiers that will always remain open. There is the mathematical frontier, which will always remain open thanks to Gödel. There is the complexity frontier, which will always remain open because we are investigating objects of ever-increasing complexity, molecules, cells, animals, brains, human beings, societies. And there is the geographical frontier, which will always remain open because our unexplored universe is expanding in space and time.

My hope and my belief is that there will never come a time when we shall say, "We are done."

May science, like history, continue -- with the knowledge that neither science nor history is the complete story.

And if Einstein is correct that "pure thought can grasp reality, as the ancients dreamed," is that not an argument for the existence of God (one of the other realities grasped by the ancients)?

Shabbat Shalom.

Thursday, April 29, 2004

The Coming Likud Vote

This Sunday, there will be a crucial vote by Likud party members on Ariel Sharon's disengagement plan.

Will the plan enable Israel to relinquish control over large numbers of Palestinians, contribute to Israel's security by withdrawing to more militarily and politically defensible lines, and strengthen the future of major West Bank populations centers?

Or will the plan be a capitulation to terrorism, a victory for the most radical Palestinian elements, and the beginning of a slide down a slippery slope that will not end here?

Richard Kraus of Cambridge, Massachusetts has an interesting letter in the current issue of The Jerusalem Report on this subject:

David Horovitz thinks it a mistake to withdraw unilaterally rather than through negotiations, since that would appear to reward terrorism.

But if Israel makes concessions through negotiation, it will be said that they only negotiated because of terrorism.

Furthermore, a principal argument for withdrawal is the fear of the demographic threat. But the Palestinians are well aware of that and therefore have every incentive to prevent Israel from withdrawing until it is too late.

Giving the Palestinians control over the timing of Israel's withdrawal, which negotiations would necessarily do, would therefore be folly.

Rather, the Israeli public, through its elected representatives, must decide whether withdrawal is in its interest, and then act accordingly, regardless of how the Palestinians will interpret it.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Beyond Grief and Community

Rabbi David Wolpe reviews Rabbi Maurice Lamm’s "Consolation: The Spiritual Journey Beyond Grief" (JPS March 2004) and makes an interesting observation:

[T]he sheer number of grief-related books [being published] is also a consequence of the collapse of community. In a world of organic communities, the necessarily individual task of reading a book about grief has less of a place . . .

In a fragmented world, we read about how to handle grief instead of having seen it in practice or knowing that others will surround us, see to our needs, and carry us along.

This book, he says, provides the collected wisdom of long-standing communities, as well as a deeper message:

Some of the stories [Lamm] tells are simple but resonant, such as the monk who repays the hospitality of a grieving family by leaving them these lines: "Grandfather dies. Father dies. Son dies."

In answer to their protests, he explains that this is the order of nature. Any other order is a far deeper tragedy.

The power of that story resides not in the lesson itself, which all of us know, but in the fact that it is a story. There is something about the telling -- the proof that others have felt these feelings before -- that enables us to cope.

We are not alone, not in our experience, not in our grief. "Consolation" would have us understand a deeper truth: that we are never alone, for it is not the friends at shiva who provide our ultimate solace, but God.

Monday, April 26, 2004

Remembrance Day in Israel -- And Israel's Birthday This Evening

From reports in the Jerusalem Post yesterday and today:

The State of Israel paused Sunday night to remember its fallen soldiers and its civilians killed in terror attacks, as the nation marked a somber Remembrance Day amidst three and a half years of continuing Palestinian violence.

When the nation bowed its head at 8 p.m. for a minute's silence, Israelis marked the 20,196 servicemen and women who have fallen in defense of the state since November 1947.

Israel has fought wars in 1948-49, 1956, 1967, l969-70, 1973 and 1982, in addition to skirmishes with infiltrators and conflicts with Palestinians from 1987-93 and 2000 to the present. . . .

The main Remembrance Day memorial . . . took place Monday morning at Mount Herzl Military Cemetery and [was] carried out simultaneously at 43 military cemeteries around the country. . . . Speaking minutes after the two-minute sirens heard across the nation at 11 a.m., Sharon said, "At the time when the siren is heard, and all through this day, the hearts of all are filled with longings, love and gratitude."

UPDATE: Anne Lieberman has an extraordinary set of photographs on her blog from Remembrance Day, including a set of four photos of Israelis throughout the country standing in silence in cafes, on the road, outside their cars, next to their stores. Do not skip them.

In Israel this evening, it is already Independence Day:

Israel began celebrating its 56th birthday Monday evening, at the end of the solemn commemoration of the annual Memorial Day for Israel's fallen soldiers.

At sundown, the somber atmosphere abruptly gave way to fireworks displays, open-air concerts and spirited street festivities. Israelis explain the juxtaposition by saying that the battles in which the soldiers died helped create and maintain the Jewish state.

Friday, April 23, 2004

Kerry, Carter and Israel.

On "Meet the Press" last Sunday, John Kerry, in two one-sentence answers, said he "completely" supports President Bush’s acceptance of Israeli claims to a portion of the West Bank and rejection of a Palestinian return to Israel.

Then there was this exchange:

MR. RUSSERT: You also said in December that you would consider as presidential ambassadors to the Middle East President Clinton, but also former President Carter and Secretary of State Baker. You then met with Jewish leaders and said, "I will not send Carter or Baker." Why?

SEN. KERRY: I think that what I was trying to talk about, Tim, was a kind of potential for bipartisanship as to how you might be able to approach putting a special envoy in place. The names obviously need to be acceptable to everybody within the community. You've got to do that as a matter of diplomacy. Subsequent to those names being floated, obviously, some people have different views about it.

The answer is better than the previous version, which blamed naming Carter and Baker on a "staff mistake." That answer tended to rankle, since it was demonstrably untrue.

The new answer has comparative merit since, unlike the old one, it simply puts you to sleep: he "thinks" he was "trying to talk about" a "kind of potential" for "bipartisanship" as to "how you might be able" to "approach putting" an envoy "in place" and "obviously" blah blah blah. Names were "being floated" and "obviously" blah blah.

Except the names were not just being "floated." What Kerry said in December -- and what he said elsewhere in the "Meet the Press" interview -- demonstrates a fundamental difference between him and George W. Bush with respect to Israel. It needs to be discussed, and it should be an issue in this campaign.

Here is what Kerry said in December, in a formal presentation to the Council on Foreign Relations, where he had come to "discuss what I would do as president to change a foreign policy that is radically wrong:"

President Bush pays lip service to the idea that Mideast peace is critical . . . but his administration has lurched from episodic involvement to recurrent disengagement . . . .

[I]t may be easier to break the stalemate and end the violence fostered by extremists if the end game is the focus, not the steps leading up to it.

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 . . . . President Clinton. And I might add, I have had conversations with both President Clinton and President Carter about their willingness to do this . . .

And it's astonishing to me that we are not picking up somewhere near where we left off at Taba, where most of the difficult issues were resolved, in many ways.

If you think you should move directly to the "end game" (abandoning a formal Road Map that aims at "progress through reciprocal steps by the two parties" -- starting with the "Palestinians immediately undertak[ing] an unconditional cessation of violence" and Israel withdrawing from post-September 2000 positions "as security performance and cooperation progress") -- and if it is "astonishing" to you not to just pick up with Taba instead -- then there is only one person you want as your envoy (with the possible exception of James Baker): Jimmy Carter.

On November 3, 2003 -- a month before Kerry’s presentation to the Council on Foreign Relations -- Jimmy Carter announced in USA Today that the Road Map was a "dead issue." Carter supported the Geneva Accord as an "alternative" to "step-by-step approaches." He asserted that a "comprehensive peace agreement" could bring peace -- if it would just get "full backing from Washington."

So when John Kerry went before the Council on Foreign Relations -- listing the Israel-Palestinian conflict as an example of a foreign policy gone "radically wrong," suggesting the "end game is the focus, not the steps leading up to it," naming Jimmy Carter as his prospective envoy, and announcing he had already talked to Carter about it -- Kerry was not simply "floating a name."

He was endorsing, in a presentation before the most prestigious foreign policy forum in the United States, a major shift in U.S. relations with Israel -- far beyond anything Howard "Even-Handed" Dean had suggested.

And it was to be implemented with the assistance of someone who wanted Washington to lean on the parties (read: Israel) to reach a final agreement -- Jimmy Carter -- whom Kerry had already approached as a possible appointment in "the first days of a Kerry administration."

But that was then, right? Later, he disavowed Carter as a prospective envoy, and Sunday he said he "completely" supports the Bush Letter to Prime Minister Sharon. So the nuanced Senator Kerry has had another position change, and now supports the Bush approach -- right?

In a word, no.

After Kerry gave Russert his non-answer about Carter ("I think that what I was trying to talk about, Tim, was a kind of potential . . ."), Russert followed up:

MR. RUSSERT: Why do you think Carter and Baker are not acceptable?

SEN. KERRY: Well, that's not important. What's important is how to resolve the crisis, how do you move forward. I believe there's a way to move forward, I'm convinced of that.

Why did you suggest Carter and then reject him? None of your business, Tim. What’s important is to move forward, there’s a way to move forward, I’m convinced there’s a way to move forward.

Okay, and what that be?

Now, I think what the president did in the last few days is to recognize a reality that even President Clinton came to. If you're going to have a Jewish state, and that is what we are committed to do and that is what Israel is, you cannot have a right of return that's open-ended or something. You just can't do it. It's always been a non-starter. I personally said that at a speech I gave to the Arab community in New York at the World Economic Forum. I've said that.

It would be interesting to know what Kerry meant in that answer by "even" President Clinton. And it would be good to see a copy of Kerry’s World Economic Forum speech (it is not on either Kerry’s campaign or senate office website, and the summary of it on the WEF site does not mention the right of return). But the critical part of Kerry’s "Meet the Press" answer was this: ". . . you cannot have a right of return that’s open-ended or something."

Kerry did not reject a right of return. He rejected a right of return that’s "open-ended or something." He left open the possibility of a limited right of return, one that would supposedly not affect the character of Israel as a Jewish state.

If that sounds familiar, there is a reason: Taba.

Taba was a set of marathon talks between Israeli and Palestinian delegations at the Egyptian resort of Taba between January 22 and January 28, 2001, conducted under fire, during the fourth month of the war declared by Arafat after he rejected a state in substantially all of the West Bank and Gaza:

The Barak government continued to offer concessions to the Palestinians, but neither the Israeli public nor the Knesset supported these positions. Ariel Sharon’s landslide victory was only days away on February 6, 2001. . . . Barak was hoping for some breakthrough that would bolster his election chances in the few weeks remaining of his term as Prime Minister.

One of the desperate concessions Barak discussed with the Palestinians in that fateful week was a limited right of return. The Palestinians claimed an alleged right of return under UN General Assembly Resolution 194 -– a non-binding resolution adopted five wars before, on December 11, 1948 -- that included a provision, applicable at the time to both Arab and Jewish refugees, and opposed at the time for various reasons by the Arabs themselves -- that those "refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date" (and which Efraim Karsh has conclusively demonstrated did not establish a "right of return").

According to the EU description of the permanent status talks at Taba:

Both sides suggested . . . the parties should agree that a just settlement of the refugee problem in accordance with the UN Security Council Resolution 242 must lead to the implementation of UN General Assembly Resolution 194. . . .

The Palestinian side reiterated that the Palestinian refugees should have the right of return to their homes in accordance with the interpretation of [Resolution] 194. The Israeli side expressed its understanding that the wish to return as per wording of [Resolution] 194 shall be implemented within the framework of one of the following programs: [return to Israel, to Israel swapped territory, to the Palestine state, rehabilitation in host country and relocation to third country]. . . .

The EU summary states the Israeli side informally suggested a 15-year absorption program, with 40,000 in the first five years, but that the Palestinian side did not present a number. The Palestinians took the position that "negotiations could not start without an Israeli opening position" -- without, in other words, a formal Israeli acknowledgment of the principle under discussion. As in the conversation with the woman at the bar, the price would be negotiated later.

According to Yossi Alpher, former senior adviser to Barak:

The formulae presented at the Taba negotiations in January 2001 for bridging the right of return gap did little to reduce Israeli anxiety.

It emerged that Palestinians interpreted Israel's reported readiness to state that a refugee agreement constitutes implementation of Resolution 194, as an Israeli acknowledgement of the right of return.

Who would guarantee that future generations of Palestinians would not invoke this clause to grant legitimacy to renewed claims to "return"?

Moreover, a Palestinian commitment to steer refugees toward alternative solutions, such as resettlement in the State of Palestine or . . . their host countries, could easily encounter mass refugee refusal -- based on years of indoctrination . . . -- to accept any solution but return to Israel . . . .

The heart of the Bush April 14 letter is its unambiguous statement that Palestinians will return to Palestine, not Israel. There can be no negotiation over the specifics of a "limited" right of return without Israel effectively conceding a "right" that would lead to the destruction of the Jewish state. The problem is not a right of return that is "open-ended or something." The problem is the assertion of any "right of return" as a subject for negotiation -- because it is a spurious "right" that does not exist under either Resolution 194 or international law.

Taba was a strategic disaster for Israel, because it demonstrated Israel would offer more and more concessions, that additional war would produce better terms, that it was not necessary to withdraw an alleged "right of return," that the leaders of Israel were desperate for peace, and that there was no penalty for the rejection of Oslo -- on the contrary, there was the reward of more negotiations, even while a renewed war was in progress.

For a presidential candidate to suggest -- in the midst of a barbaric war now in its fourth year -- that the thing to do is abandon the Road Map and pick up where we left off at Taba is (there is no better word) astonishing. But that was Kerry’s position at the Council on Foreign Relations in December, and his "Meet the Press" statements show it is still his position now.

And that is why he couldn’t answer the question as to why Carter was unacceptable.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Holocaust Remembrance Day Postscript

This is a very powerful one-minute presentation. Do not skip it. (Hat tip: DB).

A Blogger Vs. The New York Times

Anne Lieberman has the Page One Feature in the current Jewish Press: "Truth, Terrorism and The Times -- My First Year as a Blogger."

There is no finer summary of what this new medium means, and what can happen when it is put into service by a remarkable person.

Her blog should already be on your Favorites list. But if not, just click here. Her coverage of Israel is better than the Times’ and her article is essential reading.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

A Moral Referendum

Victor Davis Hanson, in his latest collection of essays: "Between War and Peace: Lessons from Afghanistan to Iraq" (Random House Trade Paperback Original 2004):

[Israel’s] enemies, like ours, employ suicide murdering, are often fueled by Islamic fundamentalism, and do not embrace freedom, democracy, or an equality of the sexes.

And yet Israel’s shared Western heritage often did not win it support in Europe . . . . In fact, the opposite was true. . . . [It] won disdain rather than respect, as an overdog, a postcolonial power, an American surrogate, or a modern-day Crusader state. . . .

[W]hat explains why its so-called friends in Europe were suddenly so hostile, especially in a post-9/11 landscape that made all states especially wary of any society that embraced suicide murdering? . . . .

A recurrent theme of these essays was not merely that support for Israel made strategic and practical sense, but that it was also a moral referendum on ourselves . . . .

Essential reading.

Monday, April 19, 2004

Holocaust Remembrance Day

In Israel:

The nation stood in silence for two minutes Monday morning, as sirens wailed marking Holocaust Remembrance Day in memory of the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust.

Traffic came to a standstill nationwide as drivers stopped their cars and stood in attention, while workers exited their stores, and passersby stood motionless in their place.

In a day filled with somber ceremonies, the names of the Jews known to have been killed in the Holocaust were read out at Yad Vashem and at the Knesset, as the Israeli flag flew at half-staff nationwide.

There is a moving and thought-provoking thread at LGF regarding an important article by Jeff Jacoby on Rabbi Ephraim Oshry and the Holocaust. The thread includes this comment by Motti, most of whose family was murdered in the Holocaust:

When the siren, marking two minutes of silence, went off today I was in the Tel-Aviv District Court. The court adjourned before the siren so that all could stand and honor our dead.

When I looked out the window from the 4th floor of the courthouse I could see flags at half-mast, people standing in silence, cars stopped.

Right opposite me, across the street, was the Ministry of Defense and the General Headquarters of the IDF. At the entrance army vehicles had stopped, drivers had gotten out of the vehicles to stand in silence as did all the soldiers guarding the entrance.

As I looked out over the soldiers, the flags at half-mast and the massive expanse of the GHQ, I understood once again that the State of Israel rose out of the ashes of those who were murdered, that their sacrifice helped bring about the creation of the state, that the memories of them strengthen us, they flow in our veins and create the power that is the IDF and Israel and guarantee that those that rise to injure us will be struck down.

Never again will the Jewish people be helpless, never again will our blood be shed with impunity.

Let their memories be blessed.

Sunday, April 18, 2004

Michael Kelly Readings

Tomorrow evening in New York at 7:30 p.m. at Barnes & Noble at Broadway and 82nd St, there will be a celebration of the works of Michael Kelly, with readings from "Things Worth Fighting For."

The readers will be Tina Brown, Hendrik Hertzberg, Howell Raines and Dan Rather.

Wednesday evening at 7:00 p.m. there will be a reading at Politics & Prose at 5015 Connecticut Ave. N.W. The readers will be David Bradley, Maureen Dowd, Ted Koppel, Leon Wieseltier and Bob Woodward.

For those outside New York and D.C., we have to hope that BookTV will be filming these for future viewing.

Friday, April 16, 2004

Making the World Safe for Stability

From yesterday's Los Angeles Times ("Kerry Places Stability in Iraq Above a Democracy"):

Sen. John. F. Kerry on Wednesday stressed that the chief interest of the U.S. should be to build a stable Iraq, but not necessarily a democratic one -- a view at odds with President Bush's vision of the troubled country's political future.

"I have always said from day one that the goal here . . . is a stable Iraq, not whether or not that's a full democracy," the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee told reporters after conducting a town hall meeting at the City College of New York in Harlem. "I can't tell you what it's going to be, but a stable Iraq. And that stability can take several different forms."

From John Kerry’s April 22, 1971 testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee:

Senator Case: I think your answer was related still to the question of Indochina, but I think the President has tried to tie in Indochina with the question of world peace.

Mr. Kerry: I would like to discuss that. . . .

I will say this. I think that politically, historically, the one thing that people try to do, that society is structured on as a whole, is an attempt to satisfy their felt needs, and you can satisfy those needs with almost any kind of political structure, giving it one name or the other. In this name it is democratic; in other it is communism; in others it is benevolent dictatorship. As long as those needs are satisfied, that structure will exist.

Memo to Ted Kennedy: Iraq is John Kerry's Vietnam.

Stability, benevolent dictatorship, communism, whatever -- just get us outta there.

UPDATE: John Kerry on the war: "And I want the Americans out . . ." Guess which war. The full exchange is here. (Hat tip: Glenn Reynolds, who has been far too generous to Kerry on this issue).

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

A Voter’s Guide to the Issues.

A short list of the many issues raised so far in a dispiriting campaign:

Bush LIED!! Bush knew! Bush won’t apologize.

Bush didn’t do anything before 9/11. Bush did too much after 9/11. Bush didn’t get an 18th resolution.

Bush was selected. Pilot stunt! Fake turkey!

Bush is arrogant. Bush talks to God. Bush talks about God.

Bush was AWOL. Bush deserted. Bring . . .It . . .On-n-n-n.

Unnamed foreign leaders don’t like Bush.

Bush is stupid. Bush can’t speak English.

On the other hand, last night President Bush said this, which Kevin Shook says "[s]chool children should memorize . . . as they do (or did) the Gettysburg Address:"

Now is the time, and Iraq is the place, in which the enemies of the civilized world are testing the will of the civilized world. We must not waver.

The violence we are seeing in Iraq is familiar. The terrorist who takes hostages, or plants a roadside bomb near Baghdad is serving the same ideology of murder that kills innocent people on trains in Madrid, and murders children on buses in Jerusalem, and blows up a nightclub in Bali, and cuts the throat of a young reporter for being a Jew. . . .

The servants of this ideology seek tyranny in the Middle East and beyond. They seek to oppress and persecute women. They seek the death of Jews and Christians, and every Muslim who desires peace over theocratic terror. . . . And they seek weapons of mass destruction. . . .

We will succeed in Iraq. We're carrying out a decision that has already been made and will not change: Iraq will be a free, independent country, and America and the Middle East will be safer because of it. . . . We serve the cause of liberty, and that is, always and everywhere, a cause worth serving.

And today, President Bush gave a letter to the Prime Minister of Israel -- reiterating his June 24, 2002 vision, rejecting any plan other than the roadmap, requiring that Palestinians "undertake an immediate cessation of armed activity and all acts of violence against Israelis anywhere," demanding that Palestinians undertake a "comprehensive and fundamental political reform that includes a parliamentary democracy" -- and saying this:

The United States is strongly committed to Israel’s security and well-being as a Jewish state. It seems clear that an agreed, just, fair, and realistic framework for a solution to the Palestinian refugee issue . . . will need to be found through the establishment of a Palestinian state, and the settling of Palestinian refugees there, rather than in Israel.

As part of a final peace settlement, Israel must have secure and recognized borders. . . In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949 . . .

No right of return to Israel. No ethnic cleansing of the West Bank to provide a Palestinian state. No retreat to indefensible borders. No dictatorship on Israel’s border. In Palestine, as in Iraq, only a democratic state will provide peace. Only insistence on that condition will produce it.

He is an eloquent and courageous president.

Monday, April 12, 2004

Things Worth Fighting For

Michael Kelly’s "Things Worth Fighting For" (Penguin Press 2004) -- a collection of his essays and columns -- is a treasure.

It is a body of work remarkable for its "variety, incisiveness, wit, literary grace, and enduring value," in the words of editor Robert Vare, who notes that Kelly "raised the level of political writing to literature." He was, as Bret Stephens wrote last week, "far and away the most talented journalist of his generation."

The essays and columns collected in this volume have an additional power, because they can be read together, and in the clearer light that the passage of time and subsequent events provide.

Watch how Kelly moved from (1) covering Yasser Arafat’s arrival in Gaza, to (2) the failure of Oslo, to (3) the response to terrorism, to (4) an insight -- written on September 11, 2001 -- that puts everything that came before (and after) in a new perspective:

1. Arafat. In "Promises But Never Peace," he recalled watching, as a reporter in Gaza on July 1, 1994, Arafat's arrival to establish the Palestinian Autonomous Region:

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.

2. Oslo. Writing in "Israel’s Phony ‘Partner’" about Colin Powell’s suggestion that Israel deal with Arafat, no matter "how disappointed we've been with him over time," Kelly took the word "disappointed" and turned it into an essay:

Yes, 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.

3. Terrorism. Just three weeks before 9/11, Kelly wrote in "Mideast Myths Exploded" about Colin Powell’s lecture to Israel after the Sbarro bombing in Tel Aviv, where 15 were killed and 100 maimed:

"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?

4. September 11. Three weeks later, such a "provocation" occurred, and the U.S. went to war the following month. Writing on September 11, in a column published the following day -- at a time when the public did not know the cause of the 9/11 attack -- Michael Kelly saw the "root cause:"

Of all the uses of terror, none in the past several decades has been more faddishly popular . . . than that of the Palestinians. Yes, Palestinian terrorists and terrorists on behalf of the Palestinian cause murdered innocents -- but that was understandable, the argument went. The Palestinians had been wronged. They were oppressed. They were weak. What else could they do?

Here is where we end up, with murder on a mass scale of people . . . .

If it is morally acceptable to murder, in the name of a necessary blow for freedom, a woman on a Tel Aviv street, or to blow up a disco full of teenagers, or to bomb a family restaurant -- then it must be morally acceptable to drive two jetliners into a place where 50,000 people work.

In moral logic, what is the difference? If the murder of innocent people is for whatever reason excusable, it is excusable; if it is legitimate, it is legitimate. If acceptable on a small scale, so too on a grand. . . . Is not a great good better than a small good?

Once again, the world had stood by while they came first for the Jews.

After that came New York, Washington, Bali, Moscow, Casablanca, Istanbul, Madrid.

Michael Kelly died covering the Iraq war, as a reporter embedded with the Army’s Third Infantry Division. His death brought an "effusion of grief," which continues to this day (and which this book will increase). But the book, and his life, reminds us there are things worth fighting for.

Friday, April 09, 2004

Two Poems

Robbe Richman, President of Articulated Impact (and "Eldest," as Imshin might say), posts the poem he heard recently at the end of conference he attended (he says he would substitute "God" for "He" -- "cause I don’t think God is a guy"):

I asked God for Strength . . .
And He gave me difficulties to make me strong.
- -
I asked God for Wisdom . . .
And He gave me problems to solve.
- -
I asked God for Prosperity . . .
And He gave me brain and brawn to work.
- -
I asked God for Courage . . .
And He gave me danger to overcome.
- -
I asked God for Love . . .
And He gave me troubled people to help.
- -
I asked God for Favors . . .
And He gave me opportunities.
- -
I received nothing I wanted . . .
And I received everything I needed.

The new issue of the Bellevue Literary Review is out. Gray Jacobik has a poem in it entitled "The Accident."

Never having died before, the panic-stricken are at once
realistic and incredulous: So this is dying,
and This can't be happening entwined
in the thread's final knot.

The great unknown is suddenly, unstoppably, onto you.

Do you hold your breath or scream, let go into
a widening darkness
like the aperture of a camera rolling
its metal petals closed, a pinhead of light, then nothing?

And the immense pity of it; wasted time
never to be salvaged, the unsaid never to be spoken.

Appreciate your gifts. Use time wisely. Stop and think. Say something.

Shabbat Shalom.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Europe as a Bad Joke

Mark Steyn reviews "Follow My Leader" -- the musical "satire" currently playing at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre in London (featuring "We're Sending You A Cluster Bomb From Jesus" and similar songs about some -- but not all -- groups):

Christians are a cheap laugh and in control of the Bush Administration, Jews are sinister and in control of the Bush Administration, and Muslims . . . whoa, best not to mention them, man. You don't want to be Islamophobic.

You can sing "We're Sending You A Cluster Bomb From Jesus" because there are no "fundamentalist Christians" within 20 miles of the Birmingham Rep -- or at least none that is going to be waiting for you at the stage door. "We're Sending You A Schoolgirl Bomb From Allah" might attract notice from a livelier crowd. If you're going to be provocative, it's best to do it with people who can't be provoked.

Fortunately, there are still a few genuine satirists around -- for example, the chaps who put together the EU report on rising anti-Semitism. "The largest group of the perpetrators of anti-Semitic activities appears to be young, disaffected white Europeans," said the official summary, introducing us to the concept of Euromath.

If you troubled yourself to look inside, it turned out that some nine per cent of anti-Semitic attacks were by young white males. The remaining 91 per cent were by . . . well, let's not get into that. In the EU, nine per cent is enough to make you the "largest group."

The two-inch thick EU report -- "Manifestations of Antisemitism in the EU 2002-2003" -– has page after page of mind-numbingly boring commentary, interrupted occasionally by self satire, such as this classic of politically correct reporting:

Antisemitism, as studies of racism have shown, is part of ethnocentrism, and people who refuse to consider the Jews as French also do not like Arabs, Muslims and immigrants. . . . In the political field, such prejudices are more present on the right than on the left. The radical right remains the most attractive political area for those expressing racist and anti-Semitic attitudes, whereas people who vote for the radical left are the least racist . . . .

Except, when you turn to the EU’s accompanying 48 page report -- "Perceptions of Antisemitism in the European Union" -- the report that actually bothered to interview Jews -- you find this description of life in France today:

In France, the interviewees described what was happening in their country -- the attacks against synagogues, the arson of a school, the beating of Jewish students and activists or the aggression against a rabbi, the daily insults and harassment in the suburbs, targeting people of every age, including more and more children -- as in their view the most unprecedented wave of anti-Semitic violence since WW II.

The French interviewees identified two new types of anti-Semitism: One type had been adopted by some people of Maghrebi origin . . . . Another type of anti-Semitism which had not been addressed for a long time was that which had been adopted by parts of the extreme left, whose activities seems to have developed in parallel and in cooperation with those of some of the Maghrebi . . . . [I]n the interviewees' view it was no longer possible for pupils and students of Jewish schools to go out wearing their kippah. [Report, pages 11-12].

The European slide continues, centered in our "ally," France.

Monday, April 05, 2004

A Passover Miscellany

Rabbi David Wolpe suggests the four questions should lead to other questions, including a more literal translation of the first one: "What, is this night different?"

[W]e should wonder about slavery and freedom every night of our lives.

We should always sit down at the table with the question of redemption in our thoughts and our hearts, for we always live in an unredeemed world.

Suffering should never be invisible to us, or hunger, or grief. . . .

Passover rituals express the potency of faith in small acts. The grief of ages is in an herb, slavery in an unleavened bread, and redemption in an untouched cup of wine.

Paul Greenberg suggests in "The Search: We Leave Egypt Tonight" that this night is different from the past -- but not from the future:

Walker Percy called it the search. Or at least his alter ego in "The Moviegoer" did. . . .

"What is the nature of the search, you ask. The search is what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life. . . . To become aware of the possibility of the search is to be onto something."

Tonight we will be set free. For tonight is the first seder of Passover . . . .

It is not history that gives Passover its warrant. Quite the opposite: What makes tonight so full of promise and burden, like freedom itself, is that it breaks through history. It disrupts the everydayness.

Why is this night different from all other nights? Not because we are set free, but because we may realize we are set free.

Nor is it the celebration of freedom that fills this night with awe but what follows: the plunge into the Wilderness. That is, the search. And tonight it begins anew.

Michael Tolkin writes in "Faith and Proof" that the story comes from a book beyond history -- "written over a thousand years by a thousand writers . . . proposing a model society of frail humans who need justice, sacrifice, joy, rest and atonement . . . . a collection of voices [that] is a hint of the sound of God."

If Abraham did not send Hagar and Ishmael into the desert, but we imagined it; if we had not been slaves but imagined it; if we had not been 600,000 strong at Sinai, but imagined it; if God did not let us cross into the land until a generation had died in the wilderness, but we imagined it; if David did not have Uriah killed so he could marry Bathsheba, but we imagined it; if we imagined the need for a land to create a light for the world . . . if all the contradiction and paradox were not dictated on Sinai in 40 days, but heard by us over those thousand years, and our errors written down and not denied or blamed on someone else -- then the book is all the miracle anyone should ask for, and to read it as literal is idolatry.

Adria Popkin, former pastry chef, largely non-observant, writes about the seder the year her grandfather died:

Abraham Solomon Goldman who, as I used to laugh to myself, possessed the most Jewish name in America, was appropriately and devoutly religious. He prayed every morning and walked to temple every Saturday for the Sabbath. . . .

Through his guidance, I learned to see the importance of tradition, the significance of retelling and remembering the Passover lore . . . . So I decided that a year after his death, at our Passover dinner we would remember the story of my grandfather. . . .

As I kneaded the matzo meal into a sticky paste to make dumplings for our soup, I remembered ancestral slaves turning mortar into the bricks that made the Pyramids.

I served sweet potato gnocchi with roasted red pepper sauce -- the color of fire and strength.

Grilled asparagus and radicchio represented spring, the season of freedom and renewal.

Dessert was a creme caramel, my own Manna Flan -- because it tasted so sweet you could pretend it fell from heaven. I filled the food with my grandfather's faith . . . .

We all took turns reading the Passover story. We sang some Hebrew songs and we raised our glasses of wine to my grandfather and toasted, "L'Chaim," to his life. My own father, the agnostic scientist, winked and said, "Delicious."

We sanctified life and legend with my supper. 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.

Adria’s recipe for Manna Flan is here.

OneFamily has a special prayer, in memory of the first night of Passover 2002, when a Palestinian terrorist murdered 30 people and injured more than 130 others at the Park Hotel in Netanya, on the Israeli coast, by walking into the dining room of the hotel and, in the midst of 250 guests at the seder, detonating himself. It's to be said on breaking the matzah.

John Derbyshire, whose view of Jews is not uncomplicated, ends his "Passover Reflections" with these words:

I am proud to call myself a philosemite . . . . As a keen reader of history, I also stand in awe of the sheer staying power of the Jews. In Paul Johnson's words:

"When the historian visits Hebron today, he asks himself: where are all those peoples which once held the place? Where are the Canaanites? Where are the Edomites? Where are the ancient Hellenes and the Romans, the Byzantines, the Franks, the Mamluks and the Ottomans? They have vanished into time, irrevocably. But the Jews are still in Hebron."

These are not very happy days in Hebron. I have no doubt, though, that 3,000 years from now the Jews will still be there, arguing, feasting, theorizing, charming, and vexing all who come to know them. What an astounding story theirs is! . . . . L'chaim!

And L’Chaim to all of you. Chag Sameach. Happy Passover.

Friday, April 02, 2004

Maxwell House Meets Its Match

Rachel Barenblat got involved a decade ago with the Williams College Feminist Seder, which led to developing her own haggadah:

Every year, a group of college students crafted a new haggadah. We had wonderful conversations and arguments about the purpose of the seder, the purpose of feminism, how Judaism and feminism intersect. We wrote some terrific variations on familiar prayers and songs. We learned from each other, and sometimes surprised ourselves.

[T]he process was priceless: it taught me how deeply fulfilling engaging with Judaism can be, and how much more "mine" the holidays feel when I study them, learn about them, and reshape my observance with my own two hands. . . .

[E]very year I develop a new Velveteen Rabbi's Haggadah for Pesach, which I use to lead seder . . . . My haggadah collects poems and prayers from a variety of sources, along with readings I wrote myself.

Some of it is traditional; some of it is not. Some of it has been published elsewhere (like the meditation on washing the hands, which I wrote for The Women's Seder Sourcebook, published last year by Jewish Lights). Every year it grows in new ways, based on new things I have learned . . . .

If any of you would like a copy, let me know; I can email it to you in .pdf format.

This is a labor of love, not a for-profit endeavor; I am happy to offer the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart, in hopes that they will bring others joy at this, my favorite, season.

It is a beautiful haggadah. Worth reading and studying and using. Her email is:

Thursday, April 01, 2004

John Kerry on MTV

The incomparable James Lileks fisks John Kerry's MTV interview. Even this long excerpt does not do it justice:

"Senator Kerry, in the clearest terms, what would be the principal difference between the foreign policy of your administration and that of the Bush administration?"

"Brian, the principal difference will be almost everything. This administration has been arrogant. I think they have been reckless. They have been overly ideological. They have pushed our allies away. I will bring our allies back to us

By "allies," of course, he means Germany and France. And perhaps our deep long-standing ally Russia. . . . building a body of international resolve that will meet any challenge by sending diplomats to exchange Frank and Honest Views in conference rooms, with that nice lemon tea they serve. Do they use a zest, or a peel, or just run the lemon along the rim of the cup? Whatever they do, it’s quite delicious. . . .

How will he bring our allies back to us? By waving the magic ally-reassembling wand?

No: by doing what they want us to do, not by doing the things they don’t. It’s almost as if Kerry believes that the point of a war is to have allies first and victory second.

But I think I know what he’s doing. It’s an appeal to those who always say -- always -- that we "squandered" the goodwill of the world after 9/11. But in certain quarters that "goodwill" was equal parts pity, schadenfreude and the belief that we would now realize the errors of our ways.

And note how no one ever talks about how the Palestinian Authority squandered the goodwill it got from the Oslo Accords. . . .

"I mean, there are countless numbers of things that we could be doing to enhance the world's view of us and to minimize the kind of anger and . . . almost recruitment that has taken place in terrorist organizations as a result of the way the administration has behaved."

And that’s the second money quote, right there. . . . We did not take dictation from Paris. If we had done these things, it would minimize the world’s anger.

Is the world angry at Russia, which spends nothing on AIDS and rebuffed Kyoto?

Is the world angry at China, which got a pass on Kyoto and spends nothing on AIDS for other countries?

Is the world angry at North Korea for killing its people?

Angry at Iran for smothering that vibrant nation with corrupt and thuggish mullocracy?

Angry at Syria for occupying Lebanon?

Is the world angry at the thugs of Fallujah?

Is the world angry at anyone besides America and Israel? . . .

By toppling the fascists in Baghdad without the French seal of approval, we have encouraged recruitment in terrorist organizations. It’s not the invasion that ticked off the Man in the Arab Street, it’s the lack of a 17th UN resolution on Iraq.

Right now in a café in Beirut an educated man, a chemist by trade, schooled in the ways of the West, is reading an article about how the US will only spend $15 billion on AIDS and probably won’t reduce its carbon emissions to 1817 levels, and he throws down the paper in disgust: bastards! I must join Al Qaeda, move to Iraq and kill the contractors who are upgrading their outmoded infrastructure!

If there is such a man, well, I'm angry at him. Do I get to be angry at him? No? Okay. I'll sit down now.

Read it all.

The April Issue of Commentary is Out.

Andrew C. McCarthy, who led the 1995 prosecution of Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman in connection with the first World Trade Center bombing, writes the lead article on "The Intelligence Mess:"

Throughout the eight years of the Clinton administration, as militant Islam’s jihad against America escalated, the federal courts became the linchpin of counterterror strategy. . . .

The fecklessness of meeting terrorist attacks with court proceedings -- trials that take years to prepare and months to present, and that, even when successful, neutralize only an infinitesimal percentage of the actual terrorist population -- emboldened bin Laden.

But just as hurtful was the government’s promotion of terrorism trials in the first place.

They were a useful vehicle if the strategic object was to orchestrate an appearance of justice being done. As a national-security strategy, they were suicidal, providing terrorists with a banquet of information they could never have dreamed of acquiring on their own. . . .

In 1995, just before trying the blind sheik (Omar Abdel Rahman) and eleven others, I duly complied with discovery law by writing a letter to the defense counsel listing 200 names of people who might be alleged as unindicted co-conspirators -- i.e., people who were on the government’s radar screen but whom there was insufficient evidence to charge.

Six years later, my letter turned up as evidence in the trial of those who bombed our embassies in Africa. It seems that, within days of my having sent it, the letter had found its way to Sudan and was in the hands of bin Laden (who was on the list), having been fetched for him by an al-Qaeda operative who had gotten it from one of his associates. . .

From the thousands in al Qaeda’s swelling international ranks, we plucked about 40 and indicted them, bathing them in all the rights of American defendants, and arming them with information from our intelligence files to prepare their defenses. . . .

Was September 11 the worst intelligence failure in our country’s history? Or was it, rather, a national failure, the failure of a country that allowed its sense of decency to overwhelm its instinct for survival and that effectively convinced its enemies that they could strike with impunity?

Worth reading in its entirety -- particularly in light of John Kerry’s assertion in the January 29 Democratic Presidential Debate that the war on terror is "primarily an intelligence and law enforcement operation."