Thursday, 31 May 2012

Weiji - An Old & New World View for a Community in Crisis

Communities in crisis face many challenges, leaving doubts for their future viability. Those with unsustainable economic structures deal with endemic poverty and unemployment. Crime, abuse, and violence are evident, even if in arguably smaller proportion to other communities, and there is a fundamental disconnect from the broader society. Conversely, a community that is a growing, close knit, respected, well organized unit becomes known for its righteous charity, its education and outreach, its support to the sick, as well as its piety, devotion, and obedience.

The truthful conundrum is that in both Israel and North America both descriptions illustrate – with varying degrees of justification - Chareidi (ultra-orthodox) Jewish communities. In 2012, following the vagaries of the financial crisis and the realities of disruptive social change, Chareidi communities are in a social, ethical, and existential flux they have never before experienced. In Israel, for example, though they make up about 10% of the population (700,000), almost 60% of Chareidim live below the poverty line, and according to a study from Haifa University (Soffer, Bystrov, November 2010), 30% of births among Jewish Israelis are to Chareidi families. The way in which their leadership and adherents respond now to the numerous challenges they face will determine how their future will look.

At a time when many of today’s societal challenges - including economic woes, job loss, and marital breakdown - combined for the first time with increasingly accessible media, are intersecting with the stress points inherent in any insular community, practical guidance has often given way to blanket prohibitions. The internet, most smart phones, vacations, sports and even separate-seating concerts by religious performers have all come under rabbinical ban in recent years. In a fascinating development, many Chareidim have begun to turn to forums and blogs to discuss the crises faced by the community in ways they could never before contemplate, because without the anonymity of the internet, their questions would lead to their shunning in the community. For individuals raised and living within a sheltered lifestyle, this is a very real concern. As one recent commenter on the website wrote, about an Israeli Rabbi who dared to suggest that many of those in Yeshivas should look for work: “When he attacks Torah learning, he removes himself from Klal Yisroel.” Unsurprisingly, it is this very accessibility that has, in recent months, become the epicenter of the crisis.

There is no question that many leaders within the Chareidi community see “the internet” as something that “attacks Torah learning.” Perhaps more critically than that, they see it as a direct, growing, and menacing challenge to the authority of rabbinic leadership – a leadership of intellectual and religious dynasties (both familial and collegial) that has served their communities with guidance and devotion for two thousand years. 

The recent “Internet Asifa” held at Citifield in Queens, New York, in May 2012 was heralded as a demonstration of unity in the face of the “threat”. Over 40,000 Chareidi participants listened to leaders from the US, Canada, and Israel deliver what has been described by a number of attendees as a frankly mixed message, with some Rabbis demanding filtering and getting rid of smart phones, and others condemning any internet use at all in the home, on pain of excluding children from communal Yeshivas.   

What, though, is the threat? Is it access to addictive sites, like gambling or pornography? Is it anonymous internet dating? Social media? Perhaps it more than anything else about power, and the capacity of bloggers and anonymous commenters to publicly doubt or question the authority of the community’s leadership, or, sometimes, their lack of leadership. Indeed, no less a spokesperson than Rabbi Paysach Krohn spoke to a reporter at the Asifa decrying this aspect of the use of the internet as his biggest concern, and his belief that anonymous critics of Torah authorities should be put in cherem (excommunicated). 

Such daring as is demonstrated daily on numerous websites and blogs is a relatively new phenomenon. Members of the Chassidic or Lithuanian (otherwise known as Yeshivish) ultra-Orthodox communities will tell you that they turn to the Mesorah – the inherited wisdom transmitted through an unbroken line of Rabbis reaching back to Sinai - for guidance in trying times. Yet in the last 30 years, with the passing of Torah leaders such as Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Eliezer Shach and the Satmar Rebbe, among others, the community lost many of its most respected guides. Some current leaders have been described as increasingly more remote from the everyday realities their adherents face. Some consider the advanced age of many leaders to be part of the challenge. Others cite intermediaries, known as “askonim” with their own agendas, who control access and information to the leaders, as the problem. As one puzzled commenter on the news site wrote, “We were all taught to revere our Rabbonim. However, lately I believe many ehrlicher (good, proper) Yidden are scratching their heads at some of the public pronouncements.” 

The growing disdain for blind obedience would seem to be a radical new trend, but it has antecedents in the work of early Chassidic Rebbes, such as Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk (1787-1859), who cautioned his fellow Jews that “God does not want yes-men” in an explanation of a passage in Deuteronomy (Sefer Devarim). 

The internet allows for another surprising paradigm shift unheard of in the past. Chareidi men are engaging with women in theological, halachic, and practical discussions. One poster, a Chareidi woman from New York in’s Coffee Room discussion forums, gently chided the mostly male writers who she interacts with almost daily “Everyone has their reasons and everyone is judged by Hashem. No one else should be doing the judging.”

Chareidim have also become involved in social issues they may not have even contemplated in the past. In early 2010, a Jewish man named Martin Grossman was executed in Florida for the murder of wildlife officer Peggy Park in 1984. Many Chareidi leaders called for public action to avert the death penalty, but some, like this poster on, asked if the concern was about the death penalty or the fact that the condemned man was a Jew. “Imagine if it was a irreligious Muslim that killed a Jewish cop, then sat for 26 years and became a ‘born again Muslim’ felt bad for what he did and all that good stuff, will we say the same thing??”

Discussions range across the spectrum of interest on dozens of websites. Of particular debate have been socio-economic issues, with more and more Chareidi individuals questioning the concept of Torah learning exclusive of work, and criticizing the sense of entitlement they perceive among some kollel yungerleit (young scholars). Some cite the words of Maimonides (Rambam) in the Laws of Torah Study declaring the folly of assuming the community should shoulder the responsibility of supporting individuals who learn but do not work. Many others, particularly in the Chassidic communities, have been able to build a happy medium allowing them to support their families while setting aside time for learning. In fact, Haaretz’s The Marker recently reported that the number of Chareidi men in professional training programs had risen exponentially to 6,500, and the number of Chareidi men with jobs had risen 8% in eight years.

Another heated topic of online conversation in Chareidi circles revolves around military service in the IDF in Israel, and the Chareidi community’s historic exemptions from service. In Israel, a lack of army service closes doors to many jobs, so even when many Chareidi men wish to join the workforce, they have been handicapped. Creative solutions have helped, and an IDF unit meeting the needs of the community was formed. The Netzach Yehuda Nachal Chareidi battalion in the IDF has grown from platoon to battalion size in its nearly 10 year history, and it continues to draw Chareidi men who are not suited for the kollel lifestyle. A 2007 study conducted by the Netzach Yehuda Foundation found that 90% of its veterans were employed, compared with only 40% of males among the broader Israeli Chareidi community, as reported by the Van Leer Institute. Nonetheless, the recent unity deal completed by the Netanyahu government with the Kadima party has as its centrepiece the replacement of the Tal law, which has, until now, perpetuated the system of exemptions. The Chareidi community is facing a huge challenge, as the political will to revamp the system has finally been supported by large enough Knesset support to make the leverage that the Religious parties such as Degel HaTorah have had a thing of the past.

Sometimes, the cost of speaking publicly about social ills in Chareidi society can be high. One intellectual, a resident of the Chareidi community in Stamford Hill, UK, wrote about his progressive loss of faith – in both God and his community’s leadership, in the face of corruption, abuse and intolerance. His blog, called The Shaigetz - Doing it Maai Vey, exposed these and other issues for all to see and read – and comment on, a unique experience for some readers. By the time he stopped posting regularly in March, 2008, the site had received over 500,000 page views. He felt forced to quit, though, when his anonymity was threatened, and admitted he still wanted his family to be a part of a community he no longer respected.
“The Shaigetz” left a legacy in his last post, four points he feels that the Chareidi world have only begun to address.
1.      According to the anonymous blogger, materialism has changed the Chareidi world – as it has changed all of western society - and many within it have forgotten the concept of self sacrifice.
2.      To survive and prosper, he feels that Chareidim must make themselves demonstrably useful to society at large, as groups such as ZAKA, Yad Sarah and many others have done.
3.      The Shaigetz is convinced that there is a vacuum of leadership in the Chareidi community. Torah Sages may not address real, practical issues in part because they are not getting or do not have all of the information from their support apparatus they need to impart wisdom. They seem to have become even more insular, distant and reactionary at a time when their followers are searching for critical answers.
4.      He feels that there can be no hiding from the realities of abuse in Chareidi communities. (While Shaigetz focuses on children, the same holds true for emotional, physical, financial, and other abuses which exist in Chareidi communities as they do anywhere else). 

There is no doubt that these and other issues have rocked the foundations of Chareidi communities across the globe. Many in these communities will do as they have done in the past, continuing to build up the many positive elements in their communities, while studiously ignoring the growing problems. Others have taken to the tools of modernity and have begun to address the problems they face in new ways. Still others have left the fold, trying to find fulfillment and community in a secular world they are ill equipped to engage and whose values seem alien. 

Yet despite the undeniable challenges, these communities still serve as a beacon of kindness and righteousness in many respects. For example, despite the broad brush of disdain with which ex-Chareidi author Deborah Feldman painted the Satmar Hasidic community, especially its apparent relegation of women to a subservient, compliant and submissive role, Satmar women have for many years organized and run an incredible network of volunteers who deliver thousands of Kosher meals to patients in New York area hospitals every day. Travelers around the world will describe instant, unquestioning help and kindness, from providing a hot meal to finding a local doctor, dispensed with a smile by local Chabad emissaries.  And who can forget the scenes of ten years ago in Israel, where Chareidi ZAKA volunteers provided the final, unrequitable kindness of bringing the victims of terror attacks, Jews and Arabs alike, to a full and respectful burial? 

The truth is that this growing and fundamentally good element of Jewish society will continue to be the backbone of perpetuating Torah and its values to an increasingly troubled world. The internet, like any mode of communication, presents its users, Chareidi and non Chareidi alike, with the same challenges of discretion, honesty, and morality that we faced in everyday life before it existed. With truth and self reflection like that increasingly demonstrated within online communities, healing, strengthening, and a new approach to new and old problems can and may begin.  Why, you may have wondered, did I title this article with a Chinese word? It may bear suggesting that the Chareidi community recognize the old adage that the Chinese word for crisis, weiji, is made up of two characters, one meaning “danger” and the other often meaning “opportunity”. As they fit together, one shouldn’t be missed because of fear of the other.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Simply Brilliant - The Political Maturity of Benjamin Netanyahu

When I played basketball in high school, my coach taught me how to do a "head fake", which was a slight move of the head, or even the eyes, to convince the opponent that one was going to move or pass the ball in a direction not ultimately taken to draw the opponent away from the ball. 

This evening, Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's Prime Minister, is in the process of performing a head fake as good as any to be seen in the NBA or the NCAA. It is so good, in fact, that he is  actually moving in at least two directions at once, both towards goals he wants to achieve. 

In a dramatic and politically brilliant move, Netanyahu has co-opted Kadima's new head, former IDF Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz, and brought him into a unity government. Early elections planned for September have now been postponed until the term ends in October 2013, making this one of the most stable and long lasting governments in Israel's history. Predictably, the leader of Meretz, Zehava Gal On, is calling the move a "stinking maneuver" as if it is the obligation of a sitting PM to call early elections. 

Why this? Why now? Well, that is an interesting tale. It starts in January of 2011, when Defense Minister & former IDF Chief of Staff Ehud Barak, Einat Wilf, and three other Labour MKs left the party and continued in the Likud government as an independent faction. At the time, most observers saw this as an opportunistic move by Barak, who was threatened from within Labour and was set to lose his leadership. The real opportunist, though, was Netanyahu. With this move, bringing Barak and his faction even closer, the PM cemented his left flank, and kept Barak, who if not loved, is much respected as Defense Minister, in lockstep with his security policies. He also weakened Labour, which would then have to head into a leadership race with almost half its Knesset presence eliminated. 

A few months later,  former Shas leader Aryeh Deri announced in June 2011 that he would participate in the next election. The jockeying for position between him and current Shas head Eli Yishai has not stopped, and the result is a weakened Shas, potentially split in the next election. Both the national religious sector and the Ashkenazi haredi parties are facing their own crises of political and religious leadership. Their leverage, often touted as crucial, has all but disappeared.

Just a month ago, Kadima had its own leadership contest, and former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni was ousted from the leadership she had held for almost 3 years in favour of Mofaz. She has since left the political scene. 

If these machinations weren't Byzantine enough, Foreign Minister Avigdor Leiberman, who is no pushover himself, and an important member of Netanyahu's coalition, has begun to feel threatened by the popularity of political neophyte Yair Lapid, whose appeal to secular voters and insistence on drafting haredi yeshiva students has ballooned his stature. Lapid threatens to erode Leiberman's right wing but secular constituency. 

It is in the context of this unprecedented weakness among his political friends and foes alike that Prime Minister Netanyahu came back to the concept of a unity government - one he first suggested immediately after his election victory in 2009. The opportunity to maintain stability, exploit the weakness of his current and potential coalition partners, and serve out an entire four year term as Prime Minister has enormous appeal. Even though his current popularity all but guarantees an election win in September, the prospect of weaving an even stronger government prepared to make tough decisions was and is a goal that Netanyahu has sought from the outset. 

And here we get to the crux of the matter. Many observers rightly see this deal as an opportunity to finally bring in a replacement for the Tal Law that will bring the haredi population into military or national service. Never has broad public sentiment been so positive about this, across the spectrum from the political left,to the secular, the national religious, and even to some of the haredim themselves. The political price to pay for forcing the issue will be much less than if Netanyahu was still beholden to the haredi parties to support his government. Now they will likely find themselves in essentially powerless opposition, unless, like Shas has lately done, they begin to find ways to accommodate themselves and their constituencies to a new reality that demands their participation in national responsibilities. 

These considerations have been important parts of Netanyahu's agenda, but  paying close attention to his recent speeches - at the US Congress last May; at the UN in September 2011, at the  AIPAC conference in early March 2012, and most recently on Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Memorial Day in April 2012 - affords further insight. In these speeches his agenda couldn't be more clear. Netanyahu is utterly consumed with the threat of a nuclear Iran, and he has spent his entire term since his election in February 2009 preparing Israel, its friends in the US and indeed the entire world for the eventuality and necessity of military action to stop Iran from attaining the enrichment and technical capacity to build nuclear weapons. The recent public statements contradicting his views on Iran made by former Intelligence chiefs such as Meir Dagan and others concern him - and thus it is no surprise that he has brought another former IDF Chief of Staff, one born in Tehran, no less, into his cabinet, buttressing the credibility of his national security cabinet.

Creating a strong unity government also sends a clear message to the United States that Israel is politically unified in its awareness of the danger posed by Iran, as well as the hard choices that will have to be made within the next few months. The time horizon has been set - after the US Presidential elections in November, and before the Israeli elections the following October. If Israel is going to strike Iran, that is when Prime Minister Netanyahu has created the political and diplomatic window in which to operate.

Israel's military is prepared; its people, who are never happy to go to war, and who have no illusions about their neighborhood, are resolute; Israel has engendered the strictest international sanctions regime since the end of WW2; and its political landscape has been re-engineered to provide the most stable environment in decades. This is a demonstration of Prime Minister Netanyahu's political maturity. The table has now been set.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

(Gold)Stone Cold Sober

It is a rare thing indeed for the author of a UN report critical of Israel to publicly disavow most of the central findings of his investigation. The last time any senior participant of a UN body did something of this import, it was the reversal of the General Assembly’s infamous “Zionism is Racism” resolution, which was passed in 1975 and reversed twenty years ago in 1991. I don’t hold out much hope for a retraction from the UN, but there may be something that can be done at the UNHRC, which I will suggest below.

South African Judge Richard Goldstone, author and chief investigator of the UNHRC report on the 2008/9 Operation Cast Lead  known by his name – a report highly critical of Israel and the IDF- shocked many observers this past weekend by writing a remarkable op/ed piece in the Washington Post. Essentially, as Goldstone wrote, “If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document.” I won’t go into the details of his article. Suffice it to say that it is a clear expression of regret at his mistakes, as well as a clear assignation of responsibility where it justly belongs.

My Catholic friends would recognize this as a Mea Culpa, an act of contrition and confession. My Muslim friends will see a reflection of the concept of Istighfar. My Jewish friends, if they can see beyond the enormity of the egregious harm done by the Goldstone Report, may see a fellow Jew walking the path we are told leads to atonement.

First, Goldstone has embarked upon a number of the elements described by the medieval scholars Yonah of Gerona and Maimonides. He has publicly expressed regret for his actions. He has clearly indicated Hamas’s responsibility. He certainly reflected concern for the current and future consequences of the report. It is clear from his words that he understands the magnitude of what he has done, and, if the reports of conversations with former UN Ambassador Dan Gillerman and Minister Eli Yishai are correct, he is prepared to actively work to undo some of the damage he was responsible for.

Second, he has made powerful enemies by publishing his piece. As disgusted as many supporters of Israel were with his report, and though his participation - at his daughter’s synagogue in Toronto, at his Grandson’s bar mitzvah in South Africa  - within the Jewish community has been strained, there have been no fatwas, no assassination attempts, no enraged Jewish crowds butchering foreign aid workers. Goldstone has willingly put a target on his own back now, in his attempt to make amends for the damage he has done.

If the reports of his plans are accurate, it is my belief that Jewish tradition obligates me to find a way to forgive this man for vilifying a country and a military that I love and respect, as willful as his seeming determination was. Many of my friends will find this difficult or impossible to do. Many Israelis, who have much more right and responsibility to gauge  whether to forgive him than I do,  may find this even more challenging. I can only speak of my own sense of personal responsibility.

Penitents have often been known for their zeal and passion. Umberto Eco wrote on this theme in The Name of the Rose. The reach of the Penitenziagite was a very real and somewhat frightening aspect of life in mediaeval Italy. Eli Yishai may have made the single most useful decision of his political life by inviting Goldstone to come to Israel. Yishai, Gillerman, and others who are in contact with Goldstone have an opportunity to leverage Goldstone’s change of heart to undo some of the damage he caused, and further, to demonstrate yet again the high standards of morality to which the IDF commits itself.

Perhaps the best way to leverage Judge Goldstone’s new approach is to put him in touch with UN Watch and its articulate, fearless director, Hillel Neuer. UN Watch has for years acted as the conscience of the Human Rights Council at the UN. It would indeed be a worthwhile endeavor for UN Watch to use one of its opportunities to address the council – and the world – by having Goldstone make clear what he now knows to have happened in Gaza. I hope that such an arrangement can be made.

Richard Goldstone is, like most of us, a complex, flawed, and proud individual. His capacity for introspection and his desire to right the wrongs he has done don’t mitigate his responsibility for his actions, but they do begin his personal process of atonement and reinforce my belief in each individual’s capacity for change.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Remember, Remember, the Theft of December

As Dalton McGuinty’s government presents its 8th budget since taking power in 2003, it is important to consider Mr. McGuinty’s track record over that period. I will leave it to others wiser than me to write about the E-Health scandal, or the ‘it’s not a tax” health tax, or the litany of broken promises littering the political landscape in Ontario. No, I want to remind you who is once again asking for your vote.

Dalton McGuinty is soon to be in a race once again for the Premiership of our province. He took a strong position against tax credits for parents with children in denominational schools. He reversed the Equity in Education Tax Credit. He used reprehensible scare tactics to malign John Tory on the issue in 2007. Many of us were puzzled by this. Why? Not because of his ideology. Not because he should have had a commitment to fairness and equality, and not because we expected his policies to avoid the abuse and violation of the human rights of any resident of Ontario. No. Though all of these ideas were rationale enough for him to have supported fair funding, or the Equity in Education Tax Credit, one fact stood out more clearly.

Our puzzlement stemmed from the fact that Mr. McGuinty decided to avail himself of the public purse in securing a religious education for his children, while emphatically denying that right to even a fraction of public funding for children in other faith based schools. Yes, Mr. McGuinty's children attended one of our province's separate Catholic schools. I am sure that Mr. McGuinty's children received an excellent education. I am sure that they built a strong base of knowledge in their faith, enabling them to maintain their Catholicism, and become valuable and contributing members of their faith community.  I would not have had it any other way. And yet…

Many children were not able to get that excellent faith based education that our taxes paid for. Many others did, but at an incredibly high cost. The strain of paying for a parochial education such as the one the McGuinty children got for free has impacted families, ruined marriages, and strained the resources of faith communities beyond their capabilities. The education these children received will certainly build a strong base of knowledge in their faith, and perhaps reinforce the lesson of sacrifice. And they will learn, despite the abuse of their human rights Mr. McGuinty's policy has perpetuated, to become valuable and contributing members of their faith community, as well as of the broader Canadian community.

Our children have learned other things, though, that no child in Ontario should have to learn. Our children have learned that elected representatives of some of Ontario's political parties have viewed their needs as less important than those of Ontario's vibrant and well-respected Catholic community. Our children have learned that the leaders of the teachers unions that so vociferously opposed tax credits consider their schools, schools that have always found ways to accommodate and support those who couldn't afford full tuition, to be hotbeds of elitism.

Our children have read newspapers that criticized the tax credits and the parochial schools themselves as a matter of dogma. These same newspapers, while covering their front pages with alleged human rights abuses in other parts of the world, studiously ignore such abuse, labeled thus by the United Nations Human Rights Commission, in their own province. Our children have learned that hypocrisy in some media is the accepted norm, instead of a trait to be shunned.

Our children have learned that equality does not mean equality, in some Orwellian take on who counts in this province and who does not.  When they studied Animal Farm in grade 8, they truly understood what George Orwell meant when he wrote that some animals are more equal than others.

Our children learned that some Ontario politicians did not take the United Nations Human Rights Committee seriously, and showed its decisions no respect. In short, our children learned that discrimination on the basis of faith is alive and well in Ontario, so that when they studied such things in their provincially approved history curriculum, they had examples to point to down the road at Queens Park. 

Did Mr. McGuinty's children learn lessons like this in their publicly funded religious schooling? I hope not. They had every right to receive a faith-based education. Our children were no less deserving of that right.

Years ago, many argued that Dalton McGuinty was undoubtedly an honourable man. As parents, like him, we issued a challenge to him, and to every honourable politician in Ontario.

 If you didn’t like the Equity in Education Tax Credit, we told Mr. McGuinty, then come up with your own solution. Do not perpetuate a violation of human rights by repealing the tax credit; Instead, perpetuate the ideals of equality and religious freedom by making an equitable solution part of your next election platform. If tax credits bothered you, you could have instituted direct funding. If accountability concerned you, you could have set policies that would have moved independent and religious schools (most of which meet or exceed provincial standards for professionalism and curriculum) on the way to meeting realistic standards as a function of their funding. Perhaps you would have decided to offer to qualifying schools the full funding that your children's schools enjoyed.

Perhaps you would have wished to emulate or adapt the policies of other Canadian provinces like British Columbia, Manitoba, Quebec, Alberta, and even Saskatchewan that have, in various ways, provided funding for independent and religious schools. England and Australia provided examples of school funding equity in the anglophone world. The Netherlands is another jurisdiction where respect for human rights has guided their education funding policy. It would have been the honourable thing to do to propose something. Anything.

What you offered instead to members of faith communities who wished to avail themselves of what you took for granted was worse than nothing. It was a slap in the face. And after the slap in the face, it was a rough hand in the pocket, taking money budgeted for in the previous year, in accordance with existing government regulations. The clawback of the Equity in Education Tax Credit on December 18, 2003 back to January 1st 2003 can only be construed as larceny writ large and sanctioned by hypocrites.

It is ironic that in these troubled times, when all Canadians are asked to adhere to Canadian values like tolerance, mutual respect, cultural sensitivity, and the supremacy of human rights, Ontarians must challenge their political leaders to apply those values, instead of looking to them as exemplars of Canadian virtues. The world has changed, but some things, sadly, remain the same. So when you read this budget, and when you consider your vote in the fall, remember, remember, the theft of December.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Two Arab Voices

Gutless. Two Faced. Disingenuous. Worse than useless. 

Name the international organization that fits this description. No, I’m not talking about the UN Human Rights Commission, though it fits the bill pretty well. I am talking about the Arab League. Today, Amr Moussa, its Chairman, who aspires to the post of President of Egypt, expressed his outrage at the fact that the Allied Forces were creating a no fly zone, rather than simply enforcing it, and stopping Gaddafi’s forces, rather than simply watching them butcher Benghazi. 

Moussa was in the room on Saturday when these matters were discussed. He knew full well that the allies were preparing a series of strikes. He knew also that no Western Air Force would endanger its planes and pilots without first taking out Gaddafi’s air defence capability, radars, command and control. They would also not make a pointless gesture of circling in the sky as Gaddafis tanks continued on their merry way to overrun the rebels in the streets of Misrata and Benghazi. He knew all this. Yet on Sunday, in as craven a pandering to Arab self-victimization as I have ever seen, he blasted the West. This is not what we signed on for, he said. No civilian casualties! Just a no fly zone! 

Moussa showed the world on Sunday that he is the wrong person to lead Egypt. He retreated to the old way of Arab diplomacy. Say one thing to the West, and another to the masses at home. See? We didn’t agree to that! The Western Shaitan has bamboozled us again, all in a mindless grab at Arab blood and Oil! He also may be hedging his bets on the off chance that Gaddafi triumphs and ends up being his nasty neighbour. 

An inspiring commentator at, retired Saudi Navy Commodore Abdulateef Al Mulhim, wrote this month about the failed promise of the Arab League. At its outset after World War Two representing countries rich with oil, agriculture, an ancient culture and a prime geopolitical location, it has failed to provide leadership and direction in every single crisis that has beset the Middle East since it’s founding.

I’ve corresponded with Commodore Al Mulhim. His perspective, with the benefit of decades of experience in the heart of the Arab world’s tumultuous Persian Gulf region, reflects a growing point of view, one that is realistic, not jingoistic. One that looks at lost opportunities not as grievance theatre like those Moussa wished to placate, but rather as occasions to learn, and to resolve not to continue on the same unproductive path. Let us hope that voices, and ultimately leadership like Al Mulhim’s continue to grow and resonate across the Arab world. 

What Moussa has failed to grasp, and what will ultimately be the undoing of his generation of leadership – even those who have been in sometimes congenial opposition to Arab dictators, is that young Arabs lust for freedom as if it were a beautiful woman just beyond their reach. And they are way, way more concerned nowadays about the tank coming up the block to crush their voice than they are about American jets or Israeli blockades. 

This weekend, thousands of Syrians have begun their quest for freedom, with demonstrations in several cities. Their President wears a modern, young face, with a young family and a beautiful wife. Yet he speaks the same language as Amr Moussa, and of his late, unlamented father, Hafez Al Assad. Who knows where their protests will go. Syrian repression is infamous across the world. Tom Friedman of the New York Times, in his book From Beirut to Jerusalem coined the term “Hama Rules” to describe the suppression and murder of 20,000 Syrians by the current President’s father in Hama in 1982 when they rose in protest. I fear that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. What voices will be listened to then?

Sunday, 13 March 2011

It's Time to Stand and Be Counted

I wept tonight, when I heard and saw what Palestinian terrorists did to a young family in a small community in the Shomron last night, murdering them in their home, in their beds. I wept for their three other, now orphaned children. I wept for their parents and grandparents. I wept for their neighbours and playmates. I wept because all of the feelings I had hoped were a receding memory, seeing and hearing of yet another atrocity perpetrated by Palestinians against Israelis, tore at my gut once again. 

I have to disagree with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and many of my friends who have reacted to the brutal slaughter of the Fogel family in Itamar last night. Many of them, including the PM, called the terrorists who did this “animals”. Aside from this being an insult to animals, it evidences a fundamental error in considering, countering, and utterly destroying those who would do such things, those who sent them, and those who support them. 

Why is this in error? After all, the evidence seems clear enough. I recently saw the photographs of the victims, and I wept. What human could slit the throat of a four month old, and stab a three year old several times in the heart? The answer is, unfortunately, that many humans can. Many have done this, and worse. All too often to us, and to others. We must recognize that by thinking of our adversaries as animals, or in other ways inhuman, we do two very dangerous things. 

First, when we think of these people as less than human, we underestimate them. We underestimate their motivation, we underestimate their intelligence, and we underestimate their capabilities. Military pilots across the world are familiar with the tactical dictum “Honour the threat.” Never dismiss or diminish an adversary’s capacity to do you harm. This attack was planned, carried out, and the perpetrators have so far escaped. That is not the work of an animal. A terrorist infrastructure still exists in Judea and Samaria (I have rarely used the term West Bank in the past, but  I intend never to refer to the ancestral aboriginal homeland of the Jewish people by the eliminationist term West Bank again) and it must be rooted out, either with the PA’s cooperation or without it. Another fact must be recognized. Hamas has limited capacity to plan and execute attacks like this in this area. It is possible, even likely, that this was done by Al Aksa Brigade terrorists, who owe their allegiance to Fatah. As long as any vestige of that group exists there should be no more negotiations with Palestinians, even ones as enlightened as Salam Fayyad.  

Second, if we use the term “animal” we fall in to the trap set for us by the hypocritical eliminationist radicals who call themselves pro-Palestinian peace activists. Why do I use the word eliminationist? Well, because it describes them perfectly. They see Jewish religious expression as anachronistic. They see Jewish nationalism in its own homeland as colonialist. They see the very steps taken to safeguard Israeli families – Arab and Jewish alike – as racist. And their answer, their agenda, their life’s work, is to eliminate the Jewish state and replace it with one of their conception bereft of a Jewish majority. If we use the term animals, we look and sound like the racists they accuse us of being. The fact is the majority of the broader public are not engaged or convinced on our side or theirs. Let’s not provide fodder for their agenda. 

The IDF will find those who did this horrible deed. Of that I have no doubt. It took them years, but they found those who lynched two Israeli reservists in October of 2000. They will find these murderers as well. And it is my fervent hope that due process is swift and final. 

But what of the rest of us? What of us in the diaspora, advocates for Israel, friends of Israel, Jews and non Jews who care and love and are heartbroken at the images we saw this weekend? It is time, my friends. It is time we got up from behind the safety of our obscurity or anonymity. It is time we came out from our shells and our defensive postures. It is time we put THEM, the apologists for the slaughter of families, the excusers of incitement, the facilitators of boycotts, its time to put them on the defensive. The brave students of Queens University in Kingston Ontario have risen and forced a referendum to remove their rector who abused his position by accusing Israel of genocide. All across Canada, the US, and Europe, on campuses, in media, in government, and around water coolers, it is no longer enough to promote a vision of Israel beyond the conflict. That is a good start, but it isn’t enough. We are at war. In Israel it remains, sadly, a war of deeds. For us it is a war of words, of ideas, and of conscience. 

It is time to get to work. It is time to find those who work against our beloved homeland. It is time to expose their hypocrisy and shame them publicly. It is time to call them what they are – apologists for murder. It is time to expose their agenda relentlessly. It is time to use every form of media and every scrap of talent we have to put them back on their heels. It is time to use every connection, every friend, every ally we can muster to damn, condemn, and isolate them. No more Apartheid slanders. No more Pride parades with their participation. No more student governments with anti-Zionist agendas. No more politicians marching under Hezbollah flags, and no more columnists spewing hateful rhetoric. It’s no longer a matter of reaction or response. Identify the threat, and neutralize it with every legal, rhetorical and technological resource we have. They should be cringing in shame every time they walk out the door, not leading rallies. We have powerful tools, powerful friends, and we, ourselves, are more capable than we imagine ourselves to be.

 It’s time to get to work.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Methinks He Doth Protest Too Much

In a letter released today, Justin Trudeau, Liberal MP and immigration critic takes Jason Kenney, Minister of Immigration, Citizenship, and Multiculturalism, to task for alleged abuses of his office for partisan purposes. Now, I know Minister Kenney. I've had the pleasure of meeting him and talking with him on a number of occasions since 2003. Of course he is a proud and feisty conservative. But he is first and foremost a proud Canadian and Minister of the Crown - one who has presided over a revamped immigration process and has seen the number of immigrants increase to record highs beyond those of the supposedly most-immigrant-friendly Liberals.

Trudeau's petulant complaint got me reminiscing about my childhood. In 1984, I was an 8th grade student at one of the largest Jewish day schools in the country. We often received visits from the perennial Liberal MP in our riding, Father Roland De Corneille. Our class went on a school trip to Ottawa, and we had the honour to meet Mr. Trudeau's father, the Right Honourable Pierre Elliot Trudeau, who was then the Prime Minister. A 20 minute meeting with the PM, followed by an hour closed door session with the AG, the Honourable Robert Kaplan. For 25 eighth graders. That is some detailed engagement strategy, though I didn't understand it at the time.

Here's some more things about the Liberal ethnic engagement strategy I wonder about. As I asked Liberal MP Elinor Kaplan at an all candidates meeting a number of years ago when she was running against the Canadian Alliance candidate and accusing the CA of harbouring neo-Nazis, what explanation for Liberal hypocrisy did she have on the Nazi file? As the Deschenes Commission (set up by the Conservative Mulroney government) demonstrated, successive Liberal governments ignored the presence of Ukranian, Baltic, and German war criminals in Canada for decades (at least publicly. As John Loftus describes in his book The Secret War Against the Jews, Western governments including Canada's were using ex-Nazis as intelligence assets and the Liberals specifically as ethnic organizers, maintaining their electoral stranglehold on those immigrant communities). What did Mr. Trudeau's father do about this travesty done to our immigration process? 

Here's another: When convicted and deported anti-Semite and Holocaust denier - and new immigrant at the time - Ernst Zundel ran for its national party leadership in 1968, why did he feel the Liberal party was appropriate territory, and why did the party allow him to deliver a speech at the convention?

The truth is, Justin Trudeau's own words demonstrate why he is launching off at Kenney. As he told Corriere Canadese last May, "In the past, the so-called ethnic vote, in other words the vote of specific communities, has always been the prerogative of the Liberal Party. Unfortunately, we Liberals have for too long considered this support a proven and sure thing. It was a strategic error."

Mr. Trudeau - it's time to stop taking Canadians for granted. Engagement and policy are related. Minister Kenney is good at it. You and Mr. Ignatieff, well, let's say you have some work to do.