Although Israel has no shortage of difficult days of commemoration on its calendar, today's anniversary is particularly difficult. It is the anniversary of the assassination of the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin Z"l. He was murdered by a Jewish religious extremist who maintained that Rabin must be killed to prevent Israel from reaching a peace deal with the Palestinians. Twenty years have passed since Rabin's murder. Unfortunately, Israel is no closer to peace with the Palestinians than it was while he was alive. If anything, the notion that there might be peace any time soon is one that, regrettably, seems shared by fewer and fewer Israelis these days. I would imagine most Palestinians feel the same way.
As we commemorate this horrific and murderous act in Israel, I wanted to write about some of the things that have been going on here over the past several weeks. I have not had the opportunity to write as frequently over the past few months. This is certainly not for lack of material. In fact, there have been so many incidents recently, that some bloggers and twitter users are releasing tweets and articles several times a day.
There is not necessarily a theme to connect the various incidents that I have picked out - but it is mixed bag of events and other items that I wanted to highlight.
1. Terrorist Knife Attacks:
On September 30, 2015, Mahmoud Abbas, leader of the Palestinian Authority spoke at the U.N.. He had said he was going to drop a "bombshell" prior to his speech. While it remains unclear which bombshell was actually dropped, it appears that his intention was to kick off a new "intifadah" by raising the specter of an Israeli takeover of the Dome of the Rock - the Al Aqsa Mosque. Abbas claimed that the mosque was under siege and that the Israeli government was plotting to take over the mosque and change the status quo. As Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu confirmed at his speech to the UN days later, this was all completely false and fabricated. Israel has always protected and supported the rights of Muslims to control, visit and worship at the mosque, just as it has done the same thing for Christians with respect to Christian holy sites in Jerusalem.
Nevertheless, since Abbas' incendiary address, there has been a wave of terrorist incidents across Israel. According to Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, there have been (as of October 25, 2015), 43 stabbings, 4 shootings and 5 car rammings. These attacks have killed 10 Israelis and injured 112, 12 of whom were very seriously injured. The vast majority of the victims have been Israeli civilians. Most of the attackers have been young Palestinian-Israelis, residents of East Jerusalem, primarily. They have claimed that their attacks are motivated by their determination to "protect the mosque."
Many of the attacks have been against Israelis civilians, including children and senior citizens, at bus stops, street corners or other public places. Two of the stabbing attacks were very close to home, taking place in Ra'anana.
It is hard to imagine how anyone can draw a connection between the perceived danger to the political status of the mosque in Jerusalem and the act of attacking civilians across Israel. It is also hard to understand why Abbas seems to believe that this type of terrorism will further the Palestinian cause. If anything, these actions seem destined to cause Israelis to harden their resolve and move to the political right. Abbas has refused to condemn the attacks and in several cases has described the attackers as martyrs. Moreover, he has distorted some of the events and lied about others to further incite the Palestinian people. Perhaps, he has been buoyed by the notoriously outrageous coverage of these incidents by some of the world media, notably the BBC and NBC news to name a couple. Both organizations have distorted reports of incidents to suggest that Israeli soldiers and/or police were at fault in cases in which they were defending against knife wielding attackers.
2. Killing the Perpetrators and Collateral Damage
These types of stabbing attacks against civilians have caused a high level of vigilance, tension and stress among many Israelis, as well as outright anger. Certainly these are all the intended consequences.
With respect to the attackers, there has been a vigorous public debate about whether the attackers should be killed if at all possible or whether they should only be "neutralized." Of course the Palestinian Authority has claimed that Palestinian attackers are being "executed" even while Abbas refuses to condemn the stabbing attacks in the first place. Some international media organizations have gone along with these accusations.
There is little doubt, in my view, that Israeli civilians, police and military forces, must take all appropriate steps to defend against these attacks. In many cases, that will certainly result in the death of the attackers and that is probably the most appropriate result. I have no moral difficulty with the argument that it is completely justifiable to kill someone who is trying to stab you to death.
Nevertheless, some prominent Israeli rabbis, like Rabbi Stav, have warned against excessive force and reprisals. Rabbi Stav argued that Israelis should not murder "neutralized terrorists" who no longer pose a threat. He also argued that Israelis should refrain from taking any "reprisal actions," especially against those who had nothing to do with the attacks in the first place. In both cases, Rabbi Stav has urged Israelis not to abandon the moral high ground by acting like "our enemies." Other prominent rabbis have disagreed with Rabbi Stav and have argued that it may even be a moral imperative to "finish the job" and ensure that the attacker will not be able to harm anyone else.
Certainly this wave of terror attacks has created a great deal of anger and frustration in Israel. There have been some vigilante attacks and some attacks against completely innocent Arabs. Moreover, in one tragic incident in Beers Sheva, an Eritrean refugee was beaten to death just after a terrorist attack. Those who beat him to death wrongly believed that he had been involved in the attack.
There is no justification for attacking innocent people, whether at the time of the attacks (i.e. those who are wrongly associated with the attacks) or attacking other Arabs who had nothing to do with the attacks as a form of reprisal. However, with respect to events that occur in the midst of an attack, it is hard to judge the actions of those who are fighting for their lives or fighting to protect the lives of others. While there may be an argument that we should not "execute" completely neutralized terrorists (after all, Israel does not even have capital punishment), there is no reason to think that police, soldiers and attack victims should try, in any way, to avoid harming these terrorists, even fatally, in defending against these attacks. Even so, we have had many bizarre situations where the terrorists remain alive after the attacks and are treated in the same hospital as their Israeli victims.
3. Rescuing Syrian Refugees
With everything going on in Israel, you might have missed a story of rescue. An Israeli yacht crew was boating off the coast of Greece last Sunday (October 18, 2015). They suddenly saw some people in the water and sprang into action. They rescued 12 Syrian and Iraqi refugees and took all appropriate steps to treat them and then bring them to Greek authorities. The crew members were certain that none of these refugees would have survived if they had not been pulled out of the water by the Israeli rescuers. Hundreds of refugees have drowned in these waters this year. When the crew members told the rescued refugees that they were Jews from Israel, they say that they received nothing but thanks, hugs and gratitude. I don't think I have heard Mahmoud Abbas speak about this incident but this is the real face of Israel. Just as Israeli hospitals have treated hundreds (if not thousands) of injured Syrians near the Israeli-Syrian border, these Israeli boaters did not think twice about rescuing refugees, even those who were fleeing from an enemy country.
4. Prime Minister Netanyahu's Invocation of the Holocaust
In a speech last week, Prime Minister Netanyahu suggested that Haj Amin Al Husseini, in the early 1940s, was the one to suggest to Hitler that the Nazis should build mass crematoria. Netanyahu's speech has attracted a great deal of criticism and condemnation. It appears to be the type of hyperbole and historical distortion that he routinely accuses Israel's enemies of employing.
That being said, I enjoyed this article by a University of Maryland Professor about the actual historical record:
Netanyahu, Husseini and the Historians
However, even if there is more accuracy to Netanyahu's comments that most critics would concede, there was little to be gained in making such statements other than as a means of incitement. Moreover, some of the comments, according to many historians, were thoroughly wrong. It is a disservice to Israel for the Prime Minister to distort the Holocaust in this fashion, even while he might be understandably frustrated by the recent events taking place in Israel (at the behest of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, who has used lies to foment the current crisis).
5. Putin, Russia, Hezbollah and Assad
As if there weren't enough things to worry about in our neck of the woods, Russian President Putin stated that he was going "all in" on Syria. That has meant that he is sending Russian soldiers, pilots, tanks, planes and other army support to his besieged ally in Syria.
I couldn't help but think of the famous scene from Fiddler on the Roof in a discussion with some friends in Israel recently:
Is there a Jewish blessing for the President of Russia? (In the movie, the Czar...)
Of course there is. May the Lord bless Putin and keep him far away from us....
Well, he is a lot closer now then he was recently. He has suggested that he will protect Assad loyalists - which can often include Hezbollah and their supporters. Will he try to prevent Israel from halting military shipments sent from Syria to Hezbollah? If so, how far will he go? Will he shoot down Israeli planes (or try to do so?). Will he lose some planes himself in these efforts?
Unfortunately, all three of Israel's neighbours to the north and the east seem to part of a huge powder keg. The inferno is already burning in Syria but Lebanon and Jordan may soon be drawn in. Israel will have no choice but to protect its national interests, however that might best be done.
6. Visiting Entertainers The Real Artists and the Pretenders...
On a lighter note, I must salute those artists who have stood up to the international pressure and insisted on going ahead with peformances in Israel. Last year, it was the Rolling Stones, Cyndi Lauper and others who came to perform before appreciative crowds.
Recently, Israeli welcomed two well known acts. In the first show, Kanye West delivered a performance that was universally panned. It was a short concert and, apparently, pre-taped. In other words, mostly lip syncing. Sure it is true that thousands of fans were only too happy to lay out lots of shekels to attend the spectacle. But it doesn't sound like the performance delivered quite what the fans were expecting. I wasn't there, so I can't say for sure. (After all, for those who know me, you could probably imagine how unlikely it is that you would ever find me at a Kanye West concert...)
On the other hand, Bon Jovi performed not too long after Kanye West. This concert received some really great reviews. The band was apparently quite enthusiastic, entertaining and very much live. It probably would have been fun, though I couldn't justify the cost.
Israel gets its share of concerts though there are many artists who refuse to perform here. Pink Floyd leader Roger Waters has been a one-man BDS campaign in the music industry sending out threatening letters and issuing public statements wherever he can to ostracize Israel and try to convince fellow performers to boycott the country in its entirety.
Fortunately there are many other artists who have been willing to ignore him - or even better, artists who have been willing to stand up in support of Israel and to publicly declare that they will not give in to boycotts.
7. The Canadian Election and Israel
I suppose that this type of update article would not be complete without some mention of the Canadian election. As you know, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper lost the recent Canadian election quite decisively to Prime Minister Elect Justin Trudeau. A detailed analysis of the election is well beyond the scope of this blog article.
However, it is worth mentioning that the outgoing Prime Minister was one of the best friends that Israel ever had on the international stage. Some of the outgoing government's senior ministers were also extremely supportive. One such minister is Jason Kenney who held different ministerial portfolios over the course of this government's mandate.
The Honourable Minister Kenney has been an extremely active and vocal supporter of Israel, a supporter of the Jewish people and a staunch ally of Jewish people, across the world, on a range of issues of Jewish interest. He has spoken at numerous Holocaust commemoration events. He has spoken at events across the world, about the dangers of anti-Semitism, even before very unwelcoming crowds. Minister Kenney has truly demonstrated that he cares about the Jewish people and we will miss having such a tremendous friend.
At the same time, we will have to hope that the Liberals have some strong allies for us in their ranks as well. Certainly, there will be some Jewish voices in the the new government, like Michael Levitt, the newly elected York Centre MP and Anthony Housefather, who was elected in Mount Royal. But how the Liberal government deals with its Israel issues portfolio is still something that remains up in the air for now. After all, Canada's Prime Minister has many other priorities if he is to fulfill the huge number of promises that he made over the course of the lengthy election campaign.
Although much of this is not necessarily connected, I thought you might enjoy a bit of a wide ranging update type blog. As usual, feel free to join the discussion and add in some comments.
Monday, October 26, 2015
Thursday, July 25, 2013
"Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose."
|Rabbi David Lau and RabbiYitzhak Yosef|
After a hotly contested election, 150 electors in Israel chose two new Chief Rabbis yesterday, one Ashkenazi and one Sephardi, both Ultra-Orthodox ("Haredim"). During the course of the campaign, leading up to this vote, some Israelis had been optimistic that Israel might elect more moderate, Zionist, Chief Rabbis, like Rabbi David Stav. Rabbi Stav was supported by the Yeish Atid and Bayit Yehudi parties and promised a variety of institutional and substantive changes.
However, when the dust cleared and the results were announced, it became clear that this was a significant defeat for the forces of change in Israel's Chief Rabbinate. The elected Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi, David Lau, is the son of former Chief Rabbi Israel Meir Lau (the subject of my recent book review). Newly elected Rabbi Lau is an ultra-religious Rabbi who was serving in Modin. The elected Sephardic Chief Rabbi, ultra-religious Yitzhak Yosef, is the son of powerful, well known Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. Neither rabbi can be considered a progressive force in any significant way.
Over the course of the campaign, the outgoing Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger was placed under house arrest on suspicion of bribery. Another candidate dropped out of the race on suspicion of fraud. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, father of the winning Sephardi candidate, made several outrageous statements over the course of the campaign, questioning the Jewishness of some of the more Zionist candidates. The strategy may have paid off as Rabbi Yosef's son wound up winning the Sephardi race, proving that even in a race for a religious office, mudslinging can be an effective political strategy.
The two chief rabbis were elected for a combined 10 year term during which they will hold one of two offices for five years each. They will have a major say and significant control over many personal status matters in Israel including marriage, divorce, conversions, kosher food in Israel, and other religious issues. These two winners are unlikely to bring about any major reforms or changes to these isues in Israel according to several commentators.
For some, Rabbi David Stav, a challenger for the Ashkenazi position, a more moderate candidate, and one who was supported by two of Israel's centrist political parties, seemed to provide some hope that Israel would begin to take a different approach to some religious issues. However, his defeat shattered any ideas that the office of the Chief Rabbinate would be ready for significant internal reform.
But perhaps this may have been a blessing in disguise. Since a clear message was delivered that no internal reform is likely to occur anytime soon, there may be increased support for a political approach to the problem of unchecked, abused power exercised by the office of the Chief Rabbinate. Commentators and newspapers in Israel, as well as various advocacy organizations, have called for a move towards the separation of shul and state - or at least towards a significant reduction in the powers of the chief rabbis. The election of a moderate Chief Rabbi might have diffused some of these calls. But instead, with the election of two Haredi rabbis, Israelis may become increasingly vociferous in their calls for a new approach to the issue of religion and the state.
Naftali Bennett, a cabinet minister and the head of the Bayit Hayehudi party has already stated that it is the political parties who can determine the need for change to the office of the Chief Rabbinate and not only the elected rabbis. He can certainly find support for these views from Yair Lapid, head of the Yesh Atid party.
|So it may well turn out the by electing two very conservative chief rabbis, the delegate group may have accelerated the demand for changes to the Chief Rabbi's office, to be carried out by Israel's political parties rather than the rabbis themselves. Given the alternatives, this could only be a tremendous step in the right direction for Israel for those who favour a more progressive approach to Judaism. But it will be a tough battle to try to move this type of change forward, even for those who currently hold significant political power in the Israeli parliament - the Knesset.