Urgent advice to my fellow Jews

Right now, today, is a critical point in Jewish history. Maybe you don’t think so, because it’s easy to be distracted by the small stuff. But we need to step back and look at the forest instead of the trees.

Israel, a Jewish state reborn after almost two millennia, is facing a real threat to its survival – perhaps as great or greater than at any time since 1948. The threat is from Iran, which a) has taken control of Lebanon and built a massive rocket and missile installation aimed at our critical infrastructure, b) has achieved strategic dominance of critical territory in Iraq and Syria, will soon have its own troops and proxy militias on our Syrian border as well (with the acquiescence of the US and Russia), and c) either already has or could presently have nuclear weapons.

Iran’s enmity to Israel is a result of religious dogma, and of Iran’s determination to dominate the Mideast and become a world superpower by defeating the US. In the past few years it has moved steadily toward its strategic goals, which include eliminating the Jewish state that it sees as both an outpost of the US and the major obstacle to its local ambitions.

Some day historians will ask why an American president, Barack Obama, did so much to help one of America’s most dangerous enemies – and also to hurt the Jewish people. But that’s not my subject today.

At the same time that the Iranian threat grows, there is a pandemic of Jew-hatred spreading throughout the world. Europe at times seems to have regressed to pre-WWII conditions or worse, with Jews caught between re-empowered right-wing Jew-baiting, fierce Islamic hatred, and left-wing “intersectional” antisemitism. Similar phenomena exist in the US, although less severe so far – except possibly on university campuses.

But while some European Jews are starting to worry about their future, in America and in  Israel – where they absolutely should know better – they are acting irrationally, busying themselves  with trivia or even doing exactly the opposite of what’s needed to ensure their survival and that of the Jewish state and people.

To European Jews – and here I include the UK – I have a simple message: get out. The natives don’t like you (they never did, as Herzl noticed), and Islamification is proceeding apace. It can’t get better, only worse. I would like to see you make aliyah, but I understand the economic realities, and also the risk from the coming Mideast war. This is a decision you will have to make yourselves.

The US and Canada together have about half the world’s Jews, 90% of these are non-Orthodox, and the majority of them don’t have a clue about Jewish history or the Jewish state and the conflicts and issues surrounding it. They are geographically far from the Middle East, and can’t read Jewish texts or anything else in Hebrew. For most of them, their Judaism has become attenuated and even replaced by a form of liberal humanism that makes them blind to the dangers they face and drives them away from the Jewish state.  For these Jews I have several messages, depending on which of several groups they fall into.

To the supporters of J Street, Jewish Voice for Peace, If Not Now, the New Israel Fund, and so on: if you still have positive feelings about the Jewish people, please believe me that you are not doing it any favors, and find some other cause – helping the homeless in your own country is a good one – that will allow you to feel good about yourself without hurting your people.

To those who think that it is their duty to make Israel a better place by activism on behalf of Jewish pluralism, improving the treatment of our Arab citizens, protecting the rights of illegal immigrants or Palestinians, or even promoting the (impossible) “two-state solution:” please understand that you know less than nothing about these issues; and the fact that your parents were Jewish does not give you the right to intervene in our affairs. If you want to change things here, then make aliyah, vote, and send your kids to the army. Otherwise leave us alone.

To those that think that they are making things better by engaging in interfaith dialogue with Muslims, fighting “Islamophobia,” and favoring increased immigration from Muslim countries, you are being used. Don’t complain when the US and Canada have the same problems as Europe.

And now some suggestions for my fellow Israelis, for whom ignorance is not an excuse.

If you are the Prime Minister  you should be meeting with the Chief of Staff and insisting that he develop a plan and a timetable to fight and win the inevitable war with Iran and its proxies. Waiting to see what will happen and then responding is not a strategy for victory: preemption is.

If you are the Minister of Defense, in addition to assisting in planning for the unavoidable war, you should be directing massive resources toward strengthening the home front, especially in the north of the country, which will bear the brunt of Hezbollah’s 130,000 rockets when war breaks out.

If you are the police commissioner, you should investigate the seditious publisher of Ha’aretz Amos Schocken, his poison-pen writer Gideon Levy, or the arguably treasonous Breaking the Silence organization, rather than engaging in politically-motivated harassment of the Prime Minister and his wife.

If you are a Member of the Knesset, you should ask yourself whether the “status quo” concerning whether markets should be open on Shabbat in Tel Aviv is really a question that is worthy of your time right now.

The world and especially the region that we live in is undergoing great strategic shifts, and their direction is not to our advantage. It seems as though events are driven according to the plans of Iran and Russia, and we are playing defense.

Israel is a powerful country, but one with little strategic depth or capacity to absorb a surprise attack. The coming war promises to be extremely destructive, both for us and for our opponents. In addition to conventional warfare, it will see cyber attacks and possibly the use of electromagnetic pulse weapons.  Even the employment of nuclear weapons by one or both sides is not unimaginable.

Israel must be ready to win the “kinetic” war, the cyber battles, and the psychological warfare that will come along with them, while protecting her population and infrastructure. Not an easy task – but one that requires focus and unity of purpose. There are few obvious signs of this.

Of course I don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes. Maybe the PM is sitting with the Chief of Staff every day (after his regular police interrogation). Maybe they are working to ensure adequate shelters for the population in the north of the country. Maybe Schocken is planning to close his “newspaper” and move to Germany.

Most importantly, maybe the courageous decision has finally been made to launch a preemptive attack and not wait for thousands of rockets to fall.

Posted in Iran, Israeli Politics, Jew Hatred, War | 1 Comment

Is the US worried about the security of its radar installation?

This happened in September:

TEL AVIV, Israel — U.S. and Israeli officers broke ground in Israel on Monday for a permanent U.S. Army base that will house dozens of U.S. soldiers, operating under the American flag, and charged with the mission of defending against rocket and missile attack.

The American base, officers in Israel say, will be an independent facility co-located at the Israel Defense Forces Air Defense School in southern Israel, near the desert capital of Beersheba. Once completed, the base will house U.S. operational systems to identify and intercept a spectrum of aerial threats, along with barracks, recreational and other facilities required to support several dozen American air defenders. …

According to [IAF Brig. Gen. Tzvika] Haimovich, the co-located, permanent U.S. presence will enhance Israel’s ability to detect and defend against the growing rocket and missile threat. “The purpose of their presence is not for training or for exercises, but rather as part of a joint Israeli and American effort to sustain and enhance our defensive capabilities.” …

In his briefing to reporters, Haimovich said the IDF has been working with its U.S. counterparts for nearly two years to establish the new facility. He emphasized that the American presence “would not hamper the IDF‘s ability to act independently against any threat to the security of the State of Israel.”

Israel has had an American X-band radar installation on Har Keren, not far from the location of the new “base,” for nine years. The unit, which is operated and guarded by US personnel, is off-limits to Israelis. The IDF does not have direct access to the data it produces, which is first sent to California where it is analyzed. Of course, the Americans have promised to let Israel know right away about any incoming missiles! The radar is technically capable of extremely high resolution, able to track ballistic missiles in their “terminal” phase, when they are descending. But it also has the ability to track missiles in their launch phase – or aircraft taking off. More about this later.

Haimovich’s statement implied that the new facility will add new “operational systems” to “identify and intercept” threats in addition to providing housing and other facilities for the US personnel who operate them. But the next day, the US European Command, which operates the radar, claimed that  there was nothing new about it except the American flag. The “base” was no more than a new barracks for the radar operators and guards.

But back to the radar itself. When it was installed some Israeli defense officials complained that it was too good, able to see even a small drone taking off anywhere in Israel. Israel would have no secrets from its powerful partner. An unnamed Israeli official referred to it as “golden handcuffs.” In 2012, Time Magazine noted that

The workaday reality of the U.S. radar — it has been operating since 2009 — also undercuts the notion of Israel launching a surprise attack on Iran that would also take Washington unawares. Not only does it see all traffic at Israeli air bases, it would certainly detect any large scale or other unusual patterns, including preparations for a massive air assault. Allowing the Americans that capability was a trade-off Israeli officials conceded only grudgingly, as TIME reported when the radar installation was announced in 2008.

It’s been revealed that Israel was close to launching an attack on the Iranian nuclear program late in 2012, which was strongly opposed by the Obama Administration. It seems reasonable to believe that part of the reason Israel decided not to go ahead anyway was that it would be impossible to keep the Americans from finding out about it, even before the start of the operation.

Although President Trump and his close associates seem to be far more understanding of Israel’s security concerns than Obama – who in my opinion was personally in the anti-Israel camp and was only restrained from expressing his beliefs explicitly by political considerations – there are elements in the permanent bureaucracy of the CIA and State Department that would be happy to see Israel disappear.

In any event, recent incidents like the theft of sensitive cyber-warfare code from the NSA show that no data anywhere is totally safe. If information about an Israeli preemptive strike were to fall into the hands of her enemies, it might allow them to take defensive measures or even – in the case of Iran or Hezbollah –  to launch a massive rocket barrage before their launchers were hit. This could cost thousands of Israeli lives.

No matter how much Israel trusts its American partners, this isn’t a risk she can afford to take. I am probably not the only one who thinks that it will be necessary for Israel to somehow neutralize the X-band radar before beginning any large-scale operation against Iran, Hezbollah or even Hamas in Gaza.

Tension in the region today is probably the highest it’s been since the end of the Second Lebanon War in 2006. And this leads me to speculate about the purpose of the new American installation being built in Israel. Is it really no more than a new barracks for existing personnel?

The 120 American radar operators and guards are not sleeping in tents now – they’ve been here since 2008. So perhaps the new building is intended to provide living quarters for additional troops.

Perhaps the Americans feel that there are not enough guards on site to prevent the IDF from seizing and shutting down the radar in an emergency. But beefing up security at the site itself would draw attention to their concern. So the solution is to garrison some troops nearby that could rush to its defense if necessary.

It’s interesting that Brig. Gen. Haimovich felt the need to emphasize that this wouldn’t interfere with Israel’s self defense (which of course it does), and that they had been working on it for two years (don’t ask why now).

And it’s just as interesting that the US European Command wanted to make as little fuss about it as possible. And that there’s been nothing in the news about it since September.

Nothing to see here, folks. You can go about your business. Move along.

Posted in US-Israel Relations | 1 Comment

Zionism and ‘Lennonism’

Who among us wouldn’t – doesn’t – prioritize the well-being of members of one’s own immediate family above others? Other things being equal, if one has a chance to help a family member or a non-member (but not both), then one will choose the family member. Or, in other words, being a family member is a factor that has significant weight in decisions about whom to favor when one is forced to make a choice.

This behavior has probably developed in response to evolutionary pressures over millennia. Discussions of precisely how and why and its relationship to altruistic behavior (helping another person even if it is not to one’s advantage) are complicated, but there is no doubt that it is almost universal among humans. It can be called nepotism, to broaden the common meaning of the term.

In many cases nepotism extends beyond family to include members of extended families, tribes and even nations. The phenomenon is called ethnic nepotism. It’s argued that this preference is also caused by evolutionary pressures, both on individuals and groups.

But how far does it extend? Apparently that varies a great deal among groups and individuals. Clan loyalties, for example, are important to Arabs. Broader national loyalty – patriotism – characterizes certain groups of Americans or Europeans, but by no means all.

In addition to the intuitive feeling of affinity for members of the relevant groups, there is also the influence of ideology. This takes place at a higher level of consciousness than intuition. So a person can believe that he should prefer members of a particular group. Alternatively, he can believe that it is morally wrong to do so, and suppress any intuitive feelings to the contrary.

I call the ideological position opposed to ethnic nepotism Lennonism (not a misspelling!) Lennonists believe in part that ethnic or religious preferences are the root cause of human misery, and that if we could overcome them, everyone could be “living life in peace.” Lennonism is opposed to borders and even private property.

Lennonism appeals almost entirely to people in developed societies who are unlikely to have had the pleasure of being attacked through inadequately fortified borders by members of other ethnic groups in order to kill or enslave them and steal their private property. Lennonism is thus most popular in Western Europe and North America than in places with a more recent memory of instability.

The Jewish people meet all the criteria for a distinct nation – self-identification, a common origin, a unique language and religion, cultural similarities, and more. Many Jews feel their Jewish identity – their connection to the Jewish people – very strongly. However, in the US, where a majority of those of Jewish descent have either become completely secular, or adopted an attenuated form of Jewish observance without maintaining a knowledge of their language, their ethnic connection has weakened also.

Many US Jews, even if they haven’t adopted a Lenonnist point of view and see themselves as “world citizens,” consider themselves primarily American and only secondarily Jewish. If they do have intuitive feelings of ethnic nepotism, they choose to suppress them, consciously or subconsciously.

This suppression of ethnic feeling is necessary for survival in a culture which is ready to accuse Jews of disloyalty if they place their Jewish identity above their American one. This perhaps explains the distaste for Zionism among many American Jews. They understand, on some level, that they are living in a nation which does not belong to them, and at any moment they can become personae non gratae. Zionists who suggest that Jews should care strongly about Israel – a foreign country – endanger all American Jews, who can be tarred by the brush of disloyalty.

This points precisely to the difficulty faced by the Diaspora Jew. Even if he does feel a pull to identify strongly with his people, he is unable to express it without endangering his status in the overwhelmingly non-Jewish society.

Some Jews deal with it by insisting that their Jewishness is entirely religious in nature: Americans of the Jewish persuasion. But anybody who pays attention to the weekly Torah readings understands the true importance of Eretz Israel in Judaism.

Others redefine Judaism. They understand Biblical injunctions to treat your Jewish neighbors and the ger that lives alongside you as you would treat yourself to refer to all humankind. In effect, they claim that Judaism is Lennonism. But there is no textual support for this, and anyone who tries to take it seriously soon finds out. Judaism cannot be Lennonism.

Some simply define themselves as Americans of Jewish extraction and leave it at that.

And sometimes, the tension brings about a violent rejection of the Jewish people and their state, and drives American Jews into the arms of anti-Zionist groups like Jewish Voice for Peace and If Not Now.

The fact is that Jewish nationalism or Zionism is a perfectly natural ideology for a Jew to adopt, regardless of where he lives.

If it becomes uncomfortable where you are, well, that’s why there is a Jewish state.

Posted in American Jews, The Jewish people, Zionism | 2 Comments

Keeping the Jewish State

Uri Avnery, the grand old man of the Israeli Left, recently wrote that with the establishment of the State of Israel, Zionism had lost its utility and even its meaning.

Zionism, as is commonly known, was born as a term at the end of the 19th century and came to express a perfectly simple idea – to take the Jews out of the Diaspora and concentrate them in the Land of Israel. It was indeed a revolutionary idea – a geographic revolution that was inevitably an ideological revolution: turning the Jews from an ethno-religious community dispersed around the world into a modern “nation” concentrated in one country, in the spirit of nationalism that was intensifying in Europe. …

From Herzl’s point of view, the term “American Zionist” is an oxymoron, an absurd contradiction in terms. To him, a Jewish American could be a Zionist for a few months, but to stay one he had to board a ship heading for Ottoman Palestine. This Zionism, the real Zionism, of Herzl’s came to an end with Israel’s establishment as a state. The idea had been realized. Israel’s citizens are a nation, as he dreamed. Like every nation they want their state to thrive, while the Jews throughout the world remain an ethno-religious community, as they were before the birth of Zionism. …

In this day, in this reality, the Zionist brand is unnecessary and a hindrance. It’s confusing and serves as a tool for politicians who seek to extort money and political support from Jews around the world. It’s a false brand misused for fraud.

In a different world, this might make sense. In a world where Israel was treated like the “normal” nation Herzl aspired to, we could dispense with Zionism. Do Italian-Americans in New York argue about whether they support the Risorgimento? Nobody today thinks there should not be a unified state of Italy (except perhaps some jihadists who want to conquer Rome).

But we did not achieve normalcy. Despite a pedigree in historical provenance and international law that is matched by almost no modern nation, half the world thinks that the creation of the state was a crime, and much of it would be happy to see it disappear. Zionism today is the ideology that insists that not only is it just that there is a Jewish state, but that it is essential for the survival of the Jewish people and must be protected. The Zionist revolution that Avnery talks about has not been completely realized, and perhaps never will – not because of the Jews who demanded self-determination, but because of those who have never stopped fighting to deny it to them.

Israel feels like a normal nation from within, with political quarrels, social issues, popular culture, and of course the day-to-day activity of trying to make a living and raise a family. But from without – in the halls of the UN and the countless organizations, governments, media, and places of evil council where she is seen as a pariah which should not exist, she is anything but normal. Nazi ideas about the corrupt and corrupting Jew have been moved up one level of abstraction, and are now applied to the Jewish state. Plans to weaken and ultimately destroy her are pursued in numerous venues, sometimes by mutual enemies who could never find anything else to agree upon.

Against Avnery, I would say that Zionism is an international movement to oppose the forces arrayed against the Jewish state, something both meaningful and useful – even essential. It did not end when the state was declared; thanks to our enemies, Zionism is a continuing struggle.

It therefore makes perfect sense that someone living in Los Angeles can be a Zionist even if he doesn’t choose to live in Eretz Israel.

Benjamin Franklin, when asked if the new United States of America would be a republic or a monarchy, answered, “a republic – if you can keep it.”

After several thousand years, the Jewish people again have a nation-state – if they can keep it.

Posted in Zionism | Leave a comment

The Samson Option

On Monday, the IDF blew up a tunnel that crossed under the border between Gaza and Israel, and reached a point approximately 2 km from Kibbutz Kissufim.

At least 7 terrorists were killed who were in the tunnel when it exploded, or who entered it afterwards to try to rescue survivors, and numerous others were injured (Israel radio reports this evening that Hamas claims as many as 14 dead). Some of them were members of the Iran-supported Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), while others were associated with Hamas. Two of the dead were identified as “senior commanders” of PIJ.

Although PIJ leaders claimed the purpose of the tunnel was to facilitate the capture of IDF soldiers that could then be held for ransom in order to release PIJ terrorists in Israeli jails, the location of the tunnel so close to a civilian kibbutz suggests that it could also have been a target.

IDF Spokesperson Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis explained Monday that the operation had been defensive and that it had taken place in Israeli territory. He also said most of the fatalities were from smoke inhalation, dust and landslides, and not the detonation, itself.

“Only conventional measures were used,” he said. “The IDF used the same measures it uses regularly. The secondary damage underground [apparently from explosives stored in the tunnel – vr] resulted in fatalities.”

“There was no intent to target any specific individual. The operation took place in our territory. Their people were killed in their territory,” he added.

Some right-wing politicians, like Jewish Home’s Naftali Bennett, found the tone of the statement less than satisfactory.

“We must not apologize for our success in eliminating terrorists,” Bennett, a member of the security cabinet, tweeted. “I will clarify: These are terrorists who were digging a tunnel of death – in Israeli territory – which was meant to kill Israeli women and children.”

I must admit that at first I agreed with Bennett. After all, the tunnel was a clear violation of Israeli sovereignty, an act of war if there ever was one. And I shudder to imagine the prospect of heavily armed, professional killers emerging from under the ground inside a kibbutz while the residents sleep. The job of the IDF is to defeat our enemies, which – perhaps to the consternation of some post-modern military analysts – requires killing them, even if some of the dead happen to be “senior commanders.” The apologetic tone of the statement suggests that it emanated from a university dean of diversity relations and not an army spokesperson.

But some research uncovered a little-known document that sheds light on the thinking behind the IDF Spokesperson’s statement. Apparently there is more historical precedent for his approach than I thought. I present the document here for your perusal:

Cheshvan 10, 1078 BCE
From: Office of the Israelite Army Spokesperson
To: Media
Subject: Destruction of Philistine Temple of Dagon

Today the Shimson unit of the Israelite Army destroyed the Temple of Dagon in Gaza by a controlled detonation. The operation was carried out using very old, but effective, technology. The Army wishes to stress that the unfortunate death of 3,000 Philistines was secondary damage caused by the roof falling in. At no time did we intend to kill any particular Philistine, even if he was King of Philistia.

As the great Jewish comedian Jack Benny liked to say, “but seriously, folks.” There is no historical precedent for a victorious army being apologetic for killing the enemy. Jewish tradition teaches that when someone comes to kill you, rise up and kill him first. Even Christian armies don’t follow Jesus’ injunction to turn the other cheek to the one that smites you. Stop trying to make us better Christians than the Christians.

The tunnel constituted an act of war, and using it as planned would have been a war crime. In this case Israel did not cower behind its Iron domes or high-tech barriers, but acted proactively according to the best military doctrine.

Hamas, Fatah, the EU, the UN, the BBC and others may complain, but what they are actually complaining about is Jews defending themselves, for once. We have nothing to explain, nothing to apologize or feel regret for. It doesn’t matter if they died from blast or smoke inhalation. It doesn’t matter if they were on their side of the fence or ours, or if we blew up part or all of the tunnel, or if there were explosives stored in it. It doesn’t matter what effect it has on “Hamas/Fatah reconciliation.” And especially, it is good thing, not a bad thing, that we killed “senior commanders.”

They came to kill us, but we rose early and killed them first.

Posted in Terrorism, War | 2 Comments