“Electric gates” and unspeakable horror

Friday night, a Jewish family was butchered by a terrorist who came into their home while they were finishing their Shabbat dinner. You can read the details here. They will sound familiar to anyone who has been paying attention to Jewish-Arab relations over the last 100 years or so.

The 19-year old terrorist wrote a farewell post on his Facebook account – he expected to die in the attack, but unfortunately did not – in which he explained that he did it in part because “they are desecrating the al-Aqsa mosque.”

As I write, rioting continues at the Temple Mount and various other locations in Jerusalem and Judea/Samaria. At least 4 Arabs have been killed. Despite what you might read in Ha’aretz, this generally happens because they are throwing firebombs or otherwise endangering the lives of policemen, and not because they are “nonviolently demonstrating.”

All this because the Israel police set up metal detectors at the entrances to the Temple Mount used by Muslims (the single gate Jews are allowed to use has had a metal detector for years), in response to the murder of two Druze policemen last week, in which guns were brought into the al-Aqsa mosque.

The Muslim waqf that Israel stupidly allows to administer the site announced that it would not permit Muslims to pass through the “electric gates,” closed mosques throughout Jerusalem and called on all Muslims to come to pray at al-Aqsa. Both the official Palestinian Authority media and Hamas have called for action to “protect al-Aqsa,” in precisely the same way as al-Husseini sparked pogroms in 1929, and Arafat and Abbas have done whenever they want chaos and death. They have always gotten it, and they are getting it this time.

Here are some observations:

  1. Israeli officials apparently debated whether to keep the metal detectors in place. Supposedly –this kind of report is never properly sourced – the Shabak (the internal security service) wanted to remove them and the police wanted to keep them. Why was this discussion made public at all?
  2. This dispute is not about the metal detectors themselves, which are in use everywhere in the world (in part thanks to the activities of “Palestinian” terrorists), including Mecca and Medina. The waqf has already announced that no additional security measures at the site will be acceptable to it. The issue is a matter of religious principle: can a Muslim allow a Jew (or a Druze) to tell him when or where he can worship? Anyone with even the sketchiest knowledge of Islam knows the answer.
  3. The fact that two Israeli police officers were murdered at the site last week with weapons that were brought into the compound through a gate without a metal detector is irrelevant to the Arabs. See 2 above.
  4. The struggle over this principle is also a struggle over sovereignty at the site. If Israel removes the metal detectors, it is equivalent to saying that Israel is not the sovereign power here. If we back down at what is the holiest place for Jews in the world, what will protect our sovereignty in the rest of Jerusalem or indeed the rest of the country?
  5. The so-called “status quo” that the Arab leadership claims is under attack by Israel has changed multiple times since 1967 – always in the direction of fewer rights for non-Muslims. The only way to stop the pressure is for Israel to stop giving in to it.
  6. The fact that the Halamish terrorist was not killed at the scene, but was shown grinning from the hospital bed where Israeli doctors saved his life, represents an enormous loss of honor for Israel and the Jewish people. Yes, I know, by Western (Christian) standards, the fact that we do this makes us enlightened and merciful, but our enemies do not apply those standards. They are encouraged by what they understand as our weakness, stupidity and cowardice, and there will be more, not fewer, attacks as a result of this. Do you understand? More innocent Jews (or Druze) will die.

What people outside of the region (and, unfortunately, some Israelis) do not understand is that this flareup – and indeed, the whole conflict – is not about the “interests” of Israel or the Arabs. It is about religious rights and honor. Pragmatic Israeli governments have been sacrificing these principles for years in the hope of achieving peace and reconciliation with the Arabs, while not understanding that their policies have destroyed whatever respect the Arabs may have had for us, and damaged our power of deterrence against their violence. And they didn’t make Europe or the US State Department like us any better, either.

Only a concerted effort to restore our honor will have a chance of restoring deterrence. So I suggest we start with the Halamish terrorist: put him on trial by a military court – make the trial be as quick as possible – and take him out and shoot him. Then demolish his house and expel his family, who have expressed support for his actions, from the country. All this should take less than a week.

And keep the metal detectors.

Posted in Islam, Israel and Palestinian Arabs, Terrorism | 1 Comment

The three Jewish-Arab conflicts

The recent terror attack at the Lions’ Gate in Jerusalem reminded me, as if I needed reminding, of the complexity of the Jewish-Arab conflict in the land of Israel.

There are actually three separate conflicts raging in the same place, involving more or less the same people. They have distinct objectives, but they are intertwined in a complex way, which is detrimental to ending any of them.

The first is the political conflict between the State of Israel and the PLO in its embodiment as the Palestinian Authority (PA). This is a disagreement over borders, settlements, security, and other geopolitical issues.

The second is the national conflict between the Jewish people and those Arabs whose self-defining national narrative is that of “Palestinians.” This is a disagreement that can be characterized as an argument over the historical title to the land between the river and the sea.

The third is the religious conflict between Jews and Muslims. This stems from the Islamic ideas that Muslims are superior to non-Muslims (especially Jews), that they should live under shari’a (which implies Muslim sovereignty), and that land that has once been Muslim must not be allowed to remain in the hands of infidels.

The various attempts to end the conflict have mostly focused on the political conflict, and to a great extent ignored the national and religious ones. This confuses people who don’t understand or aren’t aware of the latter two, which in my opinion are far more important than the political one.

So, for example, when Yasser Arafat walked away from a political compromise at Camp David/Taba that was unprecedented in its generosity, US President Clinton was shocked. But the compromise did not include recognition of a right of return for Arab refugees, and thus represented an defeat in the national conflict that could not possibly be accepted by Arafat.

The Arab position in the national conflict is based on the Palestinian narrative, in which the “Palestinian people” are a distinct people who have been living for many generations, even from biblical times, in the land. They had a flourishing civilization which was usurped by Zionist colonizers, who invaded Palestine and dispossessed the indigenous Palestinian inhabitants in 1948. The continued occupation – which includes the territory on both sides of the Green Line – is a continued besmirching of Palestinian honor.

This story is entirely false, but that doesn’t matter, because the Arabs firmly believe it, and – of great importance in an honor-shame culture – much of the rest of the world believes it too. The implication of the story is that the “Palestinian people” had their most important possession, their land, taken from them by force – and they were unable to prevent it. Not only that but (and here we see the interplay between the national and religious conflicts) it was done by the despicable Jews. Only a complete reversal of the act of dispossession, in which Palestinians violently dispossess the Jews, can begin to restore Palestinian honor.

The religious and national conflicts are intertwined. The original Hamas charter refers to the land between the river and the sea as an “Islamic waqf,” that is, as inalienably Islamic property, once governed by Muslims and now in the hands of infidels. The imperative to regain this land for religious reasons is thus added to the need to do so in order to restore national honor.

The conflict that is going on right now at the Temple Mount is over both religion and national honor. Of course there is no Islamic issue with metal detectors, which are in use in Mecca during the Haj, along with even more invasive security measures. However, the idea that Jews (or non-Muslim Israelis like Druze police officers) can decide who is allowed to enter the site damages the honor of the Arabs, both as Muslims and as Palestinians. The fact that these metal detectors were introduced in response to a brutal murder is not relevant for Palestinians who believe that violent ‘resistance to occupation’ is fully justified, and for Muslims who believe that jihad for the sake of recovering land that was once dar al-islam is praiseworthy.

In other words, the murder of the two policemen is not seen as immoral, but Jewish control of Muslim Palestinians is.

There is no way to separate these conflicts. Not only that, but the tools that would be employed for solving the political one – negotiations, compromise, concessions on both sides – are precisely the wrong ones to use for conflicts based on honor and religion. In the latter cases, concessions are seen as admissions of weakness, a reason to push harder. So it isn’t puzzling that Arafat responded to the failed Camp David negotiations by launching the Second Intifada; he saw the Clinton and Barak offers as signaling their desperation, and expected that more violence would bring about the collapse of the tottering colonialist empire (despite all his years of trying to kill them, he never understood Israelis).

In pre-modern days, national and religious conflicts were easy to solve. The side with military superiority would drive out, kill or enslave the enemy population. In the today’s enlightened world, it’s not so easy (although third-world actors still do it under the Western radar whenever possible). This is surely the option the Arabs would take if Israel were weaker, but Israel is too Western and too modern to behave like that.

Sometimes what appears to be human progress is actually the opposite. Contemporary diplomacy can only solve political conflicts, not ones about national honor or religion. So they go on forever.

Posted in 'Peace' Process, Islam, Israel and Palestinian Arabs, Terrorism | 1 Comment

Observations on a murder

Three Muslim Arabs, who in this case are citizens of Israel, murder two Israeli Druze policemen at a gate to the Temple Mount, shout allahu akbar, then run into the Temple Mount plaza where they engage in a firefight with more police and are killed.

The Israeli government orders the Temple Mount closed temporarily, while it installs metal detectors at some of the gates and searches the area for weapons (knives, fireworks, slingshots, batons, etc., are found). Metal detectors were used at the gates in the past, but were removed in 2000 when Jordan protested.

PM Netanyahu says publicly as well as privately to Mahmoud Abbas and Jordan’s King Abdullah, that the “status quo” – the arrangement that the Jordanian religious waqf administer the site, Jewish visits are limited and Jews are not allowed to pray there – will not be changed.

The site is partially reopened. The waqf, the Jordanian government, Mahmoud Abbas and others protest. Waqf officials and  many Palestinians refuse to go through security checks. “The Jews have no rights whatsoever to this mosque – it is for Muslims only. We will not accept being checked every time we want to get inside. We are asking to go back to normal and enter freely, as it was three day [sic] ago,” says Taleb Abu Arar, an Arab Member of the Knesset.

So here is what I think:

First, the Druze are again at the forefront of our struggle for security. The Druze are a distinct people living in northern Israel, Lebanon, Syria and other places in the Middle East, who follow an esoteric religion that includes elements of Islam, Judaism and others. Israeli Druze include cabinet ministers, judges and senior officers in the IDF. They often serve in the toughest combat positions in the IDF and police, and have given their lives in disproportionate numbers. The relationship between the Jewish state and the Druze people is an example of what is possible when disparate groups treat each other with honor and respect.

Second, the Muslims are again displaying their deep conviction that they will never be satisfied with anything less than the dominant position anywhere they live. Despite the unprecedented (and astonishingly stupid) generosity of the state of Israel which allowed them to control the Temple Mount, the holiest place in Judaism, after their defeat in 1967, the Muslim Arabs of Israel and Jordan have always pushed to return the situation what it was before, when only Muslims were permitted on the site. The so-called “status quo” has actually proven to be a slippery slope in which non-Muslims have more and more lost their rights, as Israel has bowed to escalating threats of violence from Muslims.

Third, the fact that they have the chutzpah to actually object to metal detectors at the gates they use to enter the site (Jews only have one gate, and it has a serious security check, including a metal detector) after a murder has been committed is instructive. It illustrates the degree to which the conflict is not based on rational considerations. Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, in a surprising development, did condemn the attack – but he also demanded that the Temple Mount be immediately reopened for Muslim worship, and his Fatah party called for Muslims to go in great numbers to the site to “break the siege.” Fatah even rebroadcast an Abbas speech from 2014 that explicitly calls for violent ‘resistance’, just in case anyone might actually believe that he preferred a peaceful response.

This attack and the Arab reaction illustrate something significant for our long-term security. It is that there are at least three Israeli-Palestinian conflicts. The least important is the one the peace processors keep trying to solve: borders, security and settlements. A second conflict is the violent struggle of the Palestinian Arabs to regain their lost honor.  Last, but definitely not least, there is the religious conflict.

Every time someone comes up with a proposed solution for borders/security/settlements, honor and religion pop up to torpedo it.

The conflict over borders, security and settlements could be solved by negotiations, which are called in Hebrew masa umatan, give and take. We give them land for a state, they agree to demilitarize it, and so on. But attempts to solve the first conflict exacerbate the second one, honor. Anything we give them comprises a loss of honor for us, a sign that we are too weak to hold on to it and a signal to push harder, demand more, and employ more violence (consider the decision to give the Temple Mount in 1967 to the waqf).

The third conflict, over religion, can never be solved. Islam will still be expansionist Islam regardless of what we do. Israel will forever be dar al-harb unless it comes under Muslim control. Our response has to be to protect ourselves, push Muslim extremists back from our borders, oppose sponsors of Islamic aggression like Iran and Saudi Arabia, support countervailing forces like the Druze and Christians, and keep the Muslim population within our state from threatening our own religious rights and sovereignty.

The shout of allahu akbar and the willingness of the terrorists to die – three fighters with improvised weapons stand no chance in this heavily guarded spot – marked the murder of the policemen as a religious and honor-related act even more than a nationalistic one. Closing the Mount, even if only temporarily, was the best possible response. Needless to say, we must not give in on the question of the metal detectors.

Is this the start of yet another period of increased violence and terrorism? That will depend, I think, on our ability to avoid confusion between the different conflicts. This isn’t the place for compromise, but rather to stand our ground and not allow any further slippage in the not-so-static “status quo.”

Posted in Israel and Palestinian Arabs, Terrorism | 2 Comments

Hating the Jewish Jew-hater

The poster reads “99% reject illegal immigration. Don’t let Soros have the last laugh,” while the graffiti says “stinking Jew.”

The poster reads “99% reject illegal immigration. Don’t let Soros have the last laugh,” while the graffiti says “stinking Jew.”

On September 16, 1992, George Soros made $1 billion in one fell swoop by shorting the British Pound. The British government spent £3.3 billion of taxpayer’s money trying to prop it up, to no avail. Interest rates were raised by 5%, but still nobody wanted pounds. The currency fell 20% overnight. Did you have your savings in Sterling? Tough.

George Soros is also a “progressive” (although it wasn’t so progressive to rip off all those British working people), and viciously anti-Zionist. He donates very large sums to left-wing organizations all over the world, including many that advocate BDS against Israel. Soros and groups connected to him have given millions to J Street, the phony “pro-Israel” lobbying group in the US.

Indeed, the Soros contribution to anti-Israel incitement is probably exceeded only by what comes from European governments, Saudi Arabia and Iran.

But Soros has other leftist causes as well. According to PM Viktor Orbán’s government in Soros’ native Hungary, he “funds civil society groups and liberal associations in Hungary with the purpose of “settling a million migrants” in the country.” And they have responded with a campaign of posters and billboards that show a grinning Soros with legends like “Don’t let Soros have the last laugh.”

Anti-Zionist Soros does not practice Judaism, and neither did his Jewish parents, who changed their name from “Schwartz.” But he’s a Jew. Just ask Hitler. Or, apparently, any number of Jew-hating Hungarians who have been writing anti-Jewish slogans on the posters and billboards.

Such delicious irony. Hungary’s atavistic Jew-haters teach the rich, assimilated turncoat the ultimate lesson: despite his money and despite his support for those who want to destroy the Jewish homeland, a Jew is always a Jew!

There’s more. Hungary’s major Jewish organization asked the government to remove the advertisements, saying that “the billboard campaign, while not openly anti-Semitic, can still very much unleash uncontrolled anti-Semitic and other feelings.” They appealed to Israel’s ambassador, Yossi Amrani, who agreed with them and wrote a letter asking the regime to take them down. However, the next day, Israel’s Foreign Ministry walked it back with the following clarification:

Israel deplores any expression of antisemitism in any country and stands with Jewish communities everywhere in confronting this hatred. This was the sole purpose of the statement issued by Israel’s ambassador to Hungary. In no way was the statement meant to delegitimize criticism of George Soros, who continuously undermines Israel’s democratically elected governments by funding organizations that defame the Jewish state and seek to deny it the right to defend itself.

News reports are not clear about whether the ambassador failed to clear his letter with the Ministry in advance, or if he did and more senior officials had second thoughts.

Orbán has been criticized by some Israeli politicians for praising the anti-Jewish WWII Hungarian leader, Miklós Horthy. And like the six degrees of Kevin Bacon, there is always a short path from any unpleasantness to PM Netanyahu, who was blasted by Meretz MK Zahava Gal-on for supposedly encouraging neo-Nazis.

Soros is facing pushback from some of the more nationalistic regimes in Eastern Europe for his activities. But it’s hard to avoid thinking that although some of it is political, there is also an ethnic aspect.

Soros himself said the campaign used “antisemitic imagery.” Although there is nothing intrinsically antisemitic about the picture, I think that the choice of the identifiably Jewish Soros – already a symbol for Jew-haters of the sinister Jewish banker– as the literal poster boy for the anti-immigration campaign was intended to arouse anti-Jewish sentiments (as it did). After all, there are doubtless numerous non-Jewish pro-immigration Hungarians whose pictures could have been used. I have a highly developed radar for this stuff, and it is beeping loudly right now. I don’t think Orbán should be given a pass.

On the other hand, should the Jewish state ride to the defense of one who has spent years and millions of dollars in an effort to facilitate its destruction? One who rejects Judaism but is nevertheless the target of Jew-hatred?

Perhaps unfortunately in the case of Soros, I think it must. Because if Soros is a stinking Jew then so am I and so are all of the Jewish people. Nobody enjoys vilifying a Jewish antisemite like Soros more than I do, but the response from the Foreign Ministry misses the mark by a mile. Let me rewrite it for them:

George Soros, who continuously undermines Israel’s democratically elected governments by funding organizations that defame the Jewish state and seek to deny it the right to defend itself, is an enemy of the Jewish people and deserves the harshest criticism. Nevertheless, a campaign that deliberately plays on anti-Jewish sentiments to promote a political cause, even a good cause, also promotes Jew-hatred and is therefore unacceptable. The government of Israel considers this campaign an impediment to our relationship and there will be consequences if it is not ended.

I understand the importance of maintaining good relations with governments like Orbán’s, and indeed I believe that nationalism is a positive force, maybe the only force that can save Europe from what appears to be a rapidly-approaching disaster.

But “never again” not only means that we won’t allow another mass murder of Jews. It also means that we won’t ignore or accept, not even a little bit, the insinuation of anti-Jewish themes into public discourse.

So if you want Israel’s support, then knock it off.

Posted in Europe and Israel, Jew Hatred | 1 Comment

Who gets to block traffic in Israel?

Examples of how Israelis get things done when they really care:

  1. Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem is embroiled in a controversy over its Pediatric Hemato-oncology department (which treats children suffering from leukemia and other forms of cancer), in which 6 doctors resigned rather than agree to organizational changes demanded by hospital management. Management, the doctors, the parents of their patients, the Health Ministry, another hospital, and the Supreme Court are all involved in a bitter conflict in which the hospital has been accused of favoring lucrative private patients and medical tourism over children from Jerusalem. Last month, the parents and their supporters held a demonstration in which they blocked the entrance to Jerusalem with hospital beds.
  2. Disabled Israelis are demonstrating to get their national insurance payments raised to a level equivalent to the minimum wage, including blocking major roads at rush hour, which they have done several times. Most people are in favor of significantly raising the payments.

It is standard procedure in Israel to block roads, set up tents in front of the Prime Minister’s residence, or – in the case of labor disputes – shut down seaports and airports, public transportation, mail service (as if there is any even when there isn’t a strike!) and so on.

Sometimes it seems unfair: the government officials who negotiate subsidies with the Egged bus cooperative ride home from work in chauffeured cars, not public buses. The new immigrant who has waited two months for the arrival of his possessions has no influence on the already insanely high salaries of port employees. And in general, the Israeli citizen who must vote for a party and not for a local representative as in the US or UK, has little ability to influence government officials.

But that’s how it’s done here. If you have a good cause, or even a not-so-good one, the way to get it dealt with is to make not dealing with it worse for everybody than dealing with it. Everybody, guilty or innocent.

So Rabbi Daniel Gordis wants American Jews to make Israel an offer she can’t refuse, to force the government to implement the compromise for egalitarian worship at the Kotel (I explain the controversy here and here). He calls for withdrawing donations from Israeli hospitals and other institutions, and even boycotting El Al. In Israel, he says, “the name of the game is “Who Creates the Larger Problem?” Will it be the Haredim or you? If you want to win, you’ve got to play to win.”

Gordis argues, and I agree, that Americans should leave us to solve the conflict with the Arabs by ourselves, because they neither know enough about it nor have to suffer the consequences of the path we take. But because Israel was founded as “the homeland not just of the Jews who live there, but of the Jewish people,” then on “matters of religious pluralism and the value of Jewish peoplehood,” every Jew has a right to weigh in. American Jews should “make Israel’s democracy stronger by making sure that religious pluralism and Jewish peoplehood are always in the minds of Israel’s decision-makers, whether they like it or not.”

He says this despite recognizing that not only Haredim but even centrist Orthodox and Mizrachi Jews, half the population of Israel, will find the idea of Jewish pluralism foreign and even offensive. Indeed, he even admits that “one thing that many observant and non-observant Israelis have in common is their assumption that non-Orthodox forms of Judaism are simply fraudulent.” Nevertheless, they apparently have to be dragged into the pluralistic world for the sake of the Jewish people as a whole.

It is certainly true that the Jewish people created the state of Israel (at least the Zionists among them did) with the intent of establishing a homeland for all Jews, a refuge against persecution (and it has carried out this function admirably, gathering in endangered exiles from all over the world). In the beginning, the settlement in the land of Israel existed as a satellite of the Zionist movement abroad, financed and mostly controlled by it.

But that was then. Today Israel is a successful sovereign and independent state with a flourishing economy and a culture that has become the center of Jewish life. The Zionist movement abroad has mostly withered away, leaving only vestiges of once-relevant institutions like the World Zionist Organization, now often infiltrated by actually anti-Zionist elements like J Street. Should these institutions continue to be able to dictate to the Jewish state?

Although every Jew is a potential citizen of Israel by virtue of the law of return, there have always been many Diaspora Jews who are not only not Zionists, but hostile to Zionism. There are also many more who, while not actively hostile, have so little knowledge of the realities of Israeli culture, politics and current affairs that allowing them a voice in our affairs is silly. When they are influenced by people who have an ideological or political axe to grind, their interference can be destructive.

This is exactly what is happening today in connection with protests in the Diaspora about egalitarian worship at the Kotel and the law to invalidate non-Rabbinate conversions in Israel. The government’s inaction on the Kotel compromise will not affect the improvements in the (existing but rarely used) egalitarian prayer area; it will only prevent the establishment of a committee including Reform representatives to manage it. The conversion law only applies to conversions in Israel; non-Orthodox conversions abroad will still be recognized.

But although the disposition of these issues would have entirely negligible effects on Diaspora Jews, the Reform movement in the US has presented them as (in the words of the movement’s leader, Rabbi Rick Jacobs), “an unconscionable insult to the majority of world Jewry.” Leaving aside Jacobs’ arrogant claim to speak for a majority of world Jewry when there are only 880,000 members of Reform congregations in the US and Canada, his motives are political and constitute a tactic in the struggle against Israel’s “right-wing” government that his movement has been waging for years.

This affair is thus a perfect example of why all Israeli policies, not just those relating to the conflict with the Arabs, should be decided by Israelis, without pressure from the Diaspora.

I do agree with Gordis, and even with Jacobs, that there is a serious issue in Israel of the inordinate influence of the Haredim in almost every aspect of Israeli life. This is an unfortunate consequence of our political system, which makes it possible for the Haredi parties to hold the balance of power in governing coalitions. The monopoly on conversion, marriage, and burial held by the Rabbinate is just one aspect of a pervasive problem, which affects policies on welfare, the draft, food, transportation, education, and more. Most Israelis, including many who are Orthodox, would agree that this situation ought to change.

If this will be solved, it will be solved by Israelis applying pressure from within, by deciding to withhold their votes from parties that consistently knuckle under to the Haredim. Maybe it will require a change in the way our Knesset is elected, away from the party-oriented system and to some kind of local representative one, like the US House of Representatives or the UK House of Commons. But Diaspora Jews can’t bring this about.

If someone has to block traffic in order to get the government’s attention, let it be Israelis who do it.

Posted in American Jews, Israeli Politics, Israeli Society | 1 Comment