My Brush with Censorship

For the past seven years I’ve written a regular column for a newsletter that is distributed several times a year by the Jewish Federation in my home town in California. I write about what’s going on in Israel, explain our convoluted, even Byzantine, political system, and tell about my own experiences as a former American living in the Jewish state. Naturally my ideology comes through. How could it not?

So I recently wrote one which, in part, dealt with Israeli concerns about Iran, both the conventional military threat and the very real possibility of a nuclear one. I mentioned that I didn’t think that the negotiations now starting in Vienna were likely to improve the situation, and that a conflict was probably inevitable. Since it was almost Hanukah, I signed off with a line borrowed from a recent blog post. I wrote, “I want to take this opportunity to wish all my friends … a very happy Hanukah, and to remind them what it is all about: staying Jewish and defeating our enemies!”

When it was published, I saw that the last part of my final sentence had been left out. When I asked the editor about it, she told me that she had left it out because she “found it to be bellicose and was offended.”

I was at a loss on how to answer. What did she think had occurred so that the Temple needed to be rededicated? What might have happened to the Jewish people if their enemies had not been defeated? Could she not see the parallel between the dual threats of antisemitism and assimilation facing us today, and the dangers our people had to confront in the year 165 BCE? What part of staying Jewish and not being wiped out is offensive?

I sent her a long response. I mentioned the worldwide explosion of Jew-hatred in the past few years, and how it was closely tied to the extreme, irrational, and obsessive hatred of Israel that has permeated the discourse of the extreme and even the moderate Left in her country and in much of the rest of the world. I mentioned the real existential threat from Iran, both conventional and nuclear. I explained that while Israel is powerful, she is also exceedingly vulnerable because of her small size and population. I said that Israel could disappear in a week’s time, and that if that happened, the rest of the world’s Jewish population would stand alone, exposed to the bitter winds of antisemitism with no backup and no escape. It’s neither “bellicose” nor offensive to want to defend yourself.

I pointed to the growing social and economic instability in America, and noted that the Jews, as always, are caught in the middle, scapegoats for the extremists of both sides. If the exception from Jewish history that has been the US since 1945 suddenly reverts to “normal,” who will help American Jews? The imam with whom the local rabbi has engaged in “interfaith dialog?” The black community that admires Louis Farrakhan? The Evangelical Christians that they have consistently disdained and spurned?

Her answer didn’t relate to any of this. I don’t want to put words in her mouth, but I think that she does not believe that Israel is in any great danger, and that American Jewry has little to worry about, particularly from the Left. I think that she believes that if Israel would just stop being obstinate about settlements and make peace then her problems would go away. I think she trusts in the American ideal of tolerance, and I think she believes in social progress, in which the present disturbances are only hiccups.

This seems to be the view of many liberal American Jews over the age of about 50, of whom she is representative. It is certainly the picture that is pushed by the media that they most trust, such as the NY Times and NPR. It is what they hear from most of their Reform rabbis.

These ideas are wrong. Israel is in as much danger today as she was in 1948, 1967, and 1973. The weapons in the hands of our enemies right now are incredibly dangerous. There is not now, and hasn’t been a possibility of rapprochement with the Palestinian Arabs since Yasser Arafat took over their movement in the 1960s. This is not because of anything Israel is doing, other than existing as a Jewish state in the Middle East. Settlements aren’t an obstacle to peace; the irredentist Arab presence in the Jewish heartland is the obstacle.

As far as America goes, I would like to think that the ideals of freedom and tolerance that were expressed by the Founders had always characterized the nation, but history tells a different story. The US was never very friendly to minorities in general; the good treatment of the Jews after 1945 is actually exceptional, both for America and for Jews. It is threatened today by the intersectionalist cultural revolution that is trying to remake the country into a totalitarian “people’s republic.” There is certainly social change, but there is no such thing as positive social progress.

But it may be that the pendulum is finally swinging in the other direction for some younger people. We hear a lot about the young Jewish kids who join Students for Justice in Palestine, or (even worse, in my opinion) IfNotNow. But there are also those who resist the trend. Some go to Israel and volunteer to be lone soldiers, a difficult, dangerous, and courageous road to take. Others, like the members of Students Supporting Israel (SSI) are starting groups on campuses to push back against the intersectionalist tide.

Indeed, just as the Republicans will sweep the coming midterm elections as a direct response to the excesses of woke intersectionalism, I’m hopeful that students on the campuses will turn back the Maoist trend that has held free expression hostage for the last few years.

As for my column in the Jewish Federation’s newsletter, I plan to keep trying to sneak some sensible pro-Jewish and pro-Israel content into it. Who knows, maybe the older generation can change too.

Posted in American Jews, Iran, Israel and Palestinian Arabs, Jew Hatred, The Jewish people | 5 Comments

Behind Biden’s Iran Policy

What does the Biden Administration actually want?

One might think it is that Iran will not make nuclear weapons. But it’s more complicated than that. To try to answer the question, I looked at a recent article in America’s own Pravda, the NY Times.

Some of the arguments attributed to US officials that appear in that piece are difficult to criticize, because they are so bad that it’s impossible to take them seriously. For example,

American officials have warned their Israeli counterparts that the repeated attacks on Iranian nuclear facilities may be tactically satisfying, but they are ultimately counterproductive, according to several officials familiar with the behind-the-scenes discussions. Israeli officials have said they have no intention of letting up, waving away warnings that they may only be encouraging a sped-up rebuilding of the program — one of many areas in which the United States and Israel disagree on the benefits of using diplomacy rather than force.

Perhaps if Iranian leaders were indifferent about the importance of their nuclear program, then they might be spurred to give it a higher priority in response to sabotage. But their actions in recent years indicate that they will do whatever they can get away with in order to succeed. It is their top priority. The pedal is already to the metal. Of course they rebuild what is damaged or destroyed, but it’s silly to suggest that the overall time to completion of the project is reduced, rather than increased, by effective sabotage.

The article suggests, again, that Donald Trump’s decision to abrogate the original 2015 JCPOA allowed Iran to leap forward, as if Trump simply canceled the deal’s restrictions on Iran and did nothing else. But the sanctions of the “maximum pressure campaign” had brought Iran’s economy to the brink of collapse. Trump and Pompeo’s diplomacy made possible the Abraham Accords, a regional cooperation pact aimed at weakening and containing Iran. Trump also wanted to employ covert operations and the use of “force short of war” against the nuclear program, Iran’s missile development, and her regional terror infrastructure. The assassination of Qasem Soleimani was an extremely heavy blow.

Unfortunately, there was little cooperation from the CIA and the Pentagon, and although plans were made for a “campaign to conduct sabotage, propaganda and other psychological and information operations in Iran,” Trump left office before it could be carried out. The Iranians, assured by all the Democratic contenders for the presidency that Trump’s policy would be reversed if he lost, knew that all they had to do was hang on until January 2021.

A combination of economic sanctions, diplomatic initiatives, subversion and support for domestic opponents of the regime, along with the use of force short of war, could have brought the regime to a breaking point. It would then have had to choose between real concessions on its nuclear program and collapse. But the Biden Administration rejected this path, and chose instead to return to the 2015 deal, and somehow seek a better one later.

That agreement was flawed in many ways, which was why Trump decided to dump it. The deal’s provisions for inspections were weak and allowed the Iranians to cheat (which they did); it weakened existing UN sanctions on missile development and did not replace them, it provided a massive influx of cash that the Iranians could and did use to finance terror against Israel and in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen; and finally, it actually legitimized Iran as a nuclear weapons state after 2030.

However, even this poor deal is now unavailable. The Times article admits that “President Biden’s vision of re-entering the agreement in his first year, then building something ‘longer and stronger,’ appears all but gone.” This is not surprising, since the administration began weakening sanctions on Iran a month after taking office, and chose one of its most pro-Iranian (and anti-Israel) appointees, Robert Malley, to be head of the Iran team. The signals have been read clearly in Tehran, whose chief negotiator at the Vienna talks refers to them not as nuclear negotiations, but rather “negotiations to remove unlawful and inhuman sanctions.”

So what, precisely, does the US expect to get out of its diplomatic efforts? Maybe this, from the same Times story, will provide a clue:

… inside the White House, there has been a scramble in recent days to explore whether some kind of interim deal might be possible to freeze Iran’s production of more enriched uranium and its conversion of that fuel to metallic form — a necessary step in fabricating a warhead. In return, the United States might ease a limited number of sanctions. That would not solve the problem. But it might buy time for negotiations, while holding off Israeli threats to bomb Iranian facilities.

As in the original JCPOA, Iran will only agree to limitations that will not materially affect their progress. But they will accept any easing of sanctions that they can get. The problem with the diplomatic process is that the Iranians do not believe that the US is prepared to go back to “maximum pressure,” and certainly not to use force. Time is entirely on their side, and they can continue to temporize for as long as it takes to finish their project, while collecting whatever benefits Biden’s impulse to appease will bring them.

Meanwhile, Biden’s people feel it’s necessary to “hold off” the Israelis, who would like to cut off the head of the snake that is not only developing nuclear weapons, but behind most of the anti-Israel terrorism in the region. Yesterday, Israel’s PM Naftali Bennett noted that

Along with the advancements in its nuclear program, Iran also consistently surrounded Israel, arming militias and placing rockets on every side … Iran can be seen from every window in Israel.

[Iran] irritates us from abroad, uses our energy, chases us; causes us harm without even leaving the house …

Israel’s biggest strategic mistake was “attacking the messenger” [Hezbollah, Hamas] instead of Iran. Chasing after the terrorist of the day who is sent by the Quds Force is no longer logical. We have to get to the one who is sending them.

If the JCPOA was inadequate to prevent Iran from getting the Bomb, then a new deal that is even weaker will do even less. But the objective – as it was for Barack Obama in 2015 – seems to be to get a deal, regardless of its effectiveness, because in Obama and Biden’s view, nothing is more important than preventing Israel from stopping Iran. Is the tail wagging the dog much?

Consider: if the objective were actually to stop Iran, and if stopping Iran required economic pressure along with a credible military threat, then wouldn’t the best way to do it be to cooperate with Israel, instead of holding her back?

No, the objective is not to stop Iran. It is to prevent Israel from stopping Iran, and to avert the consequences that would follow.

Think about the likely results of an Israeli victory over Iran: the rise of a regional power bloc – even a world power – led by Israel and Saudi Arabia, including the Gulf states and maybe even the potentially greatest power in the Arab world, Egypt; the end of Hezbollah, Hamas, and the irredentist Palestinian movement; and the final eviction of western colonialism from the Middle East.

There are multiple reasons that various constituencies in the West would prefer a new Shiite caliphate to a regional Israeli-Arab bloc, ranging from simple antisemitism and a desire to see the “mistake” of a Jewish state “corrected,” to naïve leftist third-worldism, to a belief that Iran would be easier to control than Israel.

But the can cannot be kicked down the road any longer. The inexorable progress of Iran toward nuclear weapons will surely force a decision in a matter of months – or even weeks.

Posted in American politics, Iran, Middle East politics, US-Israel Relations, War | 3 Comments

Hanukah: Stay Jewish and Defeat our Enemies

Next Monday is the first day of Hanukah, a holiday that is not mentioned in the Torah, but like Purim and (more controversially) Yom Ha’atzmaut, came along later as a commemoration of fraught and violent events.

What are we celebrating on 25 Kislev? The four Books of the Maccabees are not in our Tanach. They are found in the Christian Bible, originally written in Greek, and most Jews haven’t read them. Interestingly, the well-known miracle of the oil, in which one small container of oil lit the rededicated Temple’s menorah for eight days, did not appear in the Books of the Maccabees, but was only found in the Talmud some hundreds of years later. Some writers also mention the fact that many pagan societies celebrated the Winter solstice at this time, and speculate that the fact that Christmas and Hanukah are both observed on the 25th of their respective months is not an accident.

The events of 165 BCE are obscured to some extent by the fog of the millennia that separate us from them. We know there was some kind of violent confrontation involving the Hasmoneans, led by Judah Maccabee and his brothers, but did it start with the Seleucid Greeks trying to force the Jews to give up their traditions and profaning their Temple, as described in I Maccabees? Or did the Greeks intervene in an ongoing internecine struggle between the zealous Maccabees and other Jews who were abandoning Jewish traditions, Hellenizing their names and adopting pagan customs?

We are not entirely sure. II Maccabees describes a hellish scenario with high priests buying their positions, theft of Temple property, mob violence, torture, mass murder, the persecution of traditional Jews, and the profanation of the Temple, before the ultimate uprising and victory of the Maccabees over the Greeks and Jewish apostates, and the cleansing of the Temple.

To a certain extent, then, it is up to us modern Jews to find a consistent meaning in all this. In 2018, Michael David Lukas wrote that the contemporary observance of Hanukah is “hypocrisy,” and the original story is a “celebration of religious fundamentalism and violence,” which is a poor candidate to compete with Christmas. He prefers to “say a prayer for the Hellenized Jews” with whom he identifies.

Lukas, like many American Jews, is pressured by the need to “feel both American and Jewish.” That is his problem. You can enjoy foods or music from multiple cultures without tension, but you can only be one person at a time. He has apparently chosen to be something he calls an “assimilated Jew.” Unfortunately, that is nothing, not fully a Jew and not fully an American.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs of the Union for Reform Judaism presented a very 21st century American approach to Hanukah in 2016, saying that “[t]he Maccabees fought the first battle for religious tolerance in history” and calling for Jews to fight antisemitism and Islamophobia, and to support Rohingya Muslims and Dominicans of Haitian descent.

Jacobs is wrong about tolerance – the Maccabees were anything but tolerant. And his theology is no better than his history. He insists that he is a practicing Jew, but has (with his movement) completely redefined Judaism. Rather than a religion of mitzvot that derive from the relationship between God, the Jewish people, and the land of Israel, his Judaism is an ideology of moderate Marxism, in which the “mitzvot” are political acts. I can see why that’s attractive to them, but it isn’t Judaism.

Most observant Jews note that it is a mitzvah to light Hanukah candles, which is why they do it, and they say additional prayers at the synagogue. If you ask them, they might say that Hellenization, or what is called today assimilation, is a destructive force, or even a “second Holocaust” against the Jewish people, and Hanukah teaches the need to oppose it.

Without taking sides on the difficult historical questions involved, I think there are three essential lessons to be learned from the events of 165 BCE, and worthy of contemplation at Hanukah.

One is that Jews in diaspora should be careful not to draw too close to the dominant culture, because if (when) that culture comes to be dominated by a king, dynasty, or administration that “did not know Joseph” then they may find themselves alienated both from other Jews and rejected – often violently – by the dominant culture. This is highly relevant today for Jews in America.

Another is that if Jews are committed to their Jewish identity and their right to Jewish self-determination, then they can defeat apparently stronger enemies. Nothing is more applicable to the situation of Israel today, where a zealous commitment to Zionism is needed to protect the Jewish state, which lives in a very hostile world.

And finally, there is this: if Jews do not find common ground with other Jews, they may find them among the worst enemies of Jewish self-determination. It is already too late for many Jews, who have been seduced by our deadly enemies, and now stand at the heads of their ranks.

Hanukah honors those Jews who, under great pressure, managed to stay Jewish, and fought for and won the right to self-determination. A very appropriate, very Zionist, holiday to celebrate in the State of Israel.

Posted in American Jews, Israeli or Jewish History, The Diaspora, Zionism | 1 Comment

When Will Israel Regain her Honor?

In 1981, Menachem Begin presented what he thought were the most important lessons to be learned from the Holocaust. Many people remember the first lesson, “if an enemy of our people says he seeks to destroy us, believe him,” and Israel’s leaders seem to have taken this to heart, with respect to Iran at least. But what about Begin’s fourth lesson?

Jewish dignity and honor must be protected in all circumstances. The seeds of Jewish destruction lie in passively enabling the enemy to humiliate us. Only when the enemy succeeds in turning the spirit of the Jew into dust and ashes in life, can he turn the Jew into dust and ashes in death. During the Holocaust it was after the enemy had humiliated the Jews, trampled them underfoot, divided them, deceived them, afflicted them, drove brother against brother, only then could he lead them, almost without resistance, to the gates of Auschwitz. Therefore, at all times and whatever the cost, safeguard the dignity and honor of the Jewish people.

This, unfortunately, seems to have been ignored by the leadership of the Jewish state for the last several decades. Over and over, when the Jewish people, their state, or its institutions like its army or police, are humiliated, deceived, or treated as sub-human, our policy is to take the “pragmatic” course, wipe off the spittle of our enemies, and pretend that nothing serious happened.

Examples abound. Consider the Oslo Accords. Almost from the first day, after Arafat signed a document in English recognizing “the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security,” he began to call for jihad against that state in Arabic. This was the beginning of a pattern, which soon included alternating diplomatic demands and terror attacks. More than 150 Israelis were murdered between 1993 and 2000 (later, the Second Intifada would claim more than 1100 additional lives). And yet, for years after Oslo, Arafat and the PLO were considered our “peace partners.” How is that possible? Was there no one in the State of Israel that understood Arabic? Was there no one able to see the connections between Arafat and the waves of terror he unleashed?

The answers are obvious. The deceptions and other blows to our honor – there is no worse humiliation than murder unavenged – were, for lack of a better word, absorbed. Absorbed and allowed to pass in the pursuit of peace, as if allowing our state and our people to be degraded would be likely to advance the cause of peace! Quite the opposite, as we shortly discovered.

Speaking of murder unavenged, in a fruitless attempt to appear enlightened to the Europeans who hate our Jewish guts in any case, and in opposition to our own biblical tradition, we do not execute terrorist murderers no matter how heinous their crimes (the one exception, Adolf Eichmann, only emphasizes the rule). Rather, we imprison them with their compatriots in some of the world’s most comfortable prisons while we allow the terrorist organization that employs them to pay generous salaries to their families.

Here is yet another example. In May of 2010, our naval commandos boarded a Turkish ship, the Mavi Marmara, that was carrying “activists” to try to break the blockade of Gaza. Rather than automatic weapons, the commandos carried paintball guns, which – regardless of the ultimate outcome, was ludicrous and embarrassing. Luckily for them they also had pistols, although they were instructed not to use them unless their lives were threatened. “We came to speak, they came to fight,” the Foreign Ministry quoted the IDF spokesman.

They were met on the deck of the ship, not by the “peaceniks” they expected, but by terrorists armed with clubs, knives, iron bars, and other “cold” but deadly weapons. They were beaten and stabbed, and one was very seriously wounded and thrown into the sea (he survived). Only after they were taken below decks, and a pistol that was taken from a wounded soldier was turned against them, did they shoot their way out of the trap. In the process, nine of the Turkish terrorists were killed.

What’s wrong here is that Israel – the IDF – greeted an attempt to violate its (legal) blockade with a display of weakness rather than strength. In addition to the practical failure – most likely fewer would have been seriously hurt or killed on either side if the commandos had carried assault rifles rather than paintball guns – we sent the wrong message. The paintball guns say “we don’t want to hurt anybody,” but what we needed to say was “you will not get to Gaza and we will use any means necessary to stop you.”

This same incident later led to an even greater loss of honor, when Barack Obama pressured our Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, to apologize to the antisemitic Turkish tyrant Erdoğan three years later. In one of the most humiliating episodes of Netanyahu’s career, he “expressed Israel’s apology to the Turkish people for any mistakes that might have led to the loss of life or injury and agreed to conclude an agreement on compensation/non-liability.” In 2016, Israel did indeed pay $20 million to the families of the terrorists that had tried to kill our soldiers. Promises of improved relations between Israel and Turkey did not materialize. But then, behavior that evokes contempt rather than respect rarely pays.

Incidentally, Obama often used humiliation as a tool of policy. He deliberately personalized his disagreements with Israel’s policies, and heaped contempt upon Netanyahu. In one of the stupidest insults in history, a surrogate for the US president called the combat veteran who had defied Obama by speaking to the US Congress over his objections, “a chickenshit.”

Just as the defensive-only response to rocket attacks brings about more rocket attacks, Israel’s acquiescence to the loss of honor and her acceptance of humiliation emboldens her enemies. The same Erdoğan that humiliated Israel over the Mavi Marmara incident just took an Israeli couple hostage last week, on trumped-up espionage charges. Would he have done it to Russians? I doubt it.

In recent years, crime by Bedouins in the south of Israel has exploded. Extortion, illegal weapons and theft of weapons and ammunition from military bases, theft of cars and agricultural equipment, and harassment of women are common. There have even been rapes and murders. Enforcement has been lax, in part because of fear of retaliation by witnesses, police officers, and even judges. A few days ago, two Bedouin clans got into a pitched battle that began with rock-throwing and ended in stabbing and shooting, right outside the entrance to Soroka Hospital in Beer Sheva. This is possible because the state and its organs are held in contempt by the criminals.

Honor is lost by giving in to unreasonable demands, ignoring injuries, and allowing someone to try to hurt you (even if he doesn’t succeed). It is lost when you make threats that you don’t carry out or rules that you fail to enforce. The very fact that we allow avowed antisemitic enemies, Hamas and the PLO, to exist, rule enclaves inside Eretz Yisrael, and mount terrorist forays against our people, represents a loss of honor.

Honor can be recovered by responding to attempted extortion forcefully if possible, and never by appeasement, and by disproportionate responses to challenges from external enemies or internal criminals. Terrorist murderers should receive a death penalty; in fact, if caught in the act they should not survive apprehension.

Israel isn’t weak. Her military is arguably the most powerful in the region. Her struggle against terror for at least 100 years has given her tools that can be deployed against criminals as well as terrorists. What prevents her from doing what’s necessary to regain her lost honor?

Posted in Israel and Palestinian Arabs, Israeli Society, Middle East politics, Terrorism | 3 Comments

Kafka’s Trial, in Three Acts

I see, these books are probably law books, and it is an essential part of the justice dispensed here that you should be condemned not only in innocence but also in ignorance.

― Franz Kafka, The Trial

For the umpteenth time, a university professor has been caught up in an absurdist drama wherein he is hounded for the alleged violation of continuously changing rules for acceptable expression and thought. The penalty, if he fails to escape, will be the loss of career, reputation, and livelihood. These cases seem to follow a pattern, which I will try to elucidate.

This time his name is Jason Kilborn (it’s a coincidence that he has the same initials of Kafka’s Josef K.) and he is a professor of law at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). He became a target by writing an examination question that did not use a racial slur, and did not explicitly quote a racial slur, but asked would-be lawyers to comment on a situation in which someone was alleged to have used racist and sexist slurs. He designated them as “n—–” and “b—-”.

As often happens in similar cases, the serious nature of the initial offense was validated by students claiming to have been harmed. “We do not feel safe,” said one. Another said he felt as though “he no longer belonged in the law school.” Yet another reported heart palpitations. And one had to “seek counsel immediately after the exam to calm myself.” All of these testimonies were anonymous, reported by Kilborn’s main accuser, the university’s Black Law Student Association (BLSA).

Like Josef K. and other academics who have found themselves in similar situations, Jason Kilborn was surprised by the charges and the BLSA’s demands that he be punished. He believed the whole controversy to be a “misunderstanding,” and no action was immediately taken against him.

Thus ends Act 1. A white male (or, somewhat less frequently, a female) is targeted for racial, political, or gender-related heresy. Since it has not yet got to the point that pure wrongthink can be punished, there must be victims who can provide evidence of being harmed by it. These victims are usually not named, on the grounds that this would cause them further harm. So we have anonymous accusers whom the accused is not permitted to confront, making charges of psychic harm that there is no objective way to verify, even if their identities were known.

Act 2 usually comes as a further surprise to the target. It is characterized by a flood of accusations. Kilborn was accused of calling black students “cockroaches,” something he vehemently denies, and a facetious remark he made during a 4-hour conversation with a BLSA representative was construed as a threat of murder. The past is dredged for evidence that can be used against the target; for example it was found that Kilborn had said “bonjour” to a black, French-speaking student, which was interpreted as “diminishing” her for her accent, and that he had referred to media “lynchings” (another word that has been banned for its potential to “harm” black people who are exposed to it). At this point, what he actually said or meant becomes irrelevant: the attackers are locked on. In Act 2, he becomes a symbol of evil, a goat for Azazel.

Once it has been “proved” that the accused shows a “pattern” of racism, transphobia, or whatever (note that the most egregious antisemitism or ageism does not trigger similar reactions) it is possible to incite large scale actions against the target, including petitions, social media campaigns, mass demonstrations, harassment, and even physical violence. Apologies and mea culpas, no matter how abject, are declared insincere or evidence of even more deeply-seated racism, transphobia, or whatever, and further inflame the baying mob. At UIC, students held a rally against Kilborn featuring the venerable Jesse Jackson, who called for action.

Then begins Act 3, in which panicked and/or cowardly university administrators respond by either punishing or failing to support the target against harassment. In Kilborn’s case, his classes were canceled for the remainder of the semester, after which he went on sabbatical. Now he has returned and plans to teach in the spring, facing renewed student protests and calls for his firing. The university claims that an investigation substantiated some of the complaints, but in true Kafkaesque form, would not provide him with a copy of the report.

It isn’t clear what will happen to Kilborn in the Spring. Similar cases have ended in firings or resignations, although sometimes a scapegoat survives, as Connecticut College Philosophy professor Andrew Pessin finally did, after a truly horrendous experience and two years banishment from his job.

This phenomenon has been repeated over and over at universities including the most prestigious, such as this 2015 fracas over Halloween costumes at Yale; and it does not seem to be going away. What it tells us about Western society – at least in the US and the UK where these situations are common – is not good. The list of formerly sacrosanct values that are ignored by the students and faculty that take part in these witch burnings is remarkable: free expression and thought, due process, objective truth, and fairness all take a beating; while incitement, demonization, vindictiveness, racial prejudice, and mob action are exalted.

But this is reality, not a performance of Kafka. The university is often the starting point of social trends, and it is also a repository of pathological behaviors that are not found in people who have to work for a living. Like an infected appendix, if it isn’t treated it can spread its corruption far and wide – and sometimes kill the patient.

Posted in Academia, Wokeness | Leave a comment

Giving Up Zionism

Amichai Shikli, the dissident member of Naftali Bennett’s party and the only coalition member to vote against the budget, had an op-ed in today’s Israel Hayom newspaper that got my attention. I’ll translate the first few sentences:

At the end of a virtual tour of the back streets of the Old City, the Temple Mount appears, in all its glory; in the background, the skyline of Jerusalem with Augusta Victoria [monastery] and Mt. Scopus. Welcome to the Palestinian pavilion at Expo Dubai.

Now we enter the Israeli booth. The word “Israel” appears in all the colors of the rainbow, the headline “toward tomorrow.” Presenting the official video is Lucy Ayoub, the daughter of a Christian [Arab] father and a Jewish mother who, in an interview with Ha’aretz, boasted that “she does not surrender to occupation.”

He continues that the exhibit focuses on the great technological accomplishments of the “startup nation.” The Palestinians, on the other hand, emphasize the historical Muslim connection to Jerusalem and “Haram al-Sharif” (the Temple Mount), which is at the center of Palestinian identity. The Israeli exhibit, he notes, “concedes the national and historical aspect from the start.”

This doesn’t surprise me. Whoever designed our exhibition wants to present Israel as ultra-diverse (i.e., the rainbow and Lucy Ayoub) and hyper-modern; the part about the roots of the Jewish people in the land from Biblical times and their deep connection to it, especially to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, was played down. The designers seem to have presumed that this isn’t the Israel that works well for people in Dubai, or Europe for that matter. Only “religious” Jews care about that.

They are wrong. The Marxist and secular David Ben Gurion, made it clear in the very first paragraphs of Israel’s Declaration of Independence:

Eretz Yisrael was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious and political identity was shaped. Here they first attained to statehood, created cultural values of national and universal significance and gave to the world the eternal Book of Books.

After being forcibly exiled from their land, the people kept faith with it throughout their Dispersion and never ceased to pray and hope for their return to it and for the restoration in it of their political freedom.

For Ben Gurion as well as his arch-enemy Menachem Begin, Zionism was not only about defending the Jewish people against antisemitism, it was (primarily) about the return of the Jewish people to their historic homeland, and, as Allen Hertz puts it, the realization of their aboriginal rights of entry and settlement. In this connection, I’m reminded of a story about Chaim Weizmann. When asked why the Zionists insisted on Palestine when there were many other places they could settle, he supposedly responded “That is like my asking you why you drove twenty miles to visit your mother last Sunday when there are so many old ladies living on your street.”

But some Israelis apparently don’t agree. What is important to them is physical security and economic success. They would have agreed with Moshe Dayan who, upon seeing the newly-conquered Old City, said, “what do we need all this Vatican for?” Perhaps they would even have agreed with Israel Zangwill, who in 1905 led a faction at the Seventh Zionist Congress favoring the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Uganda, Canada, or Australia. They don’t see a problem with the increasing number of non-Jews making “aliyah” to Israel, as long as they are loyal to the state. Certainly the idea of ceding Hevron, for example, or other parts of Judea and Samaria to the Palestinians would not bother them if they were convinced that this could happen without compromising their security.

I have two objections to this point of view. One is legal, and the other is, for lack of a better word, spiritual. The legal point is this: there is a string of documents and treaties, beginning with the Balfour Declaration, continuing with the adoption of the British Mandate for Palestine at the San Remo Conference in 1920, the Anglo-American Convention on Palestine of 1924, and of course Israel’s Declaration of Independence, all of which rest their case for a Jewish homeland in Eretz Yisrael on the Jewish People’s historical connection to the land, which confers upon them the Aboriginal Rights mentioned above.

The Palestinians understand this quite well, which is why they attack every aspect of it. That is the reason they insist that we are not a “people,” but “just a religion.” One of things (in addition to our unique language, religion, and culture) that makes us a people is our long and exceedingly well-documented connection to Eretz Yisrael, so of course that is a problem for them. At the same time, they attempt to deny – and physically destroy the evidence for – the presence of the Jewish people here over the centuries. Sometimes this can be amusing, as when they insist that a place should be called by its “original” Arabic name, which then turns out to be a transliteration of an older Hebrew name.

Regarding the second objection, I used the word “spiritual” in a larger sense than just the religious one. Although the military challenge to Israel presented by the Palestinians is small, the cognitive and cultural war that is being waged against Israel from all around the world on their behalf has only become nastier, and is beginning to threaten both our relations with other nations and our own internal social health. In particular, we are beginning to give up on our self-definition as a Jewish, Zionist state.

The pogroms of May, in which Arab citizens viciously attacked Jewish residents of mixed cities, the recent attack on an Israeli police officer by private Arab security contractors, and the degree to which Bedouin criminals are running wild in the southern part of the country show that even Israel’s Arab citizens respond to perceived weakness.

There is a long list of things that we can do to push back against the abandonment of our Zionist consciousness. Most urgent is that we cannot afford to have a government that contains anti-Zionist elements, such as the Islamist Ra’am party of Mansour Abbas (not to be confused with Mahmud Abbas of the PA). I fully understand how it came about, but it is not acceptable. The presence of Ra’am in the Knesset (never mind the governing coalition!) violates section 7a of Israel’s Basic Law governing the Knesset, because the party platform “[negates] the existence of the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish people.” Although it isn’t necessarily wrong to allocate a large amount of funds to improve services to Arab citizens, it is scandalous to place 30 billion shekels (almost US $10 billion) in Abbas’ hands to distribute as he wishes. By our cynicism, we have anointed him King of the Arabs.

Most important is the reinstatement of the Zionist goal of settling all of Eretz Yisrael by Jews. Programs should be created that will provide inexpensive homes in Judea and Samaria to young families who are priced out of the housing market today. This will require finding the gumption to oppose the US and Europe in order to build in Judea and Samaria, but we can do that.

There’s a great deal more, but readers can fill it in. Israelis often use the word “Tzionut” (Zionism) ironically. When I first made aliyah in 1979, someone asked me why I came. Tzionut, I said. He looked at me like I was insane. But it’s the reason there is a state at all, and if we forget the importance of Eretz Yisrael to the Jewish people, there won’t be one very much longer.

Posted in Israel and Palestinian Arabs, Israeli Arabs, Israeli Politics, Israeli Society, Post-Zionism, The Jewish people, Zionism | 4 Comments

The Camel’s Nose

It’s painful, but I have to admit that I was wrong.

I supported the Bennett-Lapid government because I believed that nothing could be worse than the instability of an endless series of elections and caretaker governments. The challenges facing the country were too great, from Hamas to the new American administration which was (and is) poised to try to force us into another series of concessions to the PLO while enabling Iran’s atomic project and holding us back from striking it. I wanted the country to have a budget, which it hadn’t had since 2018. And I felt that it was time for Binyamin Netanyahu to step down (although, unlike some, this was not my primary concern).

I yearned for a real right-wing government without Meretz or Arabs, one that would put an end to the phenomenon of voting right and getting left, in which our leaders talk big but knuckle under to the US and Europe on key issues like building for Jews in Judea and Samaria, stopping illegal Arab construction in Area C, and enforcing the law in Jerusalem. I wanted to see changes in the legal system, a limitation of the apparently boundless powers of the Supreme Court and the Legal Advisor to the government, who is also the Chief Prosecutor and Attorney General all in one.

But I believed that four elections had established that there was no way to manipulate the numbers to yield such a coalition, given the personalities involved. I knew that Lapid was (to be kind) a lightweight, and that having leftist elements in the government would be problematic. I was repelled by the idea of admitting to the government representatives of an anti-Zionist Arab party – whom, according to the basic law governing the Knesset (sec. 7a), should not be permitted to sit in it at all.

Still, I knew that Naftali Bennett and Gideon Sa’ar were ideologically right wing, and Lapid at least a Zionist. The left-wingers would not be strong enough to begin any initiatives toward the PLO or Hamas and would concern themselves with domestic issues, I thought. And regarding Ra’am, the Islamist party led by Mansour Abbas (not to be confused with Mahmud Abbas of the PLO) that would be brought into the government – did not Netanyahu himself try to establish a coalition with their support?

I should have known better. I underestimated the power that would be placed in the hands of Ra’am by the coalition, and I underestimated (as Israelis consistently do) the powerful and unshakeable ideological commitment of the Arabs to their narrative and their opposition to a Jewish state. Bennett and his partners were prepared to pay almost anything to get the votes of Ra’am, which they believed was the only way to avoid another election. Perhaps they thought that Ra’am was “pragmatic” – that is, able to be bought. “It will be expensive,” I can hear them saying, but “you do what you have to do to get a coalition.”

The budget includes some 30 billion shekels (US $9.6 billion) for the Arab sector, much of which will be distributed according to the wishes of Mansour Abbas, someone few people had even heard of before this election, greatly increasing his power and importance. Other Arab politicians will benefit as well. Surely some of that cash will help Israeli Arabs, but just as surely a great deal will flow into the pockets of people connected to Ra’am. And some of it will even go to an NGO close to Hamas.

I admire Mansour Abbas. He will take your money, but he can’t be bought. Writing in Israel Hayom today, Nadav Shragai translated Abbas’ recent words:

Just a few months prior, speaking to Arabic-language media so that Jewish listeners could not understand, Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas spoke about his “civil jihad.”

“When we talk about land, housing and demolitions, are we talking about a civil issue? This is a national issue that forms the base of our struggle for our homeland,” he said in a moment of honesty.

He explained to his listeners that which the Jewish public refuses to hear: “The Islamic Movement started as part of the jihad family. But the political experience has taught us that due to the Israeli reality we cannot say today that we want to take up arms and wage jihad. We aspire and we engage in civil jihad. We maintain our presence in the country. We preserve our identity. We make the best of our existence through knowledge and action.”

Ra’am is not a pragmatic party. It is an ideological party associated with the Muslim Brotherhood that is the parent organization of Hamas. Its long-term objectives are no different than those of the Brotherhood, and include the end of Jewish sovereignty and the establishment of Shari’a throughout the land. In the short term, it calls for

…the establishment of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, with an end of the occupation and dismantling of the settlements. It also seeks the release of Palestinian prisoners and the right of return of Palestinian refugees. The party advocates the recognition of Israeli Arabs as a national minority and seeks to ensure their rights in a constitution. (Israel Democracy Institute, summary of party platforms)

Both Bennett and Netanyahu are guilty of placing political considerations above national ones by bringing this enemy of the state into the government and empowering it.

Even if the government were to fall tomorrow, much of the damage is done. One could argue that this government has replaced Haredi extortion with Arab extortion, but the difference is that even anti-Zionist Haredim are not working to erase the Jewish character of the state in preparation for replacing it with an Arab-majority state.

I am not sure what the solution is in detail, but I do know that Israel’s electoral system is failing to reflect the will of the people. The majority of Israelis want a right-wing government. They certainly don’t want Islamists in it! If it weren’t for the split between pro- and anti-Netanyahu factions on the right, there would be a right-wing coalition with some 70-odd mandates. And yet, we have a government including the extreme left-wing, borderline anti-Zionist, Meretz party, and the Islamists of Mansour Abbas.

We are approaching several important tests. Will Israel stick by its designation of six Palestinian NGOs as terror-supporting groups? Will she refuse to permit the US to open its Jerusalem consulate as an “embassy to Palestine?” And will she finally evict the Arab squatters from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem, after they rejected a court-proposed compromise?

These are minor but symbolic issues that the government will soon face. There is also the existential issue of soon-to-be nuclear Iran, and the perennial question of what to do about Gaza. In particular, many have raised the question of how a government that includes Ra’am will deal with a violent escalation by Hamas.

The camel’s nose is already inside the tent. If we don’t push it out, we’ll soon have its hindquarters as well.

Posted in Israeli Arabs, Israeli Politics | 5 Comments

A Drastic Proposal

In my morning paper there is a discussion of the home front defense drill that will be taking place today, simulating an all-out war with Hamas and Hezbollah. Warning sirens will be activated in various places, and note will be taken of whether schoolchildren and others are able to reach shelter in time. My personal situation is good compared to that of most Israelis; there is a shelter on every floor of the apartment building I live in, and we get about a minute’s warning of rockets from Gaza (flight time is 90 seconds). Rockets from Hezbollah will take a bit longer.

Unfortunately, only about 42% of Israelis (according to my newspaper) have shelters in their homes. That means that they can’t possibly make it to the nearest public shelter in time, so they end up spending long hours or even days in them when there are rocket attacks. Or they depend on the somewhat dubious protection of stairwells. Even a shelter in the basement of a multistory building takes too much time to reach.

Iron Dome and other antimissile systems have provided good protection during the small conflicts that we’ve had in recent years, but in a war with Hezbollah, which is said to have some 130,000 rockets aimed at all parts of Israel, including some dozens of rockets with precise guidance systems that will be targeted at airbases, power stations, fuel depots, and other critical infrastructure, there will not be enough systems to protect most civilians.

There is money budgeted to fix this, but nowhere near enough, and the process is slow and (of course) bogged down by bureaucracy.

Meanwhile, the prospect of a conflict with Iran draws ever more likely as the Iranian regime plays for time with the Western powers. Unless something unexpected happens, like a revolution in Iran, the moment is near when Israel will have to decide: do we permit Iran to become a nuclear power or will we go to war? There is no third option.

War with Iran will involve Hezbollah, which has no other reason for existing. It will certainly trigger Hamas, and the other terror providers in Gaza. It will probably include missile and drone attacks on Israel from the territory of Syria and Iraq, and possibly directly from Iran. Estimates are of more than 1,000 rockets per day; the worst damage will be to border communities, which are in range of Hezbollah’s massive mortars. There will be ground incursions in the north, to try to overrun military installations and civilian communities, kill people and take hostages. We can expect a wave of terrorism from Judea and Samaria, and perhaps even the participation of Palestinian Authority “security” forces. Finally, terrorists among Israel’s Arab citizens will certainly join in, as they did in the last small war with Gaza.

Such a war would extremely traumatic for Israel’s home front, maybe worse than any of her previous wars. Nobody would be safe, and the country would not be the same afterwards, even if we win.

At the same time, war, no matter how it starts, would be portrayed in the international media as a vicious attack by Israel on helpless Lebanese, Gazans, and others. The international anti-Israel conspiracy – there is no other expression that adequately describes the coalition of organizations dedicated to the extirpation of the Jewish state from the world – will launch a coordinated antisemitic campaign throughout the world. This isn’t speculation: we’ve seen it in action every time Israel has acted to defend herself against rocket attacks from Gaza. The objective will be to pressure the international community to prevent an Israeli victory and allow our enemies to prepare for the next round.

I expect that the Biden Administration, like that of Barack Obama, will try to embargo shipments of essential weapons and ammunition to Israel. I believe that the overall climate in the administration and Congress is more anti-Israel today than in the days of Obama, although they have tried to avoid direct public confrontations so far.

What, then, is the best strategy for Israel in this situation?

Can we avoid war by appeasement? We can only delay it. The Iranian leaders do not want a conventional war at this time; the regime prefers to wait until it has prepared its nuclear shield. Once it is in place, it can unleash Hezbollah against Israel while deterring us from retaliating directly against them.

But even without war, a nuclear Iran would be disastrous for Israel. Iran would proceed to establish a sphere of influence over the entire region. It would gain economic and political power. The regime could demand concessions from Israel – a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem, prisoner releases, withdrawal from all or part of Judea and Samaria, an airport in Gaza – and Israel, without allies, would be forced to comply. Each time, the alternative would be war; conventional war, but backed by a nuclear threat.

Little by little our sovereignty would evaporate, foreign investment and trade would dry up, Israelis with foreign passports would leave – and then there would be more demands. It would not be as dramatic as nuclear bombs on Tel Aviv, but just as final.

Israel needs to act soon, and with overwhelming force, against both Iran and Hezbollah simultaneously, in order to prevent massive damage on our home front. Their military capabilities and leadership must be destroyed, and very quickly, before they can strike back and before the US and Europe can intervene. I am talking about a few days, not weeks. It might be that the only way to do that is with unconventional weapons. We need to be prepared to use them.

I understand that this is a drastic proposal. Do you have a better one?

Posted in Iran, Terrorism, War | 6 Comments