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‍‍ שבט / אדר תשסט - February, 2009:

Tu Bishvat and Haveil Havalim #203

Over at Esser Agaroth, the 203rd edition of Haveil Havalim.

Happy Tu Bishvat!

The Ethics of “The Ethicist”

As entertaining as the New York Times’ The Ethicist is, I find myself disagreeing with Randy Cohen’s conclusions rather often. I think the first question he answered in this week’s column is too complicated to be boiled down to a two paragraph response. However, that is not my real concern.

In writing about a parent’s dilemma about whether or not a child should be allowed to smoke marijuana on a family trip to the Netherlands, Cohen makes the following comparison:

While there may still be good reasons for your son to avoid marijuana there — concerns about pot’s long-term effects, belief that time spent not looking at Vermeers is time wasted, the risk of tumbling into a canal — fealty to U.S. law is not one. When a Saudi visits the U.S., she has no ethical obligation to forswear driving simply because it is illegal for a woman to do so in Riyadh.

To reiterate, he has compared a law banning marijuana to a law forbidding women from driving. Regardless of what one thinks the legal status of narcotics should be, there is a world of difference between such a law and one drafted to shield the public from the horrors of women leaving the house more often. By making this comparison, Cohen has, in effect, placed the US law forbidding the use of marijuana on the same moral plane as the systematic discrimination against women practiced by Saudi Arabia.

The country who says that “establishing houses of worship for non-Islamic religions was too sensitive an issue,” no longer shocks me. Somehow, the New York Times still does. Randy Cohen should know better.

Mazuz v. The Law

Politics as usual. That’s what I should think. It happens all the time. People who hold important positions in the government of Israel act out of self-interest, for cheap political ends, as opposed to representing the people.

Attorney General Menachem Mazuz has long been a particularly disgusting individual of this sort. This past week he made an official request to bar Baruch Marzel from chairing the ballot committee in Um El-Fahem for “security concerns.” Mazuz is concerned that Marzel will offend the residents of Um El-Fahem to the level that the state is concerned for his safety. In this case, the police is responsible to prevent criminal activity. The police is required to stop anyone who want to harm Marzel. Mazuz is not supposed to instruct the state’s institutions to cave in the face of criminal threats.

If, as Mazuz claims, “Marzel’s very presence in the Arab village would be enough to set off a riot” then the legal issue is with said “Arab village” and not with Marzel, whose service as committee chairman is perfectly legal.

In spite of Mazuz’s attempt to evade responsibility, Eliezer Rivlin, who heads the Central Elections Committee turned down the Attorney General’s request. Rivlin is right on the money when he said “it was the authorities’ job to keep the peace regardless of those present at the ballot boxes,” and that if there is “evidence of a brewing riot the State should take the necessary measures to prevent it.”

The city of Um El-Fahem has announced that it will deliberately act the laws of Israel, “block all the entrances to the town and the police will bear the full responsibility for what goes on that day.” What is it that will happen that day? And why will it happen? “We shall urge all city residents to hit the streets and not allow him to enter.” A premeditated riot. So Mazuz has decided to attempt to capitulate, not deal with rioters.

Threats should be met with force, not with attempts to curtail Jewish freedom of movement in the Jewish state.

However, Naming Your Son “Hitler”…

“It is silly to think I am a Nazi just because of my boots and swastikas.” (Hebrew)

Dati or Torani?

The community known as “national religious” (dati leumi) has been undergoing many changes over the past 30 or so years. This community, largely congruent with the religious Zionist movement, prides itself for having a “mixed community.” This means that men and women are not completely shielded from one another. However, over the years, a disconnect has been forming between the leadership and the members of the community. It has become more en vogue to be “more religious.” Bnei Akiva used to be an a priori desegregated youth group. Now, it is more prestigious in many places for a Bnei Akiva branch to be segregated. Group activities in such places are conducted for boys and girls separately. These communities usually also have segregated schools, as well, and not for pedagogical reasons.

In recent years, this trend has manifested itself in yet another way – the surge of Torani schools. This labeling carries with it yet more coercion. When such a school surfaces (usually by way of converting a Mamlachti Dati school), boys and girls are forceably segregated, and a community who had thought of itself as a dati leumi, wakes up and sees it has become hardal. Members of the community are afraid to speak up, for fear of public censure, for being seen as not religious enough.

Efrat Shapira-Rosenberg has written about such an experience, of waking up and finding she is suddenly “not religious enough.” (Hebrew) “The prevalent position in the dati community today is that torani people are the serious ones… Someone needs to get up, stop the flow, stop the inferiority feelings and the apologetics, and to stand proudly for what we are, and in what we believe.”

Much has been made in recent years of the fact that members of this community have taken up so many key leadership positions in the army, that so many serve in elite units, and so many volunteer and go to officers’ school. This community, however, is eating itself from the inside out. A move towards stringency is not always a good thing, andif you are strong in your beliefs, moving to the right does not make you stronger in those same beliefs.

People who do believe that being torani is good have every right to hold these beliefs. However, much more is happening here. New communities are not being founded on the basis of this ideology. Established communities are being told they are not truly religious, and being forced to change, against the will of most. The consequences of this coercion are manifold. At the very least, when the children in these places will see one thing at home, and learn another in school, many more will choose to just leave everything behind.

The religious Zionist community is an important part of Israel. However, sometimes the self-proclaimed leaders, “the Rabbis”, don’t always know best. Very often, in fact. As the Rabbi of my community once said, if we all listened to the Rabbis, there would be no State of Israel today. So if “the Rabbis” do not stand down, there will soon be a lot of people who are without a community, and the happily torani community will bear more than a passing resemblence to simply haredim who do serve in the army.

Khaled Abu Toameh on “The Situation”

Michael Totten has long been required reading if one wants to keep up with international affairs, in my view. Recently he posted the transcript of a briefing with Khaled Abu Toameh. Of course, I don’t agree with Abu Toameh on everything, but his analysis is the best thing I’ve read in a while.

The West, either delusional, anti-Israel, or downright antisemitic, has long thought that a Palestinian state will solve everything. Abu Toameh, native of Tulkarem, seems to think that’s funny, and almost sounds like Nadia Matar:

Talking about a Palestinian state today is a joke. Where would that state be established? Israel controls nearly half of the West Bank. These PLO people can’t deliver. If Israel gives up the West Bank, you will have to go to Cairo or Amman to take a flight back to America because snipers will be sitting on the hilltops above Ben-Gurion airport.

Perception of power is important, very important, and I’ve harped on that topic enough times, but it really cannot be stressed strongly enough that leaving without the losing side surrendering, is the same as losing.

They think Israel ran away from Lebanon, that Hezbollah defeated them. They thought the Jews were scared and would not come into Gaza. They were really confident that Israel wouldn’t fight back. Really. They were.

Another common misconception is that economic improvement within Palestinian society will lead to peace. They will stop hating us, and the streets will suddenly be paved with gold. Well, no.

Max Boot: There does seem to be this sense that the West Bank has been doing better economically.
Khaled Abu Toameh: Yes.
Max Boot: Does that translate into better politics?
Khaled Abu Toameh: No.

Most of our neighbors do NOT like us. They will not start liking us anytime soon. They hate us and it has nothing to do with the fact that they are poor. Or that they are more religious or less religious. Or that they call themselves Hamas or Fatah.

I don’t think the majority would like to see aid from Norway, Switzerland, or Canada instead of from Iran and Hezbollah… You know what? Believe me, if you listen to Hamas and Fatah in Arabic there isn’t much of a difference, especially these days. Fatah fought alongside Hamas in Gaza. Today they said they lost 36 fighters and fired 900 rockets at Israel. Fatah.

The world loves to blame Israel. It’s not just our delusion. Sudan? Blame Israel. Gazans are hungry? Blame Israel.

Listen. The Egyptians are hypocrites. They are busy killing African refugees who are trying to get asylum in Israel. They opened fire on an African mother and son who were trying to run away from Sudan and were trying to seek refuge inside Israel. I haven’t heard that the Egyptians are destroying tunnels or anything. I haven’t heard it.

And finally, this is not the West. Stop trying to treat it like a Western issue with Western actors. It’s not going to end anytime soon.

General Tom McInerney, Fox News Military Analyst: Is there a solution to this problem?
Khaled Abu Toameh: You Americans are always asking us that. Why are Americans always asking me if there is a solution? A solution to what?
Michael J. Totten: The whole thing.
Khaled Abu Toameh: What is the whole thing?
Anthony Cordesman: Is there anything useful that could be done this year?
Khaled Abu Toameh: Listen. Look. We must stop dreaming about the New Middle East and coexistence and harmony and turning this area into Hong Kong and Singapore. If anyone thinks a Palestinian will wake up in the morning and sing the Israeli national anthem, that’s not going to happen. If anyone thinks an Israeli Jew will go back to doing his shopping in downtown Ramallah or to see his dentist in Bethlehem or eat fish in Gaza City, that’s not going to happen. There has been a total divorce between Jews and Palestinians. We don’t want to see each other.

It’s much longer, but it’s worth the time – go read.