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Broken Windows Theory?

When kids play in the street and break windows in the neighborhood, it probably means their parents are to blame. The kids themselves are definitely to blame. If you are the person who lives in the house with the broken windows, however, you are not to blame.

But if you reward delinquents for their crimes, the implication is that the kids have not done anything seriously wrong–and you have. The criminals, then, will probably continue their path to adulthood as social parasites.

Apparently, Citibank thinks that is a good thing.* Or worse yet, it thinks that potential customers will think so. How else would you explain their endorsement of vandalism?

Paying criminals is the equivalent of giving in to blackmail. Unlike a certain Mediterranean country, at least the guy in the commercial is not giving the kids big chunks of his front yard.

Still, modern society seems to have forgotten that the carrot and stick method requires using the stick, as well. One day we will run out of carrots.

*Embedding is disabled on this video for some reason, hence the link instead of an embedded video.

Fisking a Letter

Stupidity is a common feature of letters to the editor. Indeed, without obliviously stupid letter-writers, sifting through these letters would be a significantly less tedious task.  Parsing this one (the second letter on the page) is almost like taking candy from a baby, but let’s do it anyway. (Besides, you shouldn’t give candy to babies).

After more than 60 years of unwavering support militarily, diplomatically and financially . . .

As for military support, Israel’s strongest ally for much of its initial two decades was probably France. In 1956, Israel partnered with France and the UK, to launch the Sinai Campaign–in the face of American opposition.

Diplomatic support? The yea vote to recognize a Jewish State in 1947 was the very definition of wavering. While Truman may have been supportive, the State Department was opposed, and the American vote was not a given.

The United States simply does not provide Israel with real financial support.  Bribery ≠ support.  What the U.S. is trying to do, is to support the American defense industry. If the true goal is the betterment of Israel’s finances, the U.S. would keep its money, and allow the development, nay the creation, of a genuine Israeli market.

. . . beg the state of Israel for a mere 60-day extension of the settlement freeze . . .

No one is begging. The portrayal of states as people, as opposed to entities with cold, calculated interests, is simply wrong. Even accepting as true the claim of “unwavering” American support, for the sake of argument, that does not give the U.S. any relevant rights. The issue is not a mere extension–it is the infringement on the sovereign rights of another state. Pure and simple.

” . . . to facilitate an agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority . . . “

Wow. Just wow. If this guy really believes that anything Israel does, short of deporting all the Jews to Poland, will “facilitate an agreement,” I’ve got a bridge to sell him…

Second, notice who the parties are in this hypothetical, snowballs-in-hell agreement: Israel and “the Palestinian Authority.” Let’s make a deal with a fictional entity! Not with “the Palestinians,” with “the Arabs,” or with any people. We need peace with the entity that Arafat and Rabin created in 1994.

. . . which is so important in promoting peace and security for the region and the world.

  • Superficial reading: ‘We need peace to promote peace.’ This is the guy that sets up meetings to promote meetings.
  • Secondary reading: An agreement will not be a peace agreement. We first need an agreement, and only then can we really start moving toward peace.
  • Deeper reading: He thinks that Israel’s capitulation to its enemies will lead to peace in the entire region–and the whole world.
    1. If peace were to somehow materialize, regional instability would quickly follow. After all, what would the Arab regimes use to distract their subjects from their miserable lives?
    2. The whole world? I know, the situations in Korea, Iran, Sudan, Pakistan, the Congo, and Venezuela (to name just a few) are wholly dependent on whether 10 million people in the eastern Mediterranean get along. Utopia is just around the corner. If only those pesky Jews would get with the program.

As an American citizen of Israeli origin, I am angry and offended. It is time for the White House to explain to the nation . . .

His “Israeli origin” is irrelevant. Either he’s Israeli, and the NY Times and White House are the wrong address, or he’s American, and who cares. Who is the target of his anger, the source of his offense, and why?  It’s much easier to toss around empty slogans, than actually provide reasoned arguments.

And which nation deserves an explanation?  The one on the other side of the world, whose citizens don’t care–or the nation whose citizens are forced to put their lives on the line because every few years another rich American thinks he can fix the world?

. . . how American interests are still being protected within such an uneven relationship and what it plans to do about it.

Uneven relationship? Oh, please. I can’t even say that with a straight face. Which American interests are endangered? And why does this idiot pin the blame on Israel? These are American interests that are at stake–but blaming Netanyahu must be the solution.

On the Importance of Arabic

Israel is in the Middle East. The Middle East is largely an Arabophone region. These two facts are undisputed. However, Israel insists on behaving like a western outpost in the Orient. While it does so with regards to its foreign policy, it is equally true, and just as foolhardy, with regards to domestic issues.

While many Israelis would like to be European or American, they are not. Modern Israeli culture and behavior is derived from numerous sources, and has morphed into something new.

The current level of language instruction in Israel has a lot of room for improvement. Though not as bad as English, Hebrew language instruction in Israel is poor, to say the least. Instead of improving, Israel’s Ministry of Education has decided that regional language skills are unimportant. As of last year, Arabic has been completely dropped from the mandatory core curriculum.

This was not in order to invest more in to Hebrew or English instruction. There was no pedagogical reason for this decision. This step down in Israeli education was “motivated by an effort to create a curriculum acceptable to ultra-Orthodox schools.” This capitulation to narrow political interests is corruption, pure and simple.

Things are different on the other side of the ocean. Instead of imparting the language of the Jewish people to the next generation, some Jewish day schools are expanding their language departments to include Arabic.

This is the right move in the wrong place. I am not saying Jewish students should not learn Arabic. They should – in Israel. The problem is prioritization. Adding another language to the mix will only serve to dilute the already lacking Hebrew instruction offered by the Jewish educational system in America. In other words, first Hebrew, and only then Arabic.

Israeli education needs to strive for nothing less than excellence. Excellence in today’s Middle East requires the knowledge of Arabic. Instead of eliminating three years of Arabic study from the curriculum, language instruction in Israel needs to be placed front and center. Along with Hebrew and English, students should begin Arabic studies in first grade, if not beforehand.

I am in no way advocating forgoing Hebrew in favor of Arabic. Nor do I think Arabic is more important than English. The three languages are not mutually exclusive. Nevertheless, understanding, and playing by “house rules” in the Middle East requires knowing the language. That language is Arabic.

On the Importance of Hebrew

One of the most important steps in pre-statehood Zionism was the revival of the Hebrew language. In 2,000 years of exile the Jewish people has developed many languages of its own, but they do not serve an overarching national purpose. Yiddish and Ladino have an important cultural and historical place, but do not unify us as a nation. Only Hebrew has done that.

Bible study and Hebrew go hand in hand. Forty years ago the very idea of “translating” the Bible into modern Hebrew would have been unthinkable. Tanakh was once widely studied, as an important Jewish text, and the Hebrew language flourished.

Today, however, that has all gone by the wayside. A declaration that “we are all Pinchas” does not cause an uproar, because most simply do not understand the implication. Equality and mediocrity have taken the place of excellence. Dumbing down of primary education for the sake of a lowest common denominator is taking a serious toll on Israeli students. The most basic of grammar mistakes are extremely common. In fact, speaking proper Hebrew in Israel, of all places, is likely to elicit bemused looks.

This is not just an Israeli problem, but a global Jewish problem. One of the biggest failings of the American Jewish community is the refusal to incorporate effective Hebrew language instruction into the Jewish educational system. Even the average Orthodox Day School graduate can barely get by in Israel on Hebrew alone. Are they afraid that a stronger connection with Israel and Israelis will lead more to make aliyah, further weakening the American Jewish community?

Setting aside the questionable validity of Jewish life outside of Israel, Judaism without Hebrew is an incomplete entity. For thousands of years Jewish study was reliant on Hebrew. However, a break with that past occurred in the mid-19th century. The religious leadership of the diaspora no longer relies on Hebrew. What sort of Jewish identity does one have without a basis in Hebrew? How can a community rely on Rabbis who are not truly versed in the language of the sources?

If Jewish continuity is a real goal then effective Hebrew education is necessary. Halting the detorioration of the language is imperative for the continued existence, and thriving, of the Jewish people. Proper Hebrew must not be preserved in an encyclopedia, but be the common language of Jews everywhere. The loss of Hebrew and the inability to read primary Jewish sources will leave us with only a watered down cultural heritage, not a national identity.

The OU and Aliyah

A Jewish community fair was held in New York recently, in order to “to lure Orthodox Jews from New York City to towns and other cities where emerging Orthodox communities are eager to reinforce their numbers.”

Sponsored by the Orthodox Union (OU), this fair is an attempt to bolster “emerging Orthodox communities.” Many small Orthodox Jewish communities around the U.S. want to attract new members. But Jews should not be moving to more small Jewish communities in the U.S. If these communities are having a hard time staying alive, the relocation of Jews from those places should be addressed, not vice versa.

How can the observant Jewish leadership justify an active effort to expand Jewish life outside of Israel? Is life in the diaspora a goal of the OU?

Israel is central to Jewish life, and should be treated as such by the leaders of the observant Jewish community. Even if mass aliyah is not around the corner, the further entrenchment of life in the diaspora should not be the alternative.

There are “emerging communities” in Israel, in the Negev and in the Galil. Sponsoring a jobs and relocation fair for those communities would be far more in line with the commandment to settle the land of Israel.

J Street Dislikes Israelis’ Opinions

A recent poll found that 56% of Israelis support continued construction over the green line. If this finding was not enough evidence that Israeli public opinion stands in opposition to Obama’s vision for the Middle East, another poll shows that only 6% of Israelis view his administration as pro-Israel. Apart from the initial question (who are these 6%??), the impression these polls give is that by pushing its view on Israel, the White House is once again undermining Israel’s sovereignty.

In comes J Street. Using its position as a group that allegedly represents American Jews, the organization characterized the first poll as “politically motivated and distorted.” From their comfortable armchairs in the West, the so-called “pro-Israel” lobby decided the results are “a good example of the half-truths and lies… injected into the debate.” J Street did not carry out any statistical analysis that found fault with results. They just don’t like the results.

Instead, they point to an older poll, which included the possibility of sanctions, to show that there is support for “acquiescence by Prime Minister Netanyahu to U.S. demands.” Setting aside the worrying implication that Israeli capitulation to the U.S. would a positive development, J Street has no say in the matter.

I strongly disagree with J Street. However, regardless of their views on Israel and the region, J Street’s self-proclaimed position as “pro-Israel,” as well as representative of the American Jewish community does not grant it a right to influence Israeli policy. They are merely observers to “the debate.” As I’ve said before, American Jews can easily make their opinion matter, by leaving comfortable American suburbia and joining the forefront of modern Jewish life – in Israel. Until then, their words are little more than a waste of breath.

Bad News Rahm

Rahm Emanuel has been serious trouble from the start. Although adored by his hometown Jewish community, and of strongly Zionist lineage, he seems to be working overtime to dispell any potential rumors of dual loyalty.

As Obama’s right-hand man, the White House Chief of Staff is arguably the second most powerful in America. It is no secret that the U.S. enjoys an enormous amount of power in Israel, for which it continues to pay in the form of large annual bribes.

It is also no secret that Emanuel dislikes Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and would prefer to deal with a left-wing government in Israel. Rumors over personal disagreements between the two have been surfacing for some time, leading some to question whether Obama would even Netanyahu if the Israeli premier visited Washington (that specific rumor was dispelled, when they actually did meet). On the other hand, today, Obama surprised Defense Minister, and Labor Party chairman, Ehud Barak, at a meeting with National Security Advisor Jim Jones.

Just last month Emanuel tried to push his way further into Israeli affairs by promoting a link between Iranian threat and the “Palestinian issue” saying movement on Iran “depended on the ability to make progress on the Palestinian front.” The picture becomes clearer when one taking into consideration the American administration’s anger at Avigdor Lieberman’s statement that Israel is not obligated to follow a non-agreement, all the while declining to even state its position on a binding commitment to Israel.

Meddling in internal affairs on any level is bad enough, but there are now rumors of deliberate intransigence on the part of Rahm Emanuel, with the intent of preventing cooperation between Obama and Netanyahu. If this is indeed intended to cause Netanyahu’s government to fail, then Emanuel is not only representing a White House whose attitude towards Israel is questionable, but a clearly negative influence in his own right.

To paraphrase Lord Palmerston, states do not have friends, but only interests. It appears the United States is behaving in light of its interests, without considering any so-called “friends.” Israel, on the other hand, seems to still be operating under the misconception that is such a thing as a U.S.-Israel friendship.

No Right

One perennial issue of discussion is how much, if any, influence diaspora Jews should have over the direction Israeli policy should take. One argument in favor of international Jewish involvement was presented to me during the matzav (aka “The Second Intifada“). Then, as now, antisemitism seemed to increase as Israel stepped up military activity. The speaker argued that since Israel’s actions affected Jews everywhere, implying this impact was primarily negative manner, Jews everywhere should be able to influence the policy of the Jewish state.

The basic Israeli argument is very simple. We give our best years, put our lives on the line, bury our children. In the diaspora college and a job follow high school,you walk into restaurants and malls carefree, and war is just something on CNN, ‘and you want to tell us what to do?’ Israelis are physically there, reap the benefits and suffer the direct consequences of our sovereignty. To the rest of the Jewish world they say, you’re very important, and your influence would be more than welcome. But you cannot do so from the comfort of your western armchair. Put more than just your money where your mouth is, so to speak.

As Yoram Hazony says, Israel, like any other state has a purpose. “[Israel's] purpose is to be what Theodor Herzl called ‘the guardian of the Jews.’” One of Israel’s purposes is to serve as a shelter, provide safety and security for Jews. Not only in Israel, though, Jews everywhere. Just as the U.S. has a responsibility (albeit limited) to Americans abroad, Israel is responsible for Jews. What is that responsibility? If a synagogue in the Bronx is attacked, should the Israeli cabinet dispatch IDF soldiers to ward off the attackers?

Yes, Israel does have a basic responsibility for Jews around the world. The rescue mission in Entebbe and the capture and trial of Eichmann are two such examples. Yet, the founders of modern Zionism did not envision such a large Jewish diaspora. Jewish communities abroad are not to be nurtured, they are to be encouraged to come home. At its core, Zionism is the belief that all Jews must move to Israel. That is why the Jewish Agency was rightly angry at the UJC’s attempt to move Jews from Yemen to the U.S.

Jewish identity and Israel are intertwined. One and the same, some may say. However, this identity does not bestow upon all Jews an automatic right to affect Israeli policies. Last month, I heard A.B. Yehoshua declare the Jewish community in the U.S. has such rights. But the basic Israeli argument is correct. Zionism does not recognize this automatic right. It is a potential right, that can be easily realized. Demanding such a right, claiming authority to influence the affairs of the Jewish state from the comforts (or discomforts) of the West smacks of hypocrisy.

Freedom of speech is an entirely different matter. American Jews can lobby their country regarding Israel, promoting their views as they see fit. They are but Americans in this, and no more. When, however, one claims to represent American Jews, implying legitimacy is drawn from this fact, the line has been crossed. An American Jew can meddle in the affairs of Israel no more than an Israeli of German descent can tell Germany what to do.

Diaspora Jews are important, and their existence must be taken into consideration. Jews everywhere are targets of antisemitism, and may bear some of the brunt of Israeli actions, in the form of anger against them. Having a vested interest does not, however,  lead to any real stake in Israel. Remaining in the diaspora is an active choice to stay away from Israel. Again, a stake in Israel can be realized in a heartbeat, by moving and being an active part of the Jewish people. Anything less is backseat driving.

Oren on Existential Threats – Sovereignty

As I mentioned yesterday, Jerusalem is slipping out of Israel’s hands, and unless something is done soon, Israel will be in big trouble. This leads to another threat Oren brings up, Israel’s “Hemorrhaging of Sovereignty.”

Israel has long avoided enforcing the law in many areas under its control. In the eastern part of Jerusalem, Israel-proper by law, Arabs (who have permanent resident status) have built hundreds of illegal houses, in violation of building codes. After decades of turning a blind eye, Israel finally decided to demolish a small number of illegally built houses. However, sovereignty has never been strongly asserted over all of the city, and the U.S. felt it can get involved in this domestic matter.

The situation is similar in the Galil and the Negev. In addition to building codes, taxes are routinely evaded by large swaths of the population. In response, widespread discrimination against the Arab community is alleged. While de facto equality may not be the situation today (infrastructure and education are poor in the Arab sector), perhaps some of the problems would be alleviated if the residents funded their local municipalities, as well as other entitlements they receive from the state on a regular basis.

Oren also mentioned the Haredim and the Jewish population in Judea and Samaria. It is projected that by 2012, one third of Israeli schoolchildren will be Haredi, the overwhelming majority of which will not be serving in the army. Over the Green Line, confrontations between Israeli residents and the IDF are on the rise. There are many reasons for this (unequal enforcement and capitulation to foreign demands, to name a few), but the fact is that violence between the army and the state’s citizens is clearly a problem that needs to be addressed.

And in the Knesset, numerous members not only disavow the legitimacy of the state they serve, “[t]hey actively call for its dissolution.” Free speech is an important value, but certain elected officials have abused that right for years. Running to the High Court every time an illegal party is disqualified is counterproductive, wrong, and does not allow Israel to assert its sovereignty. Freedom of speech is not an absolute value. Yes, many Arab citizens are not happy with the state, but allowing supporters of the enemy to sling mud at the state they have sworn to serve is not acceptable.

Sovereignty is bleeding out of another gaping hole – the famed “U.S.-Israel relationship.” It is an uneven relationship, in which America pays for the “right” to intervene in issues that are distinctly Israel’s business. As I’ve said in the past, accepting these funds renders Israel beholden to the U.S., and is extremely harmful to Israel’s image. Anti-Israel “activists” believe that ending American aid will bring Israel to its knees and “end the occupation.” This is an argument that needs to be proven false. This so-called aid must end immediately.

Israel’s economy, even in this day and age, will collapse as a result of pursuing true independence. On the contrary, it will spur economic activity, and allow Israel to pursue its own policy decisions, without the State Department breathing down its neck. In any case, if Israel is a sovereign nation, then it needs to stand on its own two feet.

New York Yordim

As soon as a plane with the blue and white flag completes its journey from Ben Gurion airport to anywhere else in the world, disembarking Israelis are under the illusion that they have a secret language. Israelis think they can yell to each other in the street, without anyone understanding what they’re saying. And, if they stay away from certain areas in India, then for the most part that is true. In most of the world, Hebrew is not a language most would even recognize.

New York City is not one of those places. It is not uncommon to see someone reading Maariv on the subway, or eating Bamba on the street. You can also eat at a hummussia (reviews will be posted over the next few months, as promised) and drink prigat grapefruit juice. I have walked into a convenience store, picked up a Shabbat newspaper, and had a short discussion with the cashier about the register not working, (yet paid in US legal tender) – all without uttering a word of English. I was not even asked if I speak Hebrew. It was understood, expected even.

Celebrating Israel in New York, by FaceMePLS

Celebrating Israel in New York, by FaceMePLS

Partly because of the preponderance of Israelis in the greater New York area, the Jewish Federation of New York recently commissioned a study, titled “Israeli Jews in Greater New York.” The study “aims to provide fundamental and policy-relevant information on [the Israeli population in the New York Area].” Based on a variety of definitions, the study found that somewhere between 31,000 and 41,000 Israelis live in the New York area. Maariv seems to think this is a low number (Hebrew), which baffles me. The implication is that that are larger “communities” of Israelis elsewhere in the U.S. However, that does not mean that it is a low number. According to this study, more Israelis live in New York than in Ramat HaSharon.

Much of the study focuses on counting Israelis, definitions of Israelis for the purpose of the study, and comparisons to previous studies done on Israelis in the U.S. One interesting finding mentioned is that approximately 100,000 Israelis live in the U.S., a far lower figure than the 500,000 estimated by some communal leaders. This means that somewhere around one-third of Israelis in America live around NYC.

Another finding is that 75% of Israeli-born adults in New York speak Hebrew. My personal experience with children who were raised in such families, however, has led to me a non-scientific conclusion: Hebrew-speaking is not a tradition that is passed on to the next generation. I have met many Americans of Israeli heritage, yet their Hebrew skills would not enable them to follow Shalom Sesame. This first figure regarding language leads to a second, unmentioned conclusion. 25% of those who were born in Israel, and now live in New York, do not speak Hebrew, possibly because they moved to the States at a young age. As the study reports, 65 percent of Israelis living in New York have been there for over 15 years.

The Maariv article about the study focused on Jewish involvement and observance. Israel is seen by many as one backwards, fanatic religious stronghold among many others in the Middle East. Those who know a little about Israel tend to have an opposite view – a secular, liberal, first-world state. Israelis are not as secular as many (would like to?) believe, but it is still a first-world country. Nevertheless, it is ironic that many who go through the Jewish State’s educational system are rather ignorant of their own heritage.

In New York, on the other hand, Israelis “outscore their American counterparts on almost every measure” with regards to Jewish involvement. This is true even when Orthodox Israeli Jews are excluded from the analysis. A greater proportion of Israelis light Shabbat candles (61% to 30%), keep a kosher kitchen (60% to 27%), and attend a Pesach Seder (95% to 76%). These numbers do not include Orthodox Jews (a larger portion of Israelis in New York identify as Orthodox than do Americans), and still illustrate a significant difference.

Socially, as well, Israelis are more Jewishly connected than their non-Israeli brethren. The study found that “[m]ore Israelis have Jewish spouses and many Jewish friends than do non-Israelis.” The “in-marriage” rate among Israelis is 75%, compared to 38% among Americans. And finally, while a highly subjective issue, it is valid because it goes to the core of Jewish identity, “Israeli Jews outscore their American counterparts when asked how important being Jewish is to them.”

Overall, the study is interesting, but it does not offer much more than numbers. What does this all mean? Stronger Jewish identity, adherence to religious rituals, and lower rates of intermarriage are good for the community as a whole. Israelis, however, are not American-born Jews. They are people who, for various reasons, chose to pick up and leave Israel. But why? The Israeli foreign ministry continues to hatch plans to entice Israelis to return home, but without asking why, let alone addressing the root problem.

It is often assumed that economics and opportunity are what drive Israelis to look elsewhere for better lives. If economics are such an overwhelming force, the necessary question is, where is the ideology? Is Zionism still at the core of these people’s beliefs, relegated to the back burner only out of temporal necessity?

Further, how many Israelis do return? I recently attended a Yom HaZikaron memorial ceremony, organized by the Israeli Embassy. I was astonished by how many Israelis live in the area. Most were families, settled in the area.  My rough approximation is that 500 people were in attendance. The overwhelming majority were Israelis.

Another thing I noticed at the ceremony was the significant presence of Israeli scouts. Children who grow up in their “Little Israel” of sorts (there is an area in Rockville, MD that has been dubbed “the kibbutz”), now participating in an Israeli youth group, in America. This is not just a youth group, however. Garin Tzabar, an IDF program for Israelis who grew up in America (as well as new olim), is tied to the Israeli scouts, and scouts often join Tzabar. I wonder how many second-generation Israelis do indeed go back to Israel? Will they return or will they just grow up to be the next generation of a “culturally distinctive and socially connected Jewish subpopulation”?