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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.

Unlikely Mythbuster

Remember the myth that Arafat was unable prevent terrorism because he did not have control over Hamas?

Straight from the (other) horse’s mouth, Mahmoud al-Zahar:

“Arafat instructed Hamas to carry out a number of military operations in the heart of the Jewish state after he felt that his negotiations with the Israeli government then had failed.”

Failure, of course, is a relative term.  In this case, Arafat likely considered failure to be anything less than could be squeezed out of Barak at the negotiating table.

Unfortunately, he did not miscalculate too badly.

This post is dedicated to NG.

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.

Status Quo

In today’s world standing still is not considered good. Movement and change (and don’t forget hope) are demanded of leaders. Nevertheless, barring any earth shattering event, maintaining the status quo in Israel is the most desirable option currently available.

There are a number of alternatives, the most widely repeated of which is the “two state solution.” This “solution,”   supporters of which claim it bring peace to the region, advocates for a Jewish state roughly within the 1949 armistice borders, and an Arab state in the rest of the land between the river and the sea. Setting aside the issue of the right to sovereignty over the land, very little in their actions says the Arabs even want a state of their own.

Israel has a lot of experience with withdrawing from land over the past couple of decades. Egypt, arguably the most successful example, is lead by a president who refuses to visit Israel, is in constant violation of the treaty between the two states, and is in an arms race – but against whom? Yet, one could argue the Camp David treaty from 1978 was successful, and largely beneficial to Israel. After all, Israel has not fought a war against Egypt in three and a half decades. Further, Egypt was already an established state in 1978, and Israel’s relationship with the P.A. is very different.

The “two state solution” assumes a peace treaty between Israel and what would be Palestine. Such an agreement, of course, would need to be respected. However, the short history of the P.A. is a lesson in how to boost one’s international reputation while violating obligatory agreements. There is no need to elaborate Arafat’s murderous riots (aka “The Second Intifada“) after Ehud Barak’s refusal to actively eliminate Israel. Yet war in the guise of “the peace process” did not begin in 2000. As far back as 1996, a time period many Israelis would characterize as euphoric, the very guns supplied to the P.A. by Israel were used to murder Israelis.

There is no reason to think times have changed. After winning 4-5 years of difficult fighting, terrorist attacks against Israel have become less frequent. This is not for lack of trying. Hamas’s electoral victory in 2006, as wonderful as democracy may be, shows that a deal is as far as it has ever been. In other words, not only is such an agreement unlikely to garner the requisite popular support, it would have a very short life, after which Israel would be left with an enemy/terrorist state in its midst, of its own creation no less.

Another popular plan is unilateral withdrawal, the policy that was pursued by Ariel Sharon in his “disengagement plan,” followed by Ehud Olmert’s “realignment,” the latter of which abandoned due to Olmert’s limited political capital after the war in Lebanon. In recent years Israel has ceded land under fire (in contrast to Sinai) in a number of instances, and has paid dearly for it each time. The experiences in Lebanon and Gaza, not to mention the various pockets of “Area A” have shown anyone with eyes in his head that when Israel cedes territory, whether unilaterally or as a result of an agreement, it shall be repaid with fire.

If neither unilateral nor bilateral withdrawals are feasible – what is?

If Arabs left the area between the river and sea clearly the “Israeli-Palestinian conflict” would be a non-issue. The question is, can this be accomplished? I would like to reiterate that I am not examining what is right or wrong from a moral standpoint. I am looking at the strategic aspects of these plans alone.

Mass expulsion of Arabs, and the Rehavam Ze’evi plan are two such approaches, yet both are unfeasible. There is a difference between the two. The former is self-explanatory. Ze’evi’s, on the other hand, advocated “making the lives of Palestinians so miserable they would relocate, by use of military force during wartime, or through an agreement with Arab nations.” Even if we set aside the issue of American aid and the strings attached to it, Israel, like nearly every other country on the globe, is not completely independent. Both of these tactics will undoubtedly bring about international opprobrium, and possibly sanctions, maybe even regional war. These are not risks to be taken lightly, and will likely stem any initiative drawn up along these lines, not to mention that no foreseeable Israeli government would dream of adopting such a policy.

Ze’evi has also suggested paying Arabs to emigrate. While this will not carry with it quite the same level of international criticism of mass deportations (which would be, in effect, population exchanges), this plan is unlikely to get off the ground, as well. Even though the price of oil is not as stable as OPEC would like it to be, money would probably start flowing out of Saudi and  Iranian coffers in order to maintain the “refugee problem,” thereby keeping the focus off of their own corrupt regimes. Many want to leave anyway, but regional pressure, and the offsetting monetary offers would render Israeli financial incentives moot.

Furthermore, international pressure would be intense. The world has been wed to the “two state solution” for a long time, and any action that would undermine this vision would not be taken kindly. The UN, for example, would be extremely unhappy. The UN has a vested interest in maintaining the conflict, since ending it would mean the dismantling of an entire UN agency.

Even before 2005, Jordan expressed opposition to a unilateral Israeli withdrawal. Considering Jordan’s inherent instability, this is understandable. The last thing the Hashemites want is a coup d’état on their hands. One creative idea, that has recently been reintroduced by Benny Morris, is a regional federation. Such an arrangement is not clearly defined, and the variations are nearly endless. The most significant impediment to such an arrangement, however, is Arab opposition. While King Abdullah might be in favor of an agreement that could lay to rest its fears of an uprising, the success of a federation is heavily reliant on popular support. Since terrorist activity is still very much alive, and has a considerable amount of popular support, it is hard to believe that the Arab residents of the region – on either side of the river – would acquiesce to such a deal. This settlement (or category of settlements, as seen in the JCPA paper) would mean that Jews and Arabs would be living in closer proximity than the framework of any the other “solutions” suggest. The societies would be much more intertwined, which is currently not something either side wants. Without widespread popular support this plan is dead on the table.

There are moral issues to be considered, as well. Although I do not delve into these here, I would like to point out that I do not see how outright mass deportations, or actively making people’s miserable are defensible from a moral standpoint. This is especially true considering the probable inefficacy of such actions, as outlined above.

New plans are constantly being floated, and someone more creative than I might come up with a way to bring peace and quiet to the region. For the time being, however, the The Middle East is nowhere near peace. The way US foreign policy is being handled these days, primarily with regards to the de facto acceptance of a nuclear-capable Iran,the possibility of a major regional war is growing by the day. Major wars mean widespread population shifts. Until a significant shift occurs in Middle Eastern attitude no “solution” is possible, two-state or otherwise. Taking action that has only proven to add instability, cause strife, and cost lives is a bad idea. For now, staying the course is the best course of action.

Existential Threats – Water

The holiday of Shavuot begins tonight, celebrating receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai. Shavuot is commonly celebrated by eating dairy products. Cheesecake, ice cream, and a variety of cheeses replace the meat and poultry dishes that dominate most Jewish holiday meals. In Israel, a relatively little-known allegorization of the Torah to water has turned Shavuot into an annual festival of water fights. This utter waste of water, fun for some, scary for many others (in some places, similar to a colorless Holi), contributes one of the most dangerous threats to Israel’s existence.

I’ve already expanded on Michael Oren’s list of seven existential threats to Israel. While he did briefly touch upon the issue when I saw him speak a few weeks ago, he did not mention Israel’s limited supply of water in his latest article in Commentary.

This crisis has been a long time in the making. The Kinneret (Sea of Galilee), Israel’s primary source of potable water, has been dwindling for decades, and an alternative source of water is still at large. Unfortunately, the Levant was not blessed with an abundance of water sources. Over the past decade, a series of droughts, interspersed with relatively small amounts of rainfall, have only made the matter worse.

Israel is a leader in water desalination technology, yet in typical Israeli fashion, water is in extremely short supply. Only over the past few years has Israel started availing itself of this technology in any significant manner.

Wars have been started over oil, land, religion, and countless other commodities and ideologies. Although a water war has not yet been fought in the modern Middle East, issues relating to the Jordan River’s tributaries did contribute to the unrest leading up to the events of June 1967. Action must taken now, or else a war will be fought over what little potable water there will be to keep the region alive.

Seawater is a non-perishable resource, and the Mediterranean Sea is not likely to disappear anytime soon. Desalination efforts need to be stepped up. Budgetary concerns, and even fights, are a constant in Israel. One thing people should be able to agree upon easily is the importance of solving at least one, not so insurmountable, problem. After that people can throw gallons of water at each other, without worrying about the salinization of the Kinneret.

The Urge to Terrorize

In order to lose weight, one must resist the urge to overeat. In order to overcome alcoholism, one must resist the urge to drink. There are many urges humans have, many of them potentially harmful. Considering the benefits, if fleeting, of giving in to these urges, the need to resist them is only natural.

Speaking in Bethlehem yesterday, the Pope called on the Palestinians to “have the courage to resist any temptation… to resort to acts of violence or terrorism.”

What sort of sick individual is tempted to commit mass murder? Do people really need to be courageous in order to resist the urge to “resort” to terrorism?

White House and Israel on Iran – Not Together

Over the past few weeks there has been increased talk of tying the Iranian and Palestinian issues. These two matters are only similar insofar as both are threats to Israel, and little else. Nevertheless, the White House has decided that it will not move on the Iranian nuclear threat until Israel follows American instructions on “the peace process.”

Since doing so would be tantamount to suicide, both Ahmadinajad and Hamas must be ecstatic. Not only has the American danger to Iran nearly disappeared, the US has effectively taken a step towards Hamas. This inane notion that “a breakthrough in the peace process between Israel and the Arab states would restrain Tehran’s influence” is very worrying, considering the amount of influence the US has over Israel.

As expected, Rahm Emanuel is promoting the connection of these two unrelated issues. Speaking to AIPAC donors Sunday, “[h]e reiterated that the ability to confront Iran depended on the ability to make progress on the Palestinian front.”

Iran is a country whose leader has called for Israel to be wiped off the map, and is a primary funder of Hamas. Even if the resolution of the “Palestinian issue” were imminent, Iran would only be emboldened. Such a resolution would amount to a loss of Iranian influence on the ground, forcing them to be “creative” in threatening Israel, not facilitate “handling of the main threat posed by Iran.’

The new American administration has all but committed not to attack Iran, which begs the question: how will the US approach Iran and its nuclear program? And if the US does believe this is such an important issue, why does the White House appear to be blackmailing Israel? This has only forced the new Israeli administration to present a reciprocal demand: no movement on “Palestinian issue” unless until there is real “progress in U.S. efforts to stop Iran.”

Obama’s, along with his chief of staff, performance is in poor taste. Sending the son of an Irgun member to twist Israel’s arm seems like little more than cheap political ploy to gain more influence in the Middle East.

Michael Oren – Thoughts

Michael Oren is one of my favorite writers. A great historian, he manages to compile long and complicated histories in a fairly simple, and easily digestible way. Despite it having sat on my shelf for a number of years, I finally read Six Days of War,” fairly recently. It is a history textbook, inundated with dates and figures, yet at the same time, it is a true page turner.

In addition to his writing, Oren is a charismatic speaker, as well. I recently heard him speak about the strategic threats that Israel faces today. The first of these threats, of course, is Iran. One argument that is raised against an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities is that states are rational actors, and Iran would not benefit, to say the least, from sending nuclear missiles at another nuclear state.

As Oren illustrated, the issue is deeper than that. Were Iran to nuclearize, it would be able to put the region under nuclear alert, at whim. This sort of toying with Israel would have far reaching repercussions. Apart from destroying the tourist industry, the results of the IDF being on constant high alert would cost the state enormous amounts of money, all the while affecting a near total cessation of market activity, leading to an even greater economic disaster. This, of course, in addition to the arms race that would be launched among Israel’s neighbors, most of whom are not particularly friendly to the Jewish state (This was outlined in article for The New Republic, which Oren co-wrote with Yossi Klein Halevi).

Still on the subject of military threats, Oren addressed the issue of missiles. As mentioned, Israel’s north has been hit hard by missiles, most recently during the summer of 2006, and Hamas can now reach major Israel cities, shooting from Gaza. One of the strongest strategic arguments against Israeli withdrawals, one that was made in 2005, is that territory ceded will serve as a base for missiles that will be launched at Israeli residential areas.

Oren, a proponent of unilateral withdrawals, said that Israel has systems to thwart such attacks, and upon deployment of these systems in the near future, Hamas’s use of short range missiles will be neutralized. He mentioned two systems that will work in tandem to combat the missile threat. First, the Iron Dome, set to be operational by 2010, detects an incoming missile and launches an anti-missile missile to intercept it. The second, based on the M61 Vulcan, destroys incoming projectiles by shooting a high number of rounds per second, eliminating them in mid-air. However, even if these systems are effective, it seems the government has acted in typical Israeli fashion, and woken up very late.

With regards to prospects for peace, Oren briefly promoted the idea of developing Palestinian industry and education, and bolstering their moderate leadership. Again, I am confounded. No, he did not mention Mahmoud Abbas or Fatah as these moderates, but this statement nonetheless confounds me. But to which moderates is he referring? Assuming there are moderate figures somewhere in the Palestinian leadership, what good is it to help them if they have no public support? Did the numerous gestures towards Abbas serve as a moderating influence on Palestinian society? As Robert Kaplan asks, do they even want to be in a position in which statehood would be a real possibility?

Demographics are becoming more important every day. Jews represent only slightly over 75% of Israeli citizens. Most of the remaining quarter, do not recognize the legitimacy of the Jewish state, and Israel needs an overwhelming majority of Jews in order to maintain its status as the Jewish state. Nevertheless, Oren thinks that the shrinking birthrate of Arab-Israelis, alleviates cause for serious concern regarding Israeli citizens.

When looking at the entire populace between the river and the sea, Israel is approaching the day in which Jews will no longer be a majority. In order to address this problem and ensure a positive demographic balance within the area under Israeli control, Oren foresees a necessity for further Israel unilateral withdrawals from territory beyond the Green Line.

This does not add up. As he said, Israel deployed 55,000 security personnel in order to carry out the withdrawal from Gaza – the largest Israeli military operation since the Yom Kippur War. Within the framework of almost any future withdrawal plan, 80-100,000 Jews will need to leave their homes. Their homes, which are located in the heart of the Jewish ancestral homeland. As Oren himself acknowledged, in light of the difficulties encountered in Gaza, which will be compounded in any future similar action, any Israeli government is extremely unlikely to succeed in carrying out such a plan. Any unilateral withdrawal plan will probably be based on the route of the Security Fence, so unless Oren supports leaving large numbers of Israeli citizens in enemy territory, I am not sure what he is advocating.

All in all, though, Oren’s talk set a very optimistic tone. However, the limited question and answer period did not flesh out the logical gaps in the his illustration of Israel’s situation today. One issue he discussed which did inspire some confidence is water – largely due to the construction of a major desalination plant, Israel might finally be digging its way out of what is still a very dry hole.

UN-Consistency

Israel has been criticized endlessly, both internally and externally, for countless alleged crimes. A popular accusation is of collective punishment. I do not wish to examine the facts of the matter here, but to raise a general question about the legality of such acts, particularly as seen by the United Nations.

Only a few short months ago, a UN representative characterized Israel’s policy with regards to the Gaza crossings as a “crime against humanity”, by “allowing only barely enough food and fuel to enter to stave off mass famine and disease.” Again, setting aside the issue of whether or not this is indeed what Israel has been doing, the greater question here is of whether or not such actions, in theory, are permissible.

There is no simple answer. Such a question necessarily leads to the examination of additional issues. To what extent is your populace a higher priority than the enemy? What is the goal of such acts? Is it an attainable goal? However, such questions have all been hashed and rehashed countless times (Michael Walzer’s Just and Unjust Wars is a good place to start).

A recent oped in the New York Times shed some light on this issue. Wayne Long, who served as the UN’s chief security officer in Somalia for an entire decade, wrote about the recent wave of piracy. A few of the examples from his experience dealing with kidnappers in Somalia, however, are extremely eye-opening. Using a fairly straightforward strategy, “United Nations assistance was withheld… until those hostages were released. In every case there was a release, and in no case were hostages harmed or ransom paid.” The problem with this is that it is precisely the same approach for which Israel is being blamed.

Long tells of a 1995 incident, in which an aid worker was taken hostage. In response, the UN humanitarian agencies operating in the area simply shut off the water supply for the capital, Mogadishu. Doing so directed the local population’s rage at the kidnappers, who took four days to release the hostage.

The piece continues with a few more similar stories, but the message is clear. The UN uses collective punishment in order to achieve their goals. They refuse to capitulate to terrorists. This was official UN policy, as undertaken in Somalia.

I’ll reiterate that I am deliberately ignoring the question of what Israel has actually been doing, or what it has done in the past. That is a separate issue altogether. Nevertheless, why does the UN decry Israel’s implemention of a policy that the UN has used in the past, and in the same breath, call it a crime? Why does it demand that Gazan terrorists not be treated the same way as Somalians?

A.B. Yehoshua – Thoughts

A conversation of sorts, took place tonight between A.B. Yehoshua and Leon Wieseltier, at the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue in Washington, D.C. Hearing him introduced as “A.B. Yehoshua” grated on my ears a bit. Even when reading his name in English, I always heard it in my head as “Aleph Bet Yehoshua.” I don’t think a Hebrew writer’s name should be anglicized, but that’s neither here nor there.

One of Israel’s most celebrated writers, Yehoshua has authored a good number of novels, including The Lover, a masterpiece I have recently had the pleasure of reading. Yehoshua, however, is perhaps just as famous in Israel as a political figure. He is not a player in the traditional sense, but a pundit of sorts, a champion of the Israeli left.

Wieseltier and Yehoshua

Wieseltier and Yehoshua

Speaking here a few years ago, Yehoshua caused an uproar in the Jewish world by (rightly) accusing diaspora Jews of “changing countries like changing jackets,” and saying it is common sense that “Jewish life in Israel is more total than anywhere outside Israel.” This time, trying to avoid a second controversy, much of the talk focused on literature. Nevertheless, Israeli literature is more than just ink on paper, and a variety of issues pertaining to Israel were addressed.

His father was a Near East scholar, and so Yehoshua said he grew up with Arabs and Arabic, and so the stranger was not all that strange to him. He says, therefore that guilt, over Jewish actions committed to Arabs, does not figure into his politics, and that he holds them responsible as he does his own people. Presuming that Israel’s interest is near and dear to him, I cannot but help ascribe his political views to extreme naivete. His support for the Geneva Initiative, whether or not it is a just solution, assumes the conflict is simply over land. And that instating Arab sovereignty over parts of the land will bring about a peaceful end to the conflict.

The author also put down the Arab reverence of land. He may be right that the Arab citizens of Israel would be better off in seeking industrial, and other, development (uttering what has practically become a magic word – “Hi-Tech”). Nevertheless, by ignoring the importance of land to many, in and of itself, he is just sticking his head in the sand. The Hebrew language, with an abundance of agricultural words, serves a testament to the importance of land in Jewish history. Perhaps if more Jews understood the importance of that small piece of earth, Israel would cease trying to be the political version of a luftmensch.

Still on the topic of Israeli-Arabs, he was right that while they may accept Israel’s existence as fact, they do not recognize the legitimacy of the Jewish state. There is no easy solution, but that is precisely the problem. A very serious problem, that we will need to face sooner, rather than later.

Another interesting revelation was that Open Heart (The Return From India in Hebrew), written shortly after Oslo, was a break from politics. Politics were deliberately avoided, the misleading quiet of those years granted Yehoshua the liberty to leave that topic out of the story.

Yehoshua expressed some unease when discussing the next generation of Israeli writers, calling them the generation of the Six Day War, who are critical, perhaps overly so, of the state. While criticism and self-examination can be healthy, many of the writers of this generation lack a basic love for the homeland. There is no true struggle with the basics, he said, and their critique is beyond the general criticism. A certain level of patriotism and concern for the safety of the state is missing, alienation taking its place, along with questioning the necessity of Israel.

Michael Oren was in attendance in the audience, and asked about the prominent place of writers in the public discourse in Israel, often sought after by the press to comment on national affairs. Yehoshua was pessimistic regarding the future of the Israel public’s reliance of literary figures, but was also rather arrogant, saying that “they (the public) need our moral judgment.” I am not sure if this is more of a statement about the public or about Israel’s writers, but as mentioned in the talk, the Jewish nation has long turned to writers for leadership. Herzl was a playwright, and Yehoshua quipped that “perhaps, if he would [have been] more successful with his plays maybe we would have no Zionism [today].”

Of course, in light of the outrage directed at him last time he spoke in Washington, Yehoshua is most intriguing when sharing his thoughts on Israel-Diaspora relations. On the one hand, he said that Zionism succeeded “because the Zionists did not ask permission of the Jewish people.” On the other hand, his political bias showed when he reached out to American Jewish criticism of Israel, calling on American Jews to “be a partner in our discussion… [if you do not make aliyah] at least be a partner from the outside.”

On this last point he is wrong. He was wrong when he expressly said to the American Jewish community “you have legitimacy” to speak out. They do not. Every Jew can have this right, but this is not an absolute right – it must be realized. Until such time as diaspora Jews will decide their fortunes are truly with the Jewish people, at home, in Israel – criticism is a privilege they has not yet earned. Fighting for that right is not euphemism, and the experience of wearing an IDF uniform is what grants one the right to be heard.

Unfortunately, he went further, and when responding to a question about what he would ask Obama were they to meet,  Yehoshua said he would ask for American assistance to solve Israel’s conflict with her neighbors. “We cannot do it ourselves today… you (Obama)must help us.”

When it did come to the topic of aliyah, his true political colors showed. He rightly complained that only a few thousand Jews move to Israel from American each year, but he continued, saying that they are only Haredim who move to settlements, in order to exploit Israel’s social security system. He is simply wrong. Haredim do not make up anywhere near the majority of American olim, nor do Haredim generally associate with Yehoshua’s loathed ‘settler movement.’ Yet it was Wieseltier, the product of an Orthodox education himself, who glibly added that only a few thousand Jews make aliyah - “the wrong Jews.”

Still, unlike Wieseltier, Yehoshua is an actual Zionist, and unfortunately that fact alone places him head and shoulders above most Jews. Yet Jewish sovereignty and independence should rely on no outside sources. Furthermore, if American Jews want to have a place at the table, that place is theirs and waiting for them – in Israel.