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Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
As a past critic of President Obama’s passivity in the face of Syrian slaughter, I was immensely impressed with the President’s forcefulness in holding Bashar Assad accountable for the use of sarin gas. On the contrary, it was Republican opposition to President Obama’s plans to punish Syria for gassing children that was so sorely disappointing, to say the least. Is there any greater justification for attacking a country’s military than when it engages in mass murder of children?
And yes, I know the objections. It might not be productive in stopping Assad’s regime. The strategic objectives need to be more clearly defined. Presidents can’t be cowboys and attack without Congressional approval and United Nations support. Afghanistan is still a mess, do we really need further Middle Eastern entanglements? And, of course, America is near broke.
But towering above all these considerations was the bodies of hundreds of dead kids. How do you signal to Syria and all those who would follow her example, especially Iran, that using nerve agents against innocent people will never be tolerated.
I was therefore shocked to hear the President reverse course and say that time was not pressing to punish Syria, that he would seek Congressional approval and wider support for his strike.
Let’s be clear. If the gassing of children is not an urgent matter than nothing is. Timing is everything. When the Jewish lobby in World War II asked President Roosevelt to bomb the tracks to Auschwitz, people were being gassed at a rate of 15,000 per day. Waiting a week would cost the lives of another 100,000 people.
In Syria the numbers are smaller though still horrific. Already 100,000 dead. But would we tolerate even another 400 kids being gassed? And if you are going to insist on Congressional approval — which neither Reagan, when he attacked Libya, nor Clinton when he attacked Afghanistan and Sudan, sought — then at least call Congress back from recess.
In the Jewish community we often speak of how during the holocaust not many people gave a damn as six million Jews were rapidly exterminated. So how can we as a community afford not to speak out when Arab children are gassed? Where is the outrage?
I’m not for putting boots on the ground in Syria. I’m just as weary as other Americans at Iraq and Afghanistan — and especially the ingratitude shown by so many Muslim countries that we liberated — to see American men and women die to create Islamist countries that are not fully committed to liberal democracy. I also know that America right now can’t afford much. Our national debt is a crisis of its own.
But we sure as heck can afford a few dozen cruise missiles and we sure as heck can bring the war straight to Assad’s doorstep by destroying his Presidential palaces so he’s forced to live like the animal he is in subterranean shelters. Furthermore, The Wall Street Journal suggested in an editorial on Friday that we can use our missiles not just for President Obama’s declared ‘shot across the bow,’ which suggests that we won’t hit any substantive targets, but instead strike the six airfields being most used by Syria’s Air Force and effectively ground their war planes from doing further harm.
One thing we cannot do is play politics where people’s lives are concerned. This is not a time to be doing the all-American blood sport of Republican versus Democrat. I don’t give a damn why President Obama wants to strike Syria, whether it’s to salvage his credibility on his self-declared ‘red lines,’ to show Iran that he’s serious, or to protect his legacy as someone who did not sit back while children were murdered. His intention is immaterial. All that matters is the Biblical imperative: ‘Thou shalt not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor.’ We must stop the butcher in Damascus from killing more innocent Arabs. On this President Obama is absolutely right and I’m mystified why any Republican would oppose him.
One of the principal reasons I ran for Congress as a Republican was disappointment in my liberal friends (and coming from the worlds of academic and media most of my friends are staunchly anti-Republican) in not being fully committed to fighting evil.
Palestinians, they told me, should of course not be blowing up Israeli buses. But you need to see it from their perspective. They’re humiliated with check points and road blocks. To which I always respond, there is no justification whatsoever for targeting children, excuses be damned.
Is it any different when the children who are being targeted are Kurdish, or Syrian, or Arab? They are equally God’s children. And Republicans have been great at making that point strongly, especially in the case of Saddam Hussein. Yes, we’re all Iraq-weary. But I supported the overthrow of Saddam and thought it a great moment in American history because he had murdered tens of thousands of children with mustard gas at Halabjah in April, 1988. So where are the Republican voices of outrage now, when Assad is doing the same thing?
In America we play politics with roads, and subsidies, and unemployment – all important issues. But when it comes to ‘Never Again,’ we have to speak with one voice. ‘Never again’ means just that. Never, ever, ever again. That the world will never again tolerate the mass slaughter of civilians by monsters like Assad. That civilization will never sit passively while brute thugs assail and slaughter the innocent en mass. If you use poison gas you are going to be hit by a Mack truck.
For goodness sake, let’s all get on the same page about this. President Obama has, of late, been exemplary in taking the lead on punishing Syria for atrocities. John Kerry even more so. Please, don’t falter now. Get your backbone back. “Do not murder” means just that. The Ten Commandments are not Democratic or Republican or American or Islamic. They are universal, accepted by all nations at all times.
It’s the 21st century, people. It’s time we finally get serious about stopping mass murder or our passivity will make us complicit.
Shmuley Boteach, "America's Rabbi," is founder of This World: The Jewish Values Network, which promotes universal Jewish values in the culture. He has just published The Fed-Up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering." Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.
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August 7, 2013 | 9:22 am
Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
Rwanda might not be everyone’s idea of a family trip, but it’s one of my favorite places in the world and, after visiting last year to highlight the 1994 genocide and promote anti-genocide legislation during my run for Congress, I wanted my children and some notable Jewish personalities to experience it with me. Much has happened in that year, including Rwanda occupying the Africa seat on the United Nations Security Council and announcing that they will be opening an embassy in Israel imminently. I now try and come every year to Rwanda, especially in the run-up to the 20th anniversary of the genocide, and this year the billionaire Jewish philanthropists, Dr. Miriam and Sheldon Adelson, made the trip possible to promote the brotherhood of the Jewish and Rwandan people, both of whom have been subjected to unspeakable horrors but are committed to healing and hope.
The visit was sufficiently important to me that I came with my family despite the State Department shutting down the American Embassy in Kigali – along with 20 others around the world – due to security alerts.
Why am I here? Because no country on earth today reminds us moderns of the responsibility of man to his fellow man and no country has bounced back from a genocide with such determination, forgiveness, and resilience. And I wanted my kids – as I visited more of the atrocity sites and met with government officials – to experience the country with me.
In the Jewish community the word survivor evokes men and women in their eighties whose families were wiped out by the Germans. In Rwanda, those same survivors are in their twenties and thirties, like our guide today, Gaspard, whose ten siblings were macheted to death and his father shot before his very eyes when he was a boy of nine.
The first thing you notice as you drive through the streets of Kigali, the capitol, from the airport, is the cleanliness. It is no exaggeration to say that Rwanda is probably the cleanest country on earth and any visitor would notice the same. At the airport you have to throw away any plastic bags you’ve brought. What’s referred to as the ‘flower of Africa’ are not allowed into the country. I actually took a picture of a cup strewn on the side of a highway because I had rarely seen even one litter Kigali before.
Next, the rolling curves of a landscape known as ‘the land of a thousand hills’ immediately makes its mark. The closest thing we Americans have similar to Rwanda’s topography is West Virginia, and Rwanda has an excellent road system that takes you up and down the hills to where you need to go.
The gentility of the people is evident everywhere. English is abundant and it’s spoken with a softness and delicacy that makes it pleasant to hear.
The country is as green as anything I have ever seen in Africa and agriculture surrounds you from every stop. Women and men are heaving hoes, planting and harvesting wherever you look. It’s an incredible site.
But it’s tragic history is ever-present. Memorials are strewn throughout the country as well as mass graves housing the nearly one million who were hacked to death in a racial genocide of Hutu on Tutsi that was the fastest in the history of the world, claiming the lives of 300 people every hour for the three months of April to June 1994.
The last time I was here I visited a Church outside the capitol where, not being ready for the gruesome skeletal remains of five thousand innocent people who were butchered, I gagged, threw up, and could not breathe.
Today it was much worse. We traveled south for two hours to the Murambe Genocide Memorial where on April 21st, 1994, more than fifty thousand people were shot, bludgeoned, and hacked to death in the middle of the night in just a matter of hours. One thousand of their lime-covered bodies are displayed on wooden tables in a scene so macabre that it constitutes the single most disturbing site I have ever witnessed in my life. Rwanda, like the Jewish people before them, faces a cottage industry of genocide deniers and they are intent on displaying the full gore of the tragedy so that it can never be denied. While we Jews contend with the likes of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who deny the holocaust so as delegitimize Israel and its security needs, the Rwandans face a similar onslaught by those seeking to cripple its government.
There was an incongruence in the air as our older children, who joined us in the memorial, gasped for breath as they saw the bodies while a few hundred yards away our young children played in a park, laughing and frolicking. The surrounding hills were as silent and serene as the dead, and I was reminded of the quiet and stillness of Auschwitz where all is mute as you walk through the gas chamber ruins.
I first became interested in visiting Rwanda through Michael Jackson’s children’s nanny, a woman named Grace, who would return every summer to her native country to see her family. I finally made the decision to visit after my daughter, serving as a foreign military liaison in the Israel Defense Forces, met General Charles Kayonga, Rwanda’s chief of staff, who invited me. I have since become a firm admirer of this stalwart people and especially its president, Paul Kagame, who ended the genocide in 1994. That Kagame could bring the world’s most failed state back to a position of progress and prosperity less than two decades after the fastest genocide in world history is a miracle. That he is a staunch friend and admirer of the Jewish people and the State of Israel is of great consequence, especially on the African continent.
Kagame himself faces significant criticism today over allegations of foreign involvement in Eastern Congo and for not allowing sufficient democratic freedoms in his country. Experts greater than me are currently debating the veracity of such claims. Some believe the allegations have merit while others are more understanding of a leader who has sworn to protect his people from genocidal forces – the children and ideological heirs of the original Hutu butchers – that still amass on his border. But one cannot help but admire a man who witnessed his people being exterminated while the world watched in silence, rustled up his troops to stop the killing, conquered the entire country with great alacrity, and when he took power did not retaliate against the Hutu majority who had turned Rwanda into an ocean of blood.
Others might even argue that Rwanda has been too forgiving of some of the killers. While driving through the countryside I inquired as to the identity of the many middle-aged men in orange jumpsuits who were working the fields. I was told they were inmates in prisons. “What is their crime,” I asked our guide. “Genocide,” he said. “These are the men who did the killing. Their punishment is to work the fields and grow produce.”
Grow produce. A punishment somewhat different to what was meted out at Nuremberg.
Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi,” is founder of This World: The Jewish Values Network. He has just published “The Fed-Up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering.” Follow his live Twitter feed of his visit to Rwanda @RabbiShmuley.
May 14, 2013 | 9:44 am
Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
Has Stephen Hawking really left the company of Albert Einstein, an avowed Zionist who worked to create the State of Israel, and replaced him with the august company of Elvis Costello and other Israel boycotters?
I hosted Hawking for a lecture at Oxford in 1998 where I introduced him to 1000 Oxford students. He could not have been more humble and approachable. Aside from his lecture, delivered through his voice synthesizer, on string theory – little of which I understood but which my students assured me was ‘brilliant’ – I remember his love of babies and practical jokes. Our daughter Rochel Leah had just been born and Hawking and his wife asked us if he could hold her. I can still picture in my mind how his wife took the baby, placed her on his lap, and then wrapped his enfeebled arms around the baby, which he stared at with a huge grin for minutes. He was enraptured.
After the lecture was over and as we walked Hawking to his car, he suddenly raced off in his wheelchair to Haagen-Dazs where we consumed in ice cream. His wife chuckled that he loved giving his hosts the slip as he indulged his childlike spirit.
All who heard and met him were deeply impressed with his humility and accessibility.
And now this, digging a knife publicly into Israel’s back.
Why would one of the world’s leading academic minds condemn the only democracy in the Middle East? Why would he attack a country, situated in a region of such deep misogyny, that celebrates women succeeding in every area of academic, professional, and political life? Why would Hawking pounce on a nation who, with neighbors like Hamas that routinely murder gays on false accusations of collaboration, grants homosexuals every equal right? And why would he condemn a country whose Arab citizens are the freest and least afraid in the entire Middle East?
Could it be because Israel has still not settled the status of the West Bank?
But if that is the case, surely Hawking knows that Israel has seen thousands of its citizens slaughtered in gruesome terror attacks ever since it granted autonomy to the Palestinian authority to control 97% of the Palestinian population?
Could it be because Israel has yet to facilitate the creation of a Palestinian state?
But then Hawking is a highly educated man and he knows that after Israel withdrew fully from Gaza – dismantling its communities and forcibly removing its settlers – that it lead to tens of thousands of rockets being fired at Israeli hospitals and schools. And besides, Israel has practically begged the Palestinians to come back to the negotiating table without any pre-conditions to discuss just that, the creation of a two-state solution, but the Palestinians have refused.
Perhaps its because Hawking believes the demonstrably false lie that Israel is an apartheid state. But then a scientist like Hawking would check facts before he would embrace such fraudulence and could easily discover that Arabs serve in the Israel Knesset – where they freely and regularly disagree with Israel – as well as the Israeli Supreme Court, the civil service, and every other area of Israeli life.
No, one must conclude that for all his academic brilliance Hawking might just be lacking in simple common sense.
In his statement embracing the boycott of the Jewish state, Hawking said, “I have received a number of emails from Palestinian academics. They are unanimous that I should respect the boycott. In view of this I must withdraw from the conference.”
One would think that Hawking’s response to these academics might be a call to, say, Hamas to start using the billions channeled to the Palestinians as the world’s largest per capita recipients of international foreign aid into building universities rather than buying bombs, or educating women rather than tacitly allowing the honor killings of young Palestinian women whose only crime is to have a boyfriend. No, Hawking decided instead to condemn the country whose scholars have won ten Nobel prizes, from a population of six million, while the entire Arab world, numbering in the hundreds of millions, have won two, outside the peace prize (another four).
Clearly, a knowledge of physics is no guarantor of a knowledge of foreign affairs.
Since Hawking is so often called the Einstein of his generation, it is worth reminding him that Einstein was a committed Zionist who traveled around the United States with Chain Weizmann to raise money for the creation of Hebrew University in Jerusalem, an institution that Hawking now refuses to even visit. In a 1921 letter to his friend Friedrich Zangger, Einstein wrote, “On Saturday I'm off to America - not to speak at universities (though there will probably be that, too, on the side) but rather to help in the founding of the Jewish University in Jerusalem. I feel an intense need to do something for this cause.”
Separately, in a letter to Maurice Solovine Einstein wrote, “I am not at all eager to go to America but am doing it only in the interests of the Zionists, who must beg for dollars to build educational institutions in Jerusalem and for whom I act as high priest and decoy... I do what I can to help those in my tribe who are treated so badly everywhere.”
And when in 1948 President Harry Truman recognized the new Jewish State of Israel, Einstein declared it "the fulfillment of our dream.”
How unfortunate that a man as visionary as Stephen Hawking can peer so deeply into the Universe but it is so myopic as to fail to see the righteousness of Israel’s cause even as it stares him right in the face.
Shmuley Boteach, whom The Washington Post calls ‘the most famous Rabbi in America,’ served as Rabbi to the students of Oxford University for 11 years where he created the Oxford L’Chaim Society,which hosted world leaders lecturing on values-based leadership. He has just published The Fed-Up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.
January 18, 2013 | 9:28 am
Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
It’s hard to believe that every day the news reports have Syrians dying like flies and noone seems to give much of a damn. The report yesterday that 80 students were blown to smithereens was particularly galling. They were studying at their University in Aleppo when, apparently, death rained down from the sky, either through a missile or a bomb. One image had a female hand with a pen still in it, dismembered from the rest of her body. She apparently died while doing school work.
I was a Rabbi at a University. If 80 students had died in a military attack it would have shaken the foundations of the academic world. Professors everywhere would have condemned this violation of the sacred halls of academia. But in Syria it’s just another day of indiscriminate slaughter.The United States is the world’s strongest nation with the loudest voice. Can’t President Obama speak out? I know we’re not ready to invade Syria or impose a no-fly zone. Americans don’t have the stomach for another war, or an invasion. But does that absolve us from simply condemning the slaughter in the strongest possible terms? What would it cost, in blood and treasure, for President Obama to fly up to New York and address the United Nations with a simple declaration: “President Assad, I’m here today to tell you that the long arm of international justice will catch up with you. Today you’re a brutal dictator killing men, women, and children in order to stay in power. But one day, in the not too distant future, we will catch up with you. You will be arrested for crimes against humanity and tried for your butchery and mass murder. It may not happen today or tomorrow. But I assure that you one day, in the not too distance future, in the dead of night when you least expect it, it will happen. Soldiers of civilized nations will apprehend you and take you to the International Court of Justice at The Hague where you will stand trial before the world for your cruelty. And you will be held accountable for your appalling crimes.”
Isn’t that what the UN is for? It’s bad enough that China, and especially Russia, are protecting Assad and refusing to allow international action against him. But the American president is the very symbol of democratic freedoms and human rights to the entire world. He dare not remain silent.Atlantic columnist Jeffrey Goldberg recently reported that President Obama said that Israelis don’t know what’s good for them. Bibi wants to build in Jerusalem but doesn’t realize that he is isolating Israel further in the international community.
I appreciate the President’s concerns. No doubt Israelis are especially grateful for the American President’s ability to divine Israel’s security needs even better than their chosen leaders. But perhaps our President should focus less on construction of apartments and homes and do something instead about the bombs and rockets that are killings tents of thousands of innocent Arabs. Syria is arguably the greatest humanitarian crisis that President Obama has had on his watch and he is, respectfully, failing miserably in doing anything about it.The Arab leaders have proven even less reliable. While President Morsi of Egypt decries Jews as descendants of apes and pigs, he seems fairly oblivious to the indiscriminate slaughter of his Arab brothers in Syria. But it’s become fairly obvious that it’s not the Jews who are the enemy but brutal Arab dictators who will kill as many Arabs as is necessary to stay in office.
The Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa, seems much more interested in forking over to Al Gore half a billion dollars to buy Current TV for Al Jazeera than taking out full page ads in the worlds’ leading publications alerting them to the Arab children who are dying in Damascus.In the book of Genesis God asks Cain where his brother Abel is. Cain has just killed him and in effort to protect himself famously asks, “Am I brother’s keeper?” God’s response is ferocious. “What have you done? Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.”
We who witnessed the repeated genocides of the twentieth century –from Armenia and the Holocaust to Cambodia and Rwanda – will one day be called to account for our silence in the face of dead students and children.
Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi” whom The Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America,” has just published his newest best-seller, “The Fed-up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering.” Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.
This column is dedicated to the memory of Machla Debakarov, the mother of a close friend of Rabbi Shmuley’s.
January 9, 2013 | 10:14 am
Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
A few years ago I was out having dinner with my orthodox, gay, Jewish brother when a religious man walked over to me and asked if I was Rabbi Shmuley Boteach. From his aggressive posture I knew in my gut that I should not respond in the affirmative but was simply too tired to lie. So I said, yes, I was he. “I think you’re a dog and a disgrace to religion.” After offering a short, “Ruff, ruff,” I asked him what I had done to so offend him. He said, “You call yourself a Rabbi but you’re always out defending gays whom the Bible clearly says are an abomination.” I tried to reason with the man but his hatred for me was such that I had to let it go. What I experienced that day had happened often enough to me to kind of get used to it. But the irony was that my brother was sitting right there and he too has had to endure, since coming out in his late teens, the ugliness of some religious people treating him with vitriol. Still, he has held tightly on to his Jewish faith and its rituals and leads a charitable, compassionate life. He will not allow religious haters to tell him whether or not he is allowed a relationship with God.
This painful story came to mind when I read of former Senator Chuck Hagel’s radical opposition, in 1998, to James Hormel, President Bill Clinton’s choice to be ambassador to Luxembourg, on the grounds that Hormel was “openly, aggressively gay.” Here was a United States senator abusing his power and refusing to allow a nomination for an Ambassadorship to go ahead simply because the man was gay. And yes, I am well aware of the fact that Hagel has not apologized, albeit 13 years later, when political expediency would demand it.
Now, I understand that Luxembourg is an extremely vital diplomatic post and that our chief diplomat there is an essential cog in the larger wheel of national security. But just what was Hagel worried about?
If the issue was that Hormel was not living in accordance with Biblical teachings, then neither was the President of the United States in that fateful year of 1998. Besides, America is a country with separation of Church and State. So a man’s unwillingness to live in accordance with all the laws of the Bible should surely not weigh in any decision as to his worthiness for public office.
And unlike the President of the United States who was guilty of a moral infraction in deceiving his wife through infidelity, homosexuality is a religious sin that is not a moral infraction since noone is being lied to. The ban on homosexuality in the Bible is similar to the ban on lighting fire on the Sabbath. There is nothing immoral about it, but it contravenes religious law.
Perhaps Hagel was saying that, regardless, a man who openly defies the dictates of the Bible cannot be trusted in a public role. But then the Bible also says, regarding Israel and the Jewish people, “Blessed are those who bless you, and cursed are those who curse you.” (Numbers 24:9). But that did not stop Hagel from referring to pro-Israel activists as “the Jewish lobby,” with its Protocols of Zion overtones of Jewish manipulation of world affairs, and offered the further slur of saying that “the Jewish lobby intimidated lawmakers.” We can only hope that their intimidation is not as severe as those who are openly, aggressively gay.
The Bible further says concerning Israel, “For thus said the Lord of hosts, after his glory sent me to the nations who plundered you, for he who touches you touches the apple of his eye.” (Zechariah 2:8) But that did not stop Hagel from voting against sanctions against Iran, even though Iran not only wishes to plunder Israel but wipe it off the map. As the New York Times noted, Hagel was only one of two senators to vote against the Iran-Libya sanctions act in 2001, “arguing that it would undercut efforts to engage with Tehran." Were these verses in the Bible less important to Hagel then those banning homosexuality?
Perhaps most famously the Bible says, “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:3) But that did not dissuade Hagel from his most unfortunate comment of being “not an Israeli senator. I’m a United States senator,” with its disgusting insinuation of the old anti-Semitic canard of Jews and dual loyalties.
Now, why would the Senator insist on the Biblical teachings regarding homosexuality but not those of protecting Israel?
While we should always try and judge people positively, it would seem that the only real explanation is that his opposition to gays is motivated not by religious convictions but just good old-fashioned homophobia. As to the State of Israel, we can only wonder what motivates his lack of sympathy.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi” whom The Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America,” this week publishes his newest book, “The Fed-up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering.” Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.”