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Sunday Reads: On Overselling Kerry, Arab-Israeli Stats, and Maimonides

by Shmuel Rosner

February 9, 2014 | 5:00 am

Photo By Reuters/Gary Cameron

We have decided to change the format of our Sunday Reads and to focus exclusively on opinion pieces and features which we believe you might find interesting:

The US

Adam Garfinkle believes that John Kerry’s boosters have been over-selling his achievements in the past few months-

...a fair number of Americans know that John Kerry achieved an agreement in late September, with the aid of Russia, to rid Syria of all its chemical weapons. That made the television news crawl at the time, so even a guy sitting in a sports bar somewhere watching hoops and working on his third “lite” beer might have seen that. But it’s as sure as fowl poop in a chicken coop that he didn’t know much about the bizarre sequence of events that preceded the agreement. And he probably hasn’t seen a single word about what’s happened since.

Slate’s Fred Kaplan unequivocally rejects the notion that President Obama is ‘disengaging’ from the world-

It’s a strange notion because the United States is more engaged with the world than at any time in recent memory. There are nuclear talks in Iran (after 34 years of no talking whatsoever), an internationally supervised dismantling of chemical weapons in Syria, half-serious nudges toward an Israeli-Palestinian peace (an improvement over unbridled neglect), and a delicate approach to the Asia-Pacific that embraces China as a partner while containing its expansionist impulses (though this combination could bear more attention). Who knows how these efforts will pan out, but they’re hardly the signs of aloof disengagement.

Israel

Joshua Muravchik offers some interesting stats concerning the disparity between Jews and Arabs in Israel-

Consider first health, the best summary measurement of which may be life expectancy. This is higher for Jews than for Arabs in Israel, but not by much. For Jews, the numbers are 83.9 years for women and 80.7 for men. Among Israeli Arabs the number is 80.9 for women and 76.5 for men. According to a study released in 2010 by Ben-Gurion University, the most recent data put the life expectancy of Israeli Arabs overall at 79 years, which is two years less than that of Israeli Jews, but one year more than that of Americans. This is also almost ten years longer, according to UN statistics, than the life expectancy of the Arab world as whole, and longer than for any individual Arab country except Lebanon.

David Horwitz thinks that top-down diplomacy is not what will solve the Israel/Palestine problem at this stage-

The true path to Israeli-Palestinian peace lies not in attempting to strong-arm reluctant, mistrustful leaders to sign up to this or that latest lawyerly draft of an accord. It runs, rather, via the gradual marginalization of extremists and the encouragement of moderates... This takes work — gradual, painstaking work, from the sides themselves, helped by the outside would-be peacemakers. That doesn’t mean a dozen more two-day attempts at coercive top-down shuttle diplomacy. It means real engagement, led by the US, involving the wider international community, identifying educators and investors and journalists and every other potential grassroots advocate of reconciliation, gradually achieving change from the bottom up, which in turn will impact leaderships. There is no quick fix. But there are slower fixes. It’s not that we need less outside help; we need more, but properly directed, strategically directed.

The Middle East

Jonathan Schanzer examines the intensification of the Middle East arms race in an interesting FP piece-

There is a huge amount of data to comb through, which means that our conclusions come with a good number of caveats. But the message is clear: The balance of power in the Middle East is getting increasingly difficult to determine, and the changes rocking the region will not make it easier any time soon.

Anne Applebaum points out that while the West has been focusing its Syrian efforts on chemical weapons, Bashar Assad has been using a much more low-tech WMD-

But in our obsession with what is terrifyingly new, it seems we have forgotten that there are much older ways to kill large numbers of people. Certainly there is one weapon of mass destruction so ancient and low-tech that it doesn’t even involve gunpowder, let alone the lethal tools we so dismissively refer to as conventional weapons. This method is called starvation.

The Jewish World

Moshe Halbertal’s new book about Maimonides stresses the important Greek influences on one of Judaism’s most important thinkers (review by David Mickis) -

As Moshe Halbertal argues in his magisterial new book, “Maimonides: Life and Thought,” Maimonides installs Greek philosophy at the heart of Judaism. For Maimonides, pagan knowledge is essential to Judaism. He tells us that we can’t reach the height of spiritual enlightenment unless we grasp Aristotle’s idea that God is not a human-like being with a body and passions like ours, who takes special care of us and watches over our existence, but rather an unmoved mover, the eternal principle that makes the universe work. Yet here Maimonides had to grapple with the fact that the Torah does depict God as a sublime, uncanny personality. He makes the rather weak argument that the Bible describes a personal God, prone to anger and compassion, who intervenes frequently in human affairs, only for the benefit of those Jews incapable of a profounder and truer idea of the divine. Here, the connection between the surface meaning (God is an outsized personality) and the deeper one (God is an impossible-to-imagine being, or even non-being) seems enigmatic, even to Maimonides himself.

URJ President Rick Jacobs shares his opinion on intermarriage in an intriguing post (we will have more about that tomorrow)-

While other voices will surely proclaim that endogamy is the only effective way to have a committed Jewish family, the Reform movement has something altogether different to say: Jewish commitment can be established in a variety of settings, especially with support and increased opportunity for learning and engaging. Falling in love with someone who is not Jewish is not a failure of Jewish commitment at a time when young adult lives are just beginning.

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