Posted by Orit Arfa
At the risk of sounding like a disloyal Zionist, especially writing this on Israel’s Memorial Day, on the cusp of Israel Independence Day, I’ve been thinking lately that Israel could improve upon its anthem, “The Hope.”
It’s a beautiful poem set to a beautiful melody, don’t get me wrong, but no other national anthem that I know of has been written in a minor key. Minor keys lead to pensive, sadder melodies. Contract to the “Star Spangled Banner,” written in happy, triumphant major. The Americans co-opted the melody of a British drinking song for an anthem about political freedom. Israel put the words (below) by the English Zionist poet Naphtali Herz Imber to a melody based on a Moldovian folk song.
As long as the Jewish spirit is yearning deep in the heart,
With eyes turned toward the East, looking toward Zion,
Then our hope - the two-thousand-year-old hope - will not be lost:
To be a free people in our land,
The land of Zion and Jerusalem
Some might say Israel has a rather pensive anthem because of the many tragedies the Jewish people have experienced. I can’t help but wonder that if Israel had a prouder anthem, one that spoke of confidence and certainty in the Jewish quest for freedom, rather than plaintive hope—with that confidence and certainty expressed in the melody—there’d be fewer tragedies.
There is a great tradition of Jewish songwriters and poets, starting with King David and going to Irving Berlin (who penned, ironically, “White Christmas”) to the great contemporary pop writer Dr. Luke (whose Jewish roots I explored last year). If I could have recruited a modern Jewish (well, half-Jewish) songwriter to have written Israel’s anthem, I’d have approached Carly Simon.
Last week, on April 18, she was awarded at the 2012 ASCAP Pop Music Awards with the ASCAP Founders Award, the performing rights organization’s highest honor. Born to a Jewish father, Simon gave a master class the next day at the ASCAP “I Create Music” Expo to a conference room full of aspiring songwriters at the Renaissance Hollywood Hotel. She spoke about overcoming her childhood stutter by singing; the ideas and inspiration behind her major hits; and her struggle with breast cancer.
Days after the Expo, I kept replaying in my car the Grammy, Golden Globe and Academy Award winning song, “Let the River Run,” which served as the theme song for the film Working Girl starring Melanie Griffith as a struggling secretary in Manhattan. The song deserves a much better platform than the entertaining but forgettable movie. The climactic phrase beckoning “the New Jerusalem” might have been inspired by Simon’s Jewish roots, which perhaps she’ll discuss at more length in her forthcoming autobiography. The words have the quality of a psalm, and the ascending melody befits a song about dreams, overcoming adversity, and triumph.
Watch the video here, with the chilling image of the World Trade Center in the background, but then imagine it set to the backdrop of Zionist pioneers crossing the Mediterranean and Jordan River into the land of Israel. Then listen to Simon discuss the genesis of the song. Below, I’m going to give a Zionist twist to “Let the River Run.” Wouldn’t it make a good Israeli anthem?
Let the JORDAN river run,
let the dreamers OF 2,000 YEARS
wake the nation.
Come, the New Jerusalem.
GOLDEN cities rise,
the morning lights
the streets that meet them,
and THE SHOFAR calls them on
with a PSALM.
It’s asking for the taking.
Oh, OURS heart ARE YEARNING.
We’re coming to the LAND,
running on the JORDAN,
coming through the fog,
OUR sons and daughters.
We the great and small
stand on a star
and blaze a trail of HOPE
through the dark’ning dawn.
It’s asking for the taking.
Come run with me now,
the sky is the color OF AZURE
you’ve never even seen
in the TASSELS of your TALLIT.
Let the JORDAN river run,
let the dreamers OF 2,000 YEARS
wake the nation.
ZION, the New Jerusalem.
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April 24, 2012 | 3:49 pm
Posted by Orit Arfa
When I was covering the forced expulsion of 9,000 Jews from their beautiful, established homes in Gush Katif, the “Harvest Belt” of Gaza, in the summer of August 2005, it amazed me how supporters of the “Disengagement” plan were so glib about the destruction of these homes, despite what they viewed as humanistic reasons for supporting it. Couldn’t people realize a happy home is the lifeblood of a person, the roots of someone’s character?
No political argument, no logic, no plea really worked to make the majority of Israelis empathize with the happy homes of the families in Gush Katif—the memories they lost—although the predictions of the Gush Katif “refugees,” as they have come to be called, have been vindicated by the turn of events in Gaza.
But maybe a song will have an impact, almost seven years later.
When a friend forwarded me the video of the Grammy-award winning country song “The House that Built Me” written by Allen Shamblin and Tom Douglas that solidified Miranda Lambert’s career, I cried. The song is about a young woman knocking on the door of the home she had left as a child, occupied by another family since. Since leaving, she’s not the same, and by returning to the “house that built her”, to “touch or feel it,” she hopes to heal the brokenness inside her. Watch it here.
I always think of the people of Gush Katif when I listen to it, only they can’t go back to the house that built them.
Allen Shamblin, a successful Nashville songwriter also famous for “I Can’t Make You Love Me” by Bonnie Raitt, understood the universal power of music from a young age. At a master session he gave the ASCAP “I Create Music” Expo, a weekend conference for music creators, that took place from April 19-21 at the Hollywood Renaissance Hotel, Shamblin recounted his rise to success, and the theme of returning “home,” spiritually and literally, is a constant in his life, a message the resounds beyond songwriting.
A petite, modest, unassuming, man, his Southern roots quickly became apparent with his “y’all” greeting. Raised in Austin, Texas to a Christian family (the impact of his faith he discusses here on the Christian Broadcast Network), he realized at age 25 that he wasn’t destined for his then career as a real-estate appraiser.
“I prayed the shortest prayer ever: ‘God, would you please help me be a songwriter.’”
The prayer worked. A series of “chance” encounters with music industry professionals brought him to Nashville, but when he got to the capital of country music, he no longer wrote from authentic raw emotion, but from authentic fear that he wouldn’t make it.
“The initial impulse was love—love for music,” he said on stage, in a talk sprinkled with evangelist-like wisdom.
That’s when “The House That Built Me” might have been born, at least subconsciously. A friend told him to go back to Austin, to remember the man who wrote the songs that initially got him noticed. So he took that advice, and upon returning to his Nashville apartment, he penned “He Walked on Water,” his first number one single, cut by Randy Travis.
But again, success soon expelled him from his spiritual “home.”
“Having a hit song is probably the most powerful drug you can experience….you’ll do almost anything to have another hit—to your detriment..”
He was a hotshot in the music world, but a terrible husband and father, living a stressful, unhealthy life.
“Music will ask you lay your children on the altar.”
He took a step back and noticed how the hitmakers around him weren’t necessarily happy.
“I thought if I ever do get inducted into hall of fame, or reach my pinnacle, I don’t want to be standing there without my kids. So I pulled away. People were confused….I honestly thought there was a strong possibility my career was over because I wasn’t playing by the games, the rules.”
So he made building his house—his home—a priority.
“An odd thing started happening, I kept getting cuts—not as a many—but good cuts.” Today, his oldest daughter is a freshman in college; his twins are juniors in high school. “I can look back and say, I didn’t miss my life. Music comes from life….Don’t miss your life.”
“The House that Built Me” is like a tribute to Shamblin’s life, but he’s lucky he could visit his old hometown, and still does, sometimes, as he explains in the video below.
The people of Gush Katif can’t return to their home—ever. Their houses have been bulldozed, and even if they were still standing, the people living in Gaza now wouldn’t dare let them come back inside to “touch or feel it” or “take a memory.” Today, many “refugees” continue to live in government “caravillas,” just scraping by, desperately trying to remember where they came from, holding onto faith of the “house that built them.”
So as we celebrate Israel’s Independence Day on April 26—yes, we should celebrate Israel’s major achievements—its thriving hi-tech industry, the economy, its contributions to art and Hollywood. But let’s also remember what’s most important about Israel—the reason it was created—for the freedom for Jews to build their homes—and keep them—on ancestral land they love and earned. And as Israel rises up the ladder of success, let her not forget her foundation—those embodied by the Zionist pioneers of Gush Katif who built their homes with a deep tie to Jewish heritage, ethics, and the land of Israel—the House that Built…Israel.
And for all you songwriters (and creators) out there, here are a few inspiring quotables from Shamblin:
“Live from a place of abundance….God’s got all the good ideas.”
“Run to the roar. Whatever you’re afraid of, run to it.”
“Don’t get mad at the people that reject you. There are so many reasons that come into play that day.”
“You have to be absolutely tenacious learning your gift and your craft, but sometimes the final thing that pushes everything over to where the dominoes start falling, is when you’ve give everything over. Then God steps in.”
“Songs are written. Great songs are rewritten.”
“When I have blocks in my writing I’m usually avoiding something that emotionally big.”
“Great songs in my opinion are not written by willpower. Great songs are written by yielding and serving the idea.”
“If your baby needs a diaper changed—embrace that moment—that’s where the songs are.”
“Love music, but don’t make it your idol.”
April 23, 2012 | 11:41 am
Posted by Orit Arfa
I don’t easily get sucked into the hype around popular young adult novels and their ensuing movies. I tried reading Twilight; the bookmark is still stuck inside somewhere. The story about a weepy, clumsy girl who pines for an unavailable vampire essentially 100 years her senior simply couldn’t grab me. I tried to justify my shallow fixation with the movies, however, with a Jewish interpretation. The European, pale, refined vampire Edward represents the Ashkenazi tradition, and his rival—the rugged, dark, earthy werewolf Jacob—represents the Sephardi tradition. I know, pathetic attempt.
But after multiple recommendations of the next craze, The Hunger Games trilogy, I caved—and I’m hooked. Author Suzanne Collins has presented a feisty, smart, strong heroine who is a welcome contrast to the romantically-addicted Bella Swan of Twilight. Kantiss Everdeen grows as a warrior with an ethical conscience who rises above hunger, poverty, death, and totalitarianism through her wits and skills as an archer.
The novel is set in the nation of Panem in a post-apocalyptic North America. Its people are divided into twelve Districts ruled by the glamorous, scientifically-advanced Capitol that fixes laws to ensure its hegemony. The Hunger Games is a national reality show—think Survivor meets Truman Show meets Gladiator—in which two teenagers, a boy and girl, from each District fight to the death for fame and fortune. A national celebration, the Games are a tool to get the Districts to submit to the Capitol.
In an interview, Collins related how she conjured the premise while surfing TV, and footage of reality shows and the war in Iraq began to blur. She looked to the Greek myth of Theseus as the basis for the story, and this time, I don’t have to force a tie-in to Judaism.
Essentially, The Hunger Games portrays child sacrifice. The children of the Districts are not masters of their own fate; they’re pawns of the state. The elites of Capitol are the “god” they are forced to worship. (This anti-authoritarian theme is much more apparent in the book than in the movie.)
Child sacrifice is a form of idolatry detested by the Hebrew Bible. The God of Israel categorically rejects killing one’s child for His sake when he stops Abraham from sacrificing Isaac on the altar. This moment defines the theological thrust of Judaism: the Hebrew God seeks life from his people—not death—and presents a system of laws and statutes meant, in theory, to safeguard life on this earth. This philosophical tradition explains the re-flowering of modern Hebrew society, Israel, as a country that overall respects individual rights, science, and real peace. The longing for Zion—Jerusalem—is the longing for life. Let us call Zion the Jewish “Capitol.”
The majority of Israel’s neighbors, on the other hand, worship a god—Allah—that demands “Islam,” which literally means “submission.” Through a political system adhering to shariah law, subjects are encouraged to sacrifice property and individual self-determination to his glory. The “Palestinian people” have been conceived by Allah’s priests to fight against Zion. They are like Allah’s “chosen people,” the celebrated and exemplary worshippers of this death-loving deity. While Mecca is the traditional capital of Islam, Allah’s “chosen people” have adopted a new capital for the state they desire: al-Quds—the Arab name for Jerusalem—the Islamic “Capitol.”
The “Districts” of al-Quds consist of Palestinian “refugee” camps whose squalor is perpetuated by Arab leaders and the United Nations, just as the squalor of the Districts of Panem are perpetuated by the Capitol to keep them in check. Al-Quds trains the children of these Districts—young men and women—to volunteer as “tribute” to the Islamic Capitol, with terrorist training camps commencing at the pre-school level. But while tributes in The Hunger Games must fight to live, the Palestinian tributes fight to die to achieve honor for their Districts, with arenas, sports teams, and streets named after the fallen. Muslim child sacrifice was at its height during the Second Intifada when Palestinian youth routinely blew themselves up in Israeli busses, cafes, and hotels, shouting “Allah is the Greatest” minutes before the bomb belt exploded. The vocal outcry in the Arab world at these massacres was minimal, if non-existent.
Unfortunately, many Israelis have been dragged into these Hunger Games by believing the lie that Zion is the Capitol oppressing the Palestinians.
In 2005, Israel unwittingly sanctioned the Palestinian “Hunger Games” by expelling 9,000 Jews out of the District of Gaza and destroying their homes. Instead of exposing Palestinian terror for what it is—child sacrifice to al-Quds—and combating it, Israel appeased the Palestinian “cause” and ran away. Some argue that the withdrawal was done for the sake of security—ultimately, for the sake of Zion—but then Israel has essentially used a tactic of Allah, although nowhere nearly as brutal or bloody, by treating the Jews of Gaza as political pawns who are forced to sacrifice their lives, their property, their dignity, for Zion. The immoral means of the withdrawal, we know now, have not achieved the much hoped for peaceful ends.
A year later, Israel responded to Hezbollah’s fatal attacks and kidnapping on the Lebanon border with conventional warfare—at the outset a justifiable act of self-defense. But as a national investigative report revealed, then Prime Minister Ehud Olmert sent men into battle grossly unprepared. In August of 2006 Olmert proclaimed that a victory would provide momentum for the now defunct “Consolidation Plan” to expel Jews from Judea and Samaria (aka the West Bank), a move that would hasten a Palestinian state. This implies he sent ill-trained IDF soldiers—18 and 19 year-olds—into battle not to save Jewish lives, but ultimately to sacrifice the Jewish “settlers” to al-Quds.
I just started reading the second book of the trilogy, and thus far Kantiss Everdeen is an admirable character who questions immoral authority, takes risks to save innocent lives, and cleverly outwits an oppressive regime, eventually triggering uprisings against the brutal Capitol. So I’m pleased with the Hunger Games craze. Now if only it would catch on in the Arab world to trigger uprisings to overthrow al Quds and embrace instead the Capitol of life: Zion.
Orit Arfa is the Executive Director of the Western Region of the Zionist Organization of America. She holds an MA in Bible and Jewish Thought from the Schechter Institute. She can be reached at email@example.com.
March 23, 2012 | 11:27 am
Posted by Orit Arfa
In his now infamous op-ed in The New York Times, Peter Beinart has called for a boycott of Jewish creativity and productivity in Judea and Samaria. What he may or may not realize is that his faulty ideas sow the seeds of war and unrest between Jews and Jews, Jews and Arabs, and Arabs and Arabs. His op-ed undermines the principles and values that radical Left-wing “humanitarians” claim to promote: truth, tolerance and peace. Let’s break it down.
Lies and fallacies
He writes that “it’s time for a counteroffensive — a campaign to fortify the boundary that keeps alive the hope of a Jewish democratic state alongside a Palestinian one. And that counteroffensive must begin with language.”
True, the counteroffensive must begin with language—but language that doesn’t manipulate definitions.
Let’s start with the word “democratic.” As many pundits do today, he makes “democracy” synonymous with the ballot rather than with individual rights, freedom of the press, and a system of police and courts that protect people from unjust use of force.
He is correct in noting that Judea and Samaria is the historically correct term for the “West Bank,” and he should be applauded for calling the land “Israel,” but he is incorrect in calling the region “undemocratic” because “millions of West Bank Palestinians are barred from citizenship and the right to vote in a state the controls their lives.”
The Arabs of Judea and Samaria (the historically correct categorization) have a right to vote in municipal and Palestinian Authority elections in the swaths of territory under Palestinian control, and in 2006 the Palestinians voted for an anti-Semitic Hamas dictatorship in Gaza, which led to bloody street wars between Hamas and Fatah supporters. Creating a civil society should take precedence over the privilege of elections lest those election lead to dictatorship.
The so-called two-state “solution” that Beinart is desperate to save has actually paved the way for disintegration of Palestinian Arab and Jewish Israeli relations, rather than co-existence. Before the Oslo Accords of 1993, there were no checkpoints and no fences between Arab and Jewish population centers. But Oslo created and armed the Palestinian Authority who used the weapons to kill Jews rather than arrest terrorists and keep the peace. Arab-Jewish strife and separation were inevitable.
Now for another abused term: “occupation” of “Palestinian land.” An occupation is defined as a military takeover of a pre-existing state. The Palestinian Arabs have never had a state in Judea and Samaria—they’ve been offered a state in that territory more than once, but they’ve always refused it. I think most rational people realize now that statehood is not their ultimate goal: destroying Israel is. If the Palestinians really wanted a state, they’d move to Jordan whose population is largely Palestinian. (If people think it’s fair for Beinart to ask “settlers” to move to “democratic” Israel, as he does in his piece, they should see nothing wrong in asking Palestinians to move to Jordan.)
Racism and Bigotry
Beinart is upset that “many Israeli maps and textbooks no longer show the green line,” but he says nothing about the Palestinian textbooks, atlases and tourist maps that don’t show Israel at all. He expects moral, rational behavior from Jews but not from Arabs, who are free to elect terrorists and fascists. This is racism.
Palestinians are masters of their own fate. They have freedom of choice, as do Jews and all other people. Not to grant them freedom of choice reduces them to animals. But they have chosen to assert their supposed “rights” to land and statehood through the violent murder of Jews.
Beinart “cringes” as he writes that “most settlers aren’t bad people; many poor Sephardic, Russian and ultra-Orthodox Jews simply moved to settlements because government subsidies made housing there cheap.” Is he cringing because he has admitted he’s a bigot against religious-nationalist Jews? He differentiates between “good” Jews and “bad” Jews by virtue of why they want to live where they live, and not because of where they live. This is religious bigotry.
He has scapegoated an entire population of Jews who are inspired by Judaism to love and sow the land of Israel, and yet he makes no criticism of jihadis who are inspired by Islam to kill “infidels” out of religious duty and as a way to rob those “bad” Jews of their land.
To create a Palestinian state, hundreds of thousands Jews will be dispossessed of their homes, their property and their rights to the land on which they have settled. Rightly so, many Jews will protest this unjust, suicidal expulsion, leading to much unrest between Jews and Jews.
Judging by the treatment of Jews expelled from Gaza, those same Jews that Beinart would happily force out of their homes will be disenfranchised and forced into poverty and wandering—treatment and conditions he would consider acceptable for Jewish “settlers,” but not for Arabs.
As the withdrawal from Gaza has shown, Israel’s withdrawal from land beyond the green line only emboldens Palestinian terrorists who’ll use the territory as rocket launching pads, bringing war closer to Israel’s new borders.
If the Palestinians sought true democracy, peace and a better quality of life, they would embrace the people of Judea and Samaria and the trade, commerce, jobs, education and creativity they bring to the region. They’d implore the Jews of Ariel to live among them. They’d welcome the cutting edge research in science and humanities taking place at the premier center for higher learning there, the Ariel University Center, where Arabs make up a good portion of the student body.
Beinart says “I am a committed Jew. I belong to an Orthodox synagogue, send my children to Jewish school,” as if his tribal and religious affiliation makes his lies less false and his ideas less immoral. In essence, he has demonstrated that he is glad to sell out his people—for what? That remains unclear.
Beinert puts down supporters of Jews in Judea Samaria as “hawks”; he calls Israel’s handling of Judea and Samaria as leading to apartheid; he calls ideologically motivated settlers “bad” people. I think I have sufficiently proven that Beinart’s is essentially a hawk, a racist and a mystic.
Anyone who respects decency, truth and human freedom should boycott this man and his books. Keep him out of your restaurants, out of your synagogues, out of your schools. Then go visit Judea and Samaria and spend lots of money there.
See the creativity and cultural relevance of Ariel by joining the ZOA at The Ariel Breakfast Club, a screening of three student films coming out of Ariel University Center being held at the Israel Film Festival on March 25 at the Beverly Hills Laemmle. Click here for more information. Read the Jewish Journal feature about it here.
March 9, 2012 | 1:15 pm
Posted by Orit Arfa
The ZOA welcomes University of California President Mark Yudof’s Open Letter to the University of California Community condemning recent acts of harassment of Jewish students that occurred on several UC campuses. In the letter, he denounces acts meant to disrupt the speech of of pro-Israel activists, including the recent disruption of speakers at the UC Davis campus event entitled “Israeli Soldiers Speak Out” as well as the defacement of the Israeli flag at the UC Riverside Hillel.
The letter is a result of continuous pressure placed upon UC leaders by Jewish activists, including the Director of ZOA’s Center for Law and Justice, Susan Tuchman, and Tammi Rossman-Benjamin of UC Santa Cruz and Dr. Leila Beckwith of UCLA, the founders of the AMCHA Initiative, a grassroots organization devoted to protecting Jewish students on campus and which led a letter writing campaign to President Yudof. These three dynamic activists are the headliners of ZOA Orange County Chapter’s event this Sunday, March 11, 3-5 pm, at the Radisson Newport Beach entitled “Combatting Anti-Semitism and Anti-Zionism on College Campuses.” The public is encouraged to attend.
While we commend President Yudof, we hope that this is just a start. In the ZOA’s letter to him dated March 9, Susan Tuchman and ZOA President Morton Klein have requested he take this one step further. Read more about the event on Sunday and access the entire letter by clicking here.
Here’s an excerpt from the ZOA’s letter to President Yudof:
• We are pleased to learn from your Open Letter that policies on student conduct have been revised to strengthen prohibitions on threatening conduct and acts motivated by bias. But these policies mean little if they are not vigorously enforced. When Jewish students report incidents of harassment and intimidation, university officials must respond promptly. They must take these reports seriously, investigate them thoroughly, ensure that if the evidence warrants it, appropriate discipline is imposed, and take other remedial steps to fix the problem.
• As OCR stated in its policy letter, disciplining the harassers is not sufficient. We ask that you also advise all of the UC Chancellors to follow your lead. When incidents of anti-Semitism occur on their respective campuses – including anti-Zionist and anti-Israel incidents that cross the line into anti-Semitism – the UC Chancellors should be advised that it is the policy of the University of California to clearly and publicly condemn these incidents as reprehensible, hateful and anti-Semitic, so that the university community will understand what is wrong and why it is wrong.
• That means ensuring that university officials have sufficient knowledge and training to recognize anti-Semitism when it occurs. They must understand and appreciate that while not all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic, some anti-Israel and anti-Zionist sentiment crosses the line into anti-Semitism. Fortunately, the U.S. government has given us standards to determine when anti-Zionist and anti-Israel sentiment crosses that line.
• We refer you to the U.S. State Department’s report on contemporary global anti-Semitism, issued in March 2008, which can be accessed at http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/102301.pdf. In summary, the State Department has recognized that regardless of the motive, anti-Zionist and anti-Israel sentiment crosses the line into anti-Semitism when it entails: (1) denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination; (2) applying double standards to Israel; (3) using symbols and images associated with classic anti-Semitism to characterize Israel or Israelis; (4) comparing contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis; or (5) holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the State of Israel. We ask that university officials be supplied with these standards, and that the University of California provide sufficient training to officials so that they can recognize when anti-Semitic incidents occur and respond appropriately.
• Students need the same information so that they will be sensitized to the many forms of anti-Semitism and understand when anti-Zionist and anti-Israel sentiment crosses the line into anti-Semitism. We ask that the University of California host class discussions for students regarding the meaning of anti-Semitism and how it affects Jewish students and the entire university community.
March 7, 2012 | 1:35 pm
Posted by Orit Arfa
Purim has always been one of my favorite holidays. The story of Purim is one of the most inspiring stories of the Hebrew Bible, not to mention the most exciting, filled with happening parties and a beauty contest. But most importantly, Megillat Esther, which I have studied in depth as part of my graduate studies in Bible, demonstrates the power of individuals to make difficult decisions to achieve a happy ending for Jews—and all humanity.
So today, as the modern day Haman—the leader of Iran—seeks to destroy, massacre and exterminate the Jewish people, we will prevail through our courageous action, guided by the belief, in the words of the Jewish savior Mordecai, “that relief and deliverance will come to the Jews from another quarter.” Let the Jews and Israel be that “quarter.”
The Zionist Organization of America, Western Region has a slew of exciting events coming up that stand up to would-be Jewish persecutors, including our panel presentation in Orange County this Sunday on anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism on college campuses; two talks with the ZOA’s very own Morton Klein on March 21 & 22; and a special screening of student films coming out of Ariel University Center in association with the prestigious Israel Film Festival. Find out more about what we’re up to by clicking here.
We hope to see you there, and check out my special Purim video message below, breaking down the character archetypes of the Book of Esther. Happy Purim!
March 5, 2012 | 8:51 pm
Posted by Orit Arfa
While many analysts focus on the veracity of President Obama’s claims of his pro-Israel record, I’d like to focus on his rhetorical style. A careful analysis of Obama’s speech at AIPAC will show that he is extremely ambiguous—perhaps purposefully so—enabling him to appease both opponents and fans alike. He often uses lofty words—like “dignity,” “democracy” and “freedom”—but essentially robs those words of any meaning, paving the way for policies steeped in moral relativism at best, tolerance of evil at worst.
He starts his trend of using words without meaning when he applauds the students present for “engaging deeply in our democratic debate.” A debate over what issues? And what makes a debate democratic—just the fact that two people can freely argue? We can interpret this to mean that pro-Israel students should take into account all sides of the so-called debate about Israel’s right to exist. It can be argued that anti-Israel rants by professors and students on campus are part of this “democratic debate.”
He upholds President of Israel Shimon Peres as a model of “empathy for our fellow human beings.” Unfortunately, empathy can also be reserved for Arabs who think they can kill women and children to express their upset about the existence of Israel. Commitment to life is a higher value than empathy. Alongside empathy, Obama touts a commitment to “human dignity” and “freedom.” Many Arabs and Islamists feel their human dignity is slighted by the existence of Israel. Furthermore, many Palestinians believe freedom means living under a terrorist dictatorship. He must specify what accounts for human dignity and freedom for those words to have real meaning in this context.
He claims that the shared interests of the US and Israel include: “security for our communities, prosperity for our people, and the new frontiers of science.” Who can argue with these values, but are they really the heart of our shared interests? What about our moral values: a commitment to individual rights and to prosperity earned through hard work (as opposed to handouts), and science that contributes to our quality of life (as opposed to the pseudo-science of global warming, for instance)?
He expresses his commitment to Israel’s security. But what about Israel’s success? He describes the close military and intelligence cooperation between Israel and the US as well the US provisions of advance technology to Israel so that Israel maintains a qualitative military edge. This does not preclude the possibility that the US provides less advanced technology to Israel’s hostile neighbors. We are not privy to the type of military cooperation that exists between the US and Israel, which may serve to reign Israel in. So while Israel can maintain a qualitative edge, it may not always maintain a quantitative edge. Obama praises his support of the Iron Dome System, a defensive machine that shoots down rockets. While this is a vital technology, what about the military tools and machines that would enable Israel to neutralize the Islamic terrorists before they can even strike?
And now for the most abused word of all: peace. He makes no apology for pursuing peace, but it seems that this peace involves negotiating with an Arab leadership that can’t stand Israel at its core and the moral values that Israel represents. Who doesn’t want peace? True peace? But peace can’t be negotiated with terrorists and history has shown that Israel’s peace overtures have been answered with violence. Peace can, however, be achieved through removing the threat of violence from Israel’s anti-Semitic neighbors through all means necessary. If Obama aspired towards true peace, he would have taken this opportunity to condemn the recent Fatah-Hamas alliance, which he has not done until now. He would also have insisted that the PA stop preaching Jew-hatred in its schools, media, and mosques; arrest terrorists who kill Jews; and stop idealizing terrorist killers by naming sports teams, arenas, public squares and streets after them. He would have withheld any more financial aid until it did so.
Obama’s commitment to ensuring Iran doesn’t get the nuclear bomb is praiseworthy, but he is not resolute on America’s intention to use force to stop Iran, if necessary, or his intentions to support Israel should Israel decide to attack Iran alone. He says that when it “comes to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, I will take no options off the table, and I mean what I say.” This is double-negative speak. All options may be on the table (although we can only deduce that they includes American and Israeli force), but that doesn’t mean he would use them. It could also be interpreted to mean that he would negotiate that Israel give up her nuclear arms in exchange for Iran stopping its program.
He further goes on with his empty rhetoric to say these are challenging times. How are they challenging? What are the specific challenges? What is the nature of US and Israel’s enemies? Does Obama even believe we have enemies? He uses the language of gray—leaving the public unable to understand his motives, intentions and moral principles.
He ends up sharing his personal bonds with the Jewish people, which include sharing books with President Shimon Peres, participating in Passover seders, and being inspired by the concept of tikkun olam. But we don’t know what books he shared with Peres; we don’t know what kind of freedom those seders celebrated (Jewish freedom or the kind of vague freedom he lauded above?); we don’t know how he interprets tikkun olam (perfection of the world), which to some Jews means a “social justice” that has Jews empathizing more with their enemies than with their own.
He concludes by saying that the US and Israel agree on the big things—the things that matter. But we still do not know what really matters to Obama, specifically.
Obama is mindful of the proverb “A man is judged by his deeds, not his words.” In this case, we certainly can’t judge him by his words—or can we?—because they are completely vacuous.
To learn more about the ZOA and our upcoming events in LA, go to www.zoawest.org. E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
March 1, 2012 | 3:21 pm
Posted by Orit Arfa
ZOA President Morton A. Klein has issued a release with the findings of a new poll that shows that a majority of the American public (58%) supports tough measures – including the possible use of military force – to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Only 30% say it is more important to avoid a military conflict with Iran, even if it means that country develops nuclear weapons. The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted during February 8-12, 2012, among 1,501 adults, also found that:
Nearly four-in-ten Americans (39%) say the U.S. should support Israel if it takes military action against Iran to prevent it becoming a nuclear power, as opposed to a mere 5% who believe that the U.S. should oppose military’s action;
64% of Americans think that tougher economic sanctions will not work in getting Iran to relinquishing up its nuclear program, as opposed to only 21% who think they will. (In October 2009, 58% of Americans did not believe that sanctions would stop Iran (Pew Research Center for the People & the Press poll, ‘Public Takes Strong Stance Against Iran’s Nuclear Program,’ February 15, 2012).
And….Mr. Klein is coming to town! Hear him speak on the prospects of peace with the Arabs on March 22, 2012 at The Hub on Venice (affiliated with Ohr HaTorah Congregation). To find out more, click here.