Shaarei Shamayim

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I have often spoken about Israel on the 2nd day of Rosh Hashanah. It’s because on the 1st day I try to focus on a personal message for the New Year for each of us, while on the 2nd day a message for the Jewish people. The surprising problem today is that more and more, people care less and less about Israel—even Jews!

A few months ago a group of 35 MIT and Harvard students, 20 non-Jews and 15 Jews were gathered together to talk about the Palestinian/Israeli conflict with public opinion guru Frank Luntz. Luntz describes how within 10 minutes, the non-Jews started with, “the war crimes of Israel,” with “the Jewish lobby,” with “the Jews have a lot more power and influence”—stuff that’s borderline anti-Jewish. They had nothing to say about Palestinian terror attacks that had killed over a 1000 Israeli citizens—men  women and children having pizza in a Sbarro restaurant, or  a seder in a hotel or just riding a bus in the street. All these students could talk about was Israeli aggression, Israeli oppression, Israeli imperialism. Is this what they’re learning at MIT and Harvard?

What did the Jewish students do while this attack on Israel raged on? Did the Jewish kids from the best schools in America stand up for themselves? Did they challenge these attacks? Not a word! Frank Luntz was so stunned that he couldn’t control himself. These Jewish students—the best and the brightest—didn’t open their mouths.

Luntz challenged the Jewish students: What’s wrong with you? Israel— with all its flaws—is still a far better example of American values such as freedom, democracy, tolerance, and human rights, than any of its enemies. Why didn’t they talk about the oppression of women and homosexuals in the Arab world? Why didn’t they remind Israel’s attackers in the debate that there is no religious freedom for Christians or Jews in any of those Arab countries they are defending so articulately? Why didn’t they remind them that a woman can’t drive a car in Saudi Arabia, a Jew or a Christian can’t be a citizen and no churches or synagogues are allowed in that country? Why didn’t they remind them that Israeli Arabs have more rights and freedoms than they would have in any of Israel’s neighboring countries? (Jerusalem Post 7/16/10, Commentary 7/18/10)

Some studies report that as high as 40% of the next generation of Jews have no special feeling for or connection to the land, the people or the Jewish state. But it’s not just the next generation. While it is true that religious Christians have become ever increasing supporters of Israel, Israel has less and less supporters every year—even within the Jewish community. There was a time when Jewish liberals—and most Jews are liberals—felt a special attachment to Israel. Israel began as a socialist country—the underdog facing 200 million Arabs sworn to destroy it—a daunting prospect after the Holocaust. But after years of the media falsely portraying Israel as the oppressor of the poor Palestinians, even Jews are beginning to think of Israel that way.

The current liberal bias towards Israel is nowhere more evident than in last week’s Time Magazine’s cover article: “Why Israel Doesn’t Care About Peace,” by Karl Vick. Israel doesn’t care about peace? Polls repeatedly show that Israelis strongly support a 2-state solution to the conflict, but Israelis have grown skeptical of any breakthroughs with the Palestinian leadership now divided between Fatah and Hamas. Israelis have seen that new peace talks are usually accompanied by new terror attacks. But this article glosses over any legitimate reasons why Israelis may have lost interest in the details of the peace process. Instead it presents Israelis as callous, insensitive, and decadently more concerned with Tel Aviv’s cafe culture than with matters of real substance. Then it adds: A watching world may still define their country by the blood feud with the Arabs whose families used to live on this land and whether that conflict can be negotiated away, but Israelis say they have moved on.

The reference to the “blood feud with the Arabs whose families used to live on this land” is particularly telling. Time Magazine appears to subtly reject Israel’s historic claims to the land and to imply that Israelis are at fault in the conflict, since the land really belongs to the Arabs. Thus, Time distorts Israel’s resilience in the face of a decade of rocket attacks and terrorism into an image of decadence.

Israel’s recent economic success story should be celebrated for her tenacity and courage in the face of the stress of living in a constant state of war. But rather than taking pride in this accomplishment, the liberal media seeks to make Israel look bad, uncaring, unsympathetic, uninterested in peace—when nothing could be further from the truth.

Even worse, Daniel Gordis—a conservative rabbi, and prolific writer, living in Israel writes: But what about the rest of the answer that Time offers? Why are Israelis not more interested in the peace process? Money! Yes, you read that correctly. The Jews are more interested in money than in peace. In 4 pages of text, the Israeli (Jewish) pre-occupation with real estate, startups, and high rises on the Ashkelon beaches is repeated again and again and again, like the refrain of a bad country song.

The Israeli economy is, indeed, doing well. And we Israelis have, indeed, built a good life for ourselves now that we’ve figured out how to squelch Palestinian terrorism, for the most part. And most us of would gladly sign a deal, if we could only be convinced that the West Bank won’t turn into Gaza and that a treaty would genuinely end the conflict. But by and large, we’re not convinced. The implication that Israelis are not overwhelmingly concerned about the peace process because we’re more interested in money is well…so stereotypical that it’s hard to believe that Time actually went that far. But that’s the world we live in. The line between Israel-bashing and Jew-baiting is so thin as to be nonexistent.

...The worst, though, is still the cover. Across bookstores and airports this week, Time’s cover will scream to those who do not read the story that it’s Israel and Israelis, who simply don’t care about peace. It’s a setup, of course. Because these talks are likely to stall, and then to fail. And Time has already predicted whose fault that will be.

Israelis have learned to embrace life and live it to the fullest, all the while knowing that any time, a friend or loved one could die defending their homeland or from a terrorist attack. When Israelis seem to go on with their lives in the face of existential threats, it’s not that they’re uncaring, but rather, that they have had to learn how to live life in spite of their circumstances. 

Nearly every Israeli has a child, sibling, boyfriend or parent in the army. Nearly every Israeli has been to the funeral of a fallen soldier, or a friend killed in a terrorist attack. Most Israeli homes and businesses come equipped with safe rooms or bomb shelters; every Israeli owns a gas mask. The whole country exists under the encroaching shadows of Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza, and the prospect of a nuclear Iran. How could anyone even imagine that Israelis don’t care about peace?

Perhaps the real reason it seems that some Israelis may have become apathetic to the peace process is because of the disgust of Israelis about how the world quickly forgets Israel’s numerous peace moves: Ehud Barak’s offer of a state and 97% of what the Palestinians wanted at Camp David, Ariel Sharon’s withdrawal from Gaza, Bibi Netanyahu’s settlement freeze. While they conveniently forget that there have been no parallel moves from the Palestinians—none!

The anti-Israeli bias Time Magazine’s cover story represents reminds me of an old joke:

A guy in Paris sees a pit bull attacking a toddler. So, he kills the pit bull and saves the child's life. Reporters swarm the man. “Tell us! What’s your name. All Paris will love you! Tomorrow's headline will be: ‘Parisian Hero Saves Girl from Vicious Dog!’”

The guy says, “I’m not from Paris.”

The reporters say: “That’s OK. Then the whole of France will love you and tomorrow’s headline will read: ‘French Hero Saves Girl from Vicious Dog!’”

The guy says, “I’m not from France, either.” The reporters answer: “That’s OK too. All Europe will love you. Tomorrow’s headlines will shout: ‘European Hero Saves Girl from Vicious Dog!’”

The guy says, “I’m not from Europe, either”.

Finally the reporters ask: “So, where are you from?”

The guy says, “I’m from Israel.”

“Oh, OK.”

Tomorrow’s headlines then proclaimed to the world: “Vicious Israeli Kills Girl’s Dog!”

I’m think Thomas Friedman is a clear thinker who has a blind spot when it comes to Israel. But this summer he wrote a piece that is spot on, where he says: There is something foul in the air. It is a trend, both deliberate and inadvertent, to delegitimize Israel—to turn it into a pariah state, particularly in the wake of the Gaza war. You hear the director Oliver Stone saying crazy things about how Hitler killed more Russians than Jews, but the Jews got all the attention because they dominate the news media and their lobby controls Washington. You hear Britain’s prime minister describing Gaza as a big Israeli “prison camp” and Turkey’s prime minister telling Israel’s president, “When it comes to killing, you know very well how to kill.” You see singers canceling concerts in Tel Aviv. If you just landed from Mars, you might think that Israel is the only country that has killed civilians in war—never Hamas, never Hezbollah, never Turkey, never Iran, never Syria, never America.

To paraphrase Charles Dickens’ opening line in his classic, A Tale of Two Cities, for Israel today, it is the worst of times, and it is the best of times. With the persistent rise of Islamism all over the world, with Europe’s Islamic populations increasing at a staggering rate with some countries now approaching 25%, with Iran threatening to wipe Israel off the map with its nuclear program, Israel is becoming more and more isolated and unfairly besieged as its very existence is being challenged. It’s ironic, though, that while this is happening, Israel is prospering like never before.

This summer Cheryl and I went to Israel. It was my 13th trip. Every other time I saw how people struggled so just to get by financially. Not this time! While I’m sure many are struggling, so many are not. The amount of building everywhere is staggering. In the Galilee, which was mostly populated by Arabs, there is a phenomenal buildup of infrastructure, with several new highways crisscrossing Israel and new housing everywhere, encouraging thousands of Israeli families to move to the Galilee. The expensive restaurants and resorts visited almost exclusively in the past by tourists are now filled with Israelis! What’s going on? The combination of the high-tech boom and sound fiscal policy has spared Israel from the awful economy the rest of the world is currently suffering from.

Israel now grows food in sand, powers homes from the sun and this year it will launch the world’s finest electric car system. How has war-torn Israel become such an eco-pioneer? Ironically it’s precisely because of its precarious position that such eco-inventions have flourished. Surrounded by hostile neighbors, with few natural resources of its own and 2/3 of its area inhospitable desert, Israel has had to use its wits to survive. As a result, Israel—especial the army—invests so much in research. Where else do you have men and women operating the most sophisticated computers in the world at such a young age? This ingenuity and training mixed with a need to solve Israel’s problems is its formula for growth.

When Warren Buffett, the world’s wealthiest man, decided to make his 1st investment outside the United States, he chose Israel: “Some Americans have come to the Middle East looking for oil so they didn’t stop in Israel,” he said. “We came to the Middle East looking for brains and we stopped in Israel.” There are more than 1000 clean-technology start-up companies in Israel, a country that has attracted more foreign investment in high-tech businesses in the past decade than all of Europe. It has more companies on the NASDAQ Stock Exchange in NY than any other country in the world outside of America. Between 1980 and 2000, Egyptians registered 77 patents in America, Saudis 171 while Israelis registered 7,652. And so Israel’s economic growth rate has accelerated to an amazing 5% a year. Gallup’s Global Wellbeing study ranks Israel #8 of all countries for life satisfaction.

More encouraging news that was missed by the media (that I mentioned upon my return) was the discovery of a gigantic deposit of natural gas called the “Leviathan,” in Israel’s territorial waters. This discovery may provide Israel with the security of its own energy supply and even turn it into a natural gas exporter.

Wow! What are we to make of all this? Just when Israel is being challenged more and more by the media, the rise of Islamism and Iran’s nuclear threats, it is prospering as never before and it blesses the world with innovation after innovation: from the invention of cell phones and computer chips to solar and drip technology that can fuel and feed the world’s most challenging environments.   

65 years after the Holocaust, Israel is blessed, and with this blessing she is becoming a blessing to the world. Gd promised Abraham and his descendants almost 4000 years ago: “Those that bless you I will bless and those that curse you I will curse.” It’s interesting that after the Obama administration demanded that Jews freeze their construction in Jerusalem, Washington had its most freezing, snowy winter. Did you notice that with all the increasing anti-Israel criticism coming from Europe, it was covered with ash from Iceland’s volcano on Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Memorial Day? And in that week as Britain ruled against an Israeli tourism ad, saying that the Western Wall is not part of Israel, Britain because of the ash cloud, had no tourism! “Those that bless you I will bless and those that curse you I will curse.”   

Tomorrow is 9/11, the 9th anniversary of the horrific attacks on America by Islamic extremists. America is fighting back in Iraq and Afghanistan and with covert attacks on Al Qaida cells worldwide. But what the world must realize is that the whole country of Israel is also the front line in this struggle as it tries its best to repel the terror of Hamas and Hezbollah. Right now it’s doing a decent job of it. The world should celebrate that instead of heaping its criticism upon her with everything she does to defend herself. Remember, “Whoever blesses you I will bless and whoever curses you I will curse.”    

This is the year is 5771, or in Hebrew: תשע"א. It has been suggested that this is an acronym for ם תְּהֵא שְׁנַת עֵזֶר אֱלֹקִי or, “May it be a year of help from Gd!” Israel’s problems seem so intractable—that there’s no discernable solution. But, as I said yesterday, Gd can make a way even when it seems that there is no way. So we ask you Gd today on Rosh Hashanah, ם תְּהֵא שְׁנַת עֵזֶר אֱלֹקִי, make this year a year of help from You to bring peace to your beleaguered Israel as it becomes more and more a blessing to the world. Amen!

                                                Rabbi Mark Hillel Kunis

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