Tag Archive: Israel


You don’t want to be in these wars. This is not your grandfather’s battlefield. When the enemy is nested in homes and apartments and no one wears a uniform but everyone has a cellphone camera, you have a real strategic and moral challenge — as the U.S. has discovered with its own drone wars. It’s hard to defeat this enemy without killing a lot of civilians. It’s no accident that every Israeli brigade now has a legal adviser.

Thomas L. Friedman, “A Wonderful Country”, The New York Times (2 February 2014), SR11.

Brand Israel has attempted to re-image Israel based upon its accomplishments. Technology. The Start-Up Nation. Wine. Women. Gays. Medical research. Its strategy has been to side-step the conflict. But the conflict appears on the front pages and in the news multiple times a week. It is what people care about. The conflict makes them fear for the safety of the world and their own lives. That left the door wide open for BDS to seize upon the conflict and spin it their own way.

Gary Wexler, “Where Can I Sign Up for a BDS Marketing Course?”, The Jewish Journal (7 – 13 February 2014), 10.

Predicting next year’s Middle East is impossible. So we better not try. The last three-four years in this region were anything but predictable, and the coming years might be just as temperamental (or maybe not – but this would also qualify as a major unpredictable surprise). Using the word “unstable” is a safe bet for all writers of predictions, but it doesn’t really say much, does it? Unstable means that we only know that we don’t know what’s coming.

Shmuel Rosner, “Hindsight”, The Jewish Journal (31 January – 6 February 2014), 14.

Little Zionist activity graced Reform congregations of the 1920s and 1930s, as classical Reform was generally anti-Zionist or non-Zionist, opposed vigorously to the idea of a Jewish state in Palestine or indifferent (“neutral,” many rabbis called this position, insisting that Reform Jews should not speak or teach about Zionism or anti-Zionism) to this fundamental idea. For them, as Rabbi Lazaron put it, “America is our home, and we do not [support] a philosophy or program which will jeopardize our position here.” Anti-Zionist rabbis (of varying degrees) were everywhere, including Samuel Goldenson and Jonah Wise in New York City, Lazaron and William Rosenau in Baltimore, Louis Wolsey and William Fineshriber in Philadelphia, Abram Simon and Norman Gerstenfeld in Washington, D.C., Calisch in Richmond, Leo Franklin in Detroit, Sidney Lefkowitz in Dallas, Harry Ettelson in Memphis, Louis Mann in Chicago, Solomon Foster in Newark, Ephraim Frisch in San Antonio, Morris New-field in Birmingham, Samuel Koch in Seattle, and the president of the Reform seminary, Julian Morgenstern. None went as far as Houston’s Beth Israel in 1943-1944, where a full-scale attack on Zionism was launched (“Basic Principles,” adopted in November 1943) and congregants agreed that a loyalty oath to America was required for membership. Beth Israel was but a bump in the road toward an acceptance of Palestine and Israel; what Zionist Reform rabbis of this period called the great folk movement of the Palestinian Jews was slowly entering the fabric of some of the congregations. Conservative synagogues virtually everywhere identified strongly with Zion, whereas Reform synagogues looked askance at this enthusiasm. This made it much harder, until Reform temple leaders changed their attitudes in the 1940s, for Reform congregations to attract the children and grandchildren of those east European immigrants who were moving away from orthodoxy In 1930, only half the members of Reform synagogues had family origins in eastern Europe.

A significant minority of Reform rabbis vigorously supported Zionism throughout this period, not just the rabbis with national Zionist credentials, such as Barnett Buckner, Max Heller, Abba Hillel Silver, and Stephen S. Wise, but the rank and file everywhere. Support for the Balfour Declaration and the Mandate given to Britain by the League of Nations, horror at the civil strife in Palestine, Palestine as a hope for German Jewry, and the World Zionist Organization biennial congresses and the British commissions in Palestine and American Zionist activity during World War II were regular sermon topics across the land in many Reform congregations. And another sizeable group of rabbis, while not activists in their commitment to Zionism, introduced a wide variety of programs about Palestine into the synagogue. These included art, dance, drama, literature, music, and philanthropy, and, though an emphasis on the Hebrew language in worship might have been missing, activities of all sorts revolving around Palestine filled the synagogue bulletins.

Marc Lee Raphael, The Synagogue in America: A Short History (New York & London: New York University Press, 2011), 107-109.

How then should…

How then should Israel look to the future? This is a difficult proposition for a country whose leaders are notorious for their short-term perspectives on policy. Nevertheless, it is a question that Israelis and their American supporters must face. Geography is relatively unchanging, and Israel will always find itself caught between rival great powers, whether those proximate to it, like Egypt or, more likely, those further afield, like Turkey or Iran, or those even more remote, but with expanding military reach, like China and India.

Dov S. Zakheim, “The Geopolitics of Scripture,” The American Interest (July/August 2012), 16.

For the American, a rule’s a rule; for an Israeli, it’s a guideline. If something else happens to work better than the original plan, why stick to it?
In negotiations, Americans have a win-win mentality. Israelis just have “win.”
“This comes from Israelis’ attitude towards boundaries,” Kedem says. “Beginning with the fact Israel still doesn’t have an agreement about its borders. We’re constantly pushing against physical and mental boundaries. … We know we’ve crossed a boundary only when we’re pushed back. If there is no pushback, we understand we haven’t reached the boundary yet. That’s just how Israelis are brought up.”

Orli Santo, “Selling Each Other Short?”, The Jewish Week (2 August 2013), 11.

The Jewish comm…

The Jewish community will only be considered a serious partner in campus discussions about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict once we demonstrate our commitment to making the necessary sacrifices for peace. If we can back up our rhetoric with serious action and sustained political engagement to achieve a two-state solution, hopefully we will empower pragmatic moderates on the other side to do the same.

Shayna Howitt and Zoe Lewin, “Frustration, but with Hope,” The Jewish Journal (31 May – 6 June 2013), 26.

There are seven days between Yom HaShoah and Yom Ha’Atzmaut. It is as if the entire country sits shiva, mourning the tragedy of the Holocaust, then rises to be comforted by the existence of the State of Israel. While the pairing of the Holocaust and Israeli independence has its historical problems, for me it remains a powerful narrative, one that has imprinted itself in my own family history.

Rabbi Mishael Zion, “Israel at 65: Celebrating is Not Enough”, The Jewish Week (12 April 2013), 23.

Geography has not changed much in the Middle East over the past several thousand years. Modern Israel remains at the crossroads of the Middle East and in the crosshairs of potential regional and extra-regional great power rivalries. Egypt is certain once again to emerge as a strong regional force; so too, for that matter, will powerful states to the north, be they Iraq or its successor state, Iran/Persia, or Turkey. The dilemma of whom to choose as an ally, if anyone, and how to resist predations by external powers will never be far from the thoughts of future Israeli policymakers, just as they were for those of the rulers of the ancient Jewish kingdoms.

Dov S. Zakheim, “The Geopolitics of Scripture,” The American Interest (July/August 2012), 12.

The original post-1948 Israeli policy of relying on an “outer circle” of friendships—Iran, Turkey, Ethiopia—to counter the hostility of neighboring Arab states proved modestly useful for a time. It came apart when Israel signed a peace treaty with Egypt in March 1979, which seemed to reduce the need for a peripheral strategy. It came completely apart when Iran was taken over by the mullahs that same year. Israel’s strained relationship with Turkey after a kind of golden age of cooperation lasting no more than two decades, and the general regional unrest of the past two years, have forced Israel to look further afield for support, to India and China, for example. But it has no real alliances other than with the United States. Should America indeed pull back from the Middle East, even if it were to continue to arm Israel, the Jewish state would in effect have become a kind of super Sweden—a de facto non-aligned regional superpower, much as was the kingdom of David and Solomon in its day.

Dov S. Zakheim, “The Geopolitics of Scripture,” The American Interest (July/August 2012), 11.