Tuesday, November 17, 2015
'First, Do No Harm...'
The title of this post, often seen in the original Latin - Primum non nocere - is one of the core tenets of bioethics taught to medical students.
But what few of us realize is that this maxim is also the cornerstone of modern, western society.
Modern society, as we know it, has evolved to allow as much individual freedom and development as possible, by establishing and enforcing laws, rules, social norms and taboos that prohibit (or at least discourage), anyone's freedom from infringing upon (i.e. harming), the freedom of anyone else.
On the most basic level, that means that the only limits to your right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness should be that that pursuit not deprive anyone else of the same.
So, in theory, anyone arriving in a strange modern country with no knowledge of the local rules, should be able to avoid running afoul of the law if they simply examine their own actions to ensure they do not physically or financially injure / deprive anyone else. Everything else should be a matter of local custom.
This model has served us well for hundreds of years here in the west. And any time individuals within modern society have suffered, you can pretty much guaranty that one of two things has been allowed to happen:
1. The government has become so strong that it can act with impunity contrary to accepted modern societal norms of behavior, leading to dictatorships & totalitarian regimes.
2. The government has become so weak (or non-existent) that accepted modern societal norms of behavior can no longer be enforced, leading to a complete breakdown of order (think 'Lord of the Flies').
Why should that be? Why should the relative strength or weakness of the government be the deciding factor? The answer is simple: The basic rules that have created and nurtured modern society are man-made rules, not natural rules.
Human beings don't instinctively protect and respect others. These societal rules are actually quite contrary to human nature... and to nature in general. And they require both a leadership and social structure capable of enforcing them, and a populace forced (by law and/or cultural pressure) to adhere to them, for the system to function.
Lacking one or both, we find ourselves back in the forests living or dying according to narrow, unforgiving rules that can be observed at your leisure on The Nature Channel.
The events we are seeing on the news these days are the result of both of the extremes mentioned above.
We have an entire region whose governments are either so strong as to be able to act with impunity towards its populace and neighbors, or so weak (or non-existent) that the populace is allowed to revert to the cruel laws of nature. In both cases, 'do no harm' is nowhere to be found.
Whenever a western country has devolved into one or the other of the extremes mentioned above, either the populace or its neighbors have been able to draw on the collective cultural memory of the basic rule to 'do no harm', and rediscover (or re-impose) social balance.
But this region, with its two default extremes - too much or too little ruling power - is like a run-away train with no brakes. There is no collective cultural memory of modern societal rules to slow it down or reform it. The norms of behavior in this part of the world are (and always have been) more akin to the laws of nature.
Where the governments are strong, the animals are kept caged. Where they are weak, they wander free. In both cases, the animal's instincts and behavior remain un-blunted; guided by natural, rather than artificial rules. The concept of 'do no harm', does not appear among their rules.
Sadly, we in the west have not yet realized that the laws of nature and the laws of civilized society do not coexist comfortably. Anyone who has encountered a predator in the forest understands this.
We think that just because we live in clean, well lit, modern societies full of rules and protective customs, that we are safe from the animals of the forest. Yet we fail to see that the cages of the zoos are swinging open, and the predators of the forests are on the move, seeking easier hunting grounds.
Because for a predator, the easiest prey is the one whose central creed is 'first, do no harm'.
Monday, November 16, 2015
Well, that didn't take long!
I figured it would take at least a week for world governments to start suggesting that the Paris terror attack was caused by the frustration of the Muslim world over the plight of the poor Palestinians.
It took less than two days!
Swedish Foreign Minister, Margot Wallström, came out with the following doozy while offering her country's take on the Paris attacks:
“To counteract the radicalization we must go back to the situation such as the one in the Middle East of which not the least the Palestinians see that there is no future: we must either accept a desperate situation or resort to violence...”
Right. I want to hear what she has to say after the first big Islamo-terror attack on Swedish soil.
Just look at France.
Even though France has habitually scolded Israel to show restraint in the face of terror and to refrain from feeding the 'cycle of violence' in the wake of attacks here, within hours of the attacks in Paris, French fighter jets were pounding ISIS targets in Syria and the French President was screaming about how "France will be merciless in her response to barbarians".
And Sweden is almost as awash in restive Muslims as France.
I imagine that when the inevitable bloodbath begins in Stockholm, the Swedes will be equally incapable of taking their own advice.
Buh-bye, Europe. 'Been nice knowin' ya.
Sunday, November 15, 2015
Dying Not To Offend
I wish I could blame today's post on the savage multi-pronged terror attack that took place in Paris over the weekend. However, given that literally not a single day has gone by in decades without an atrocity or three (what we in the west delicately call war crimes), being committed by Muslims, in the name of Islam, somewhere in the world... this one is long overdue.
I'll begin by asking the reader to perform a simple exercise. Do a web search for any / all of the following:
- Brit Milah
- Jewish Ritual circumcision
- Kosher slaughter
- Gender separation Judaism
- Women's role in Judaism
- Women Western Wall
- Egalitarian Judaism
Any such google search will turn up literally thousands of news and opinion pieces that have appeared in mainstream western media over the past decade; dissecting and critiquing orthodox Judaism's tenets and practices at an incredibly granular level.
Granted, many of these pieces were written by members, or at least proponents, of denominations of Judaism other than orthodoxy. And some are certainly penned by groups within one or the other extreme of Judaism's orthodox branch, who are advocating for either greater flexibility or greater stringency in the application and interpretation of Halachah (Jewish law).
But the very fact that this sea of text dealing with what needs to be changed (or preserved) within Orthodox Jewish observance flows freely into the mainstream media, and does not appear exclusively in, say, insular journals within the Jewish community, suggests that a significant number of non-Jews feel they should be knowledgeable about, and have a stake, if not a say, in the inner workings of the Jewish world.
So why is it that the western mainstream media is nearly empty of any meaningful journalistic scrutiny of mainstream orthodox Islam, Islamic practices and Islamic law?
Considering that less than 0.2% of the world's population is Jewish, and almost 25% of the world's population is Muslim, I find our willful ignorance and lack of interest in what their faith demands in terms of belief and practice, to be nothing short of astounding.
Oddly, whenever a Muslim individual or group is involved in an act of terror (executions, kidnappings, rapes, slavery, honor killings, etc.), or vandalism (destruction of non-Muslim historical sites, shrines, holy places and/or houses of worship), there seems to be a formulaic, knee-jerk rush by the western media (and its consumers), to quickly dismiss such brutality and violence as the act of extremists who are not behaving according to normative Islamic law, and who do not represent 'mainstream Islam'.
Which begs the question: Do any of us even know what that last expression even means?
I think that most of us instinctively want the term 'mainstream Islam' to refer to the religion as practiced by quiet, unobtrusive Muslims like the ones living in suburban Indonesia, whose values somewhat resemble our own, and who may even enjoy a quiet beer in the privacy of their own homes in the evening.
In short, it seems that when we say 'mainstream Islam', we are expressing a secret hope that the 'real' Islam is an easy-going, Islam-lite, somewhat analogous to reform Judaism as practiced in the US. In other words, something culturally evocative of its ancient heritage, but flexible enough to yield when it finds itself in conflict with modern mores.
Sadly, that sort of wishful thinking has landed us where we find ourselves today; at war with a culture about which we have very little reliable knowledge. And what we do think we know and understand is full of contradictions and hypocrisy.
If we are willing to accept that women can't vote, drive, swim, travel un-chaperoned or dress as they wish in Saudi Arabia, we have no right to consider the stoning of women for having been raped in Yemen to be an aberration. Both demote women to sub-human status.
If we are willing to turn a blind eye to lashings, disfigurement and beheadings carried out by Islamic governments we call 'allies', how can we condemn the same practices by non-governmental groups carrying out the same punishments in the name of Islam?
If Iran hangs homosexuals from building cranes, how is that any different from how ISIS or Al Queda metes out punishment to gays? And if last month our leaders and diplomats could sit comfortably in plush Swiss conference rooms negotiating with the one, why are we now vowing to stamp out the other for acting the same way?
Our aversion to examining Islamic law and practices goes far beyond political correctness. Deep down we know that with such knowledge would come an imperative to act.
And we are loathe to admit to ourselves that by desperately trying not to offend what we consider to be the violent, extreme practitioners of Islam, we are actually avoiding such scrutiny because it might require us to admit that perhaps the beast we are seeing on the bloody streets of Paris, London, New York, Jerusalem and Madrid might just be representative of the normative practices of this aggressive, anti-social and inhuman religion.
And what would we do then?
Hard to explain...
The presidential candidates in the Democratic Party -- supposedly the champions of diversity -- are all white.
The Republican candidates, on the other hand, include an African American, two Latinos, a woman, a man of Indian descent, and a man with profound mental disabilities.
Hat tip to my old friend Albert Fuchs
Wednesday, November 11, 2015
Somebody Stole My Snark!
Okay, it isn't like I discovered cold fusion and someone stole the formula.
Even though the video below sorta parallels my post from a couple of weeks ago, it's pretty obvious, as snark goes.
No harm, no foul:
Wednesday, October 28, 2015
Still Fresh After All These Years
Every four years, at the beginning of the 'silly season', I try to take time to listen to a political speech given in 1964 by a man who had not yet entered politics (this speech launched his career), on behalf of a candidate who had exactly zero chance of winning that year's presidential election.
Normally, when viewed through the lens of our modern sophistication, decades-old political speeches seem anachronistic, dated and even naive But this speech - with remarkably few changes - could be given today and be even more relevant than it was at the time.
No matter which party or candidate you prefer, there is wisdom embedded in this half-century-old speech; wisdom that transcends party lines and labels.
Once every four years Americans get a chance to make demands of the political candidates who are shamelessly vying for their votes. If you are unsure of what you should be demanding of your preferred candidate, Mr. Reagan has a few suggestions for you.
Don't thank me... I'm a giver.
Thursday, October 22, 2015
A Respectful Rebuke
This morning I read, with deep sadness, an op-ed written by Rabbi Benjamin Blech; a wise Rabbi and teacher for whom I have tremendous respect.
I speak from personal experience when I call Rabbi Blech 'wise', as he happens to be a former Rebbe of mine (I studied Talmud with him at Yeshiva University). I can only hope that what follows is seen by him to be as respectful a rebuke as it is intended.
The op-ed in questions is entitled, "The insanity of treating terrorists". In it, Rabbi Belch posits that terrorists, by their conduct, are not entitled to protection under the third Geneva convention, which codifies how prisoners of war are required to be treated after capture.
From this jumping off points, Rabbi Blech states that we [Israelis] are insane for providing medical treatment and hospitalization to wounded terrorists; routinely giving priority to the terrorists over their victims if the terrorist is more seriously wounded.
First of all, I once personally heard Rabbi Blech state that one of the things that separates us from the animals is our ability to appreciate that the world, and all that is in it, was created by G-d.
When an animal is hungry and it sees food or water, it eats and drinks without hesitation.
And when finished, the animal's full belly makes even the idea of taking time to be thankful preposterous.
Animals are the sum of their emotions and needs and can't comprehend a larger system from which their emotional and physical needs might be satisfied or denied.
We, on the other hand pause before taking our first bite or sip - no matter how hungry or thirsty we may be - to recite blessings thanking our Creator for being the ultimate source of all physical and spiritual sustenance.
And when we finish with our snack or meal - no matter how sated and lazy we may feel - we again take time to offer thanks for all the good things with which we have been blessed.
That ability to consciously elevate ourselves above the animals, he said, is the very point of being a Jew.
Yet, in his op-ed, Rabbi Blech seems to be suggesting that in the case of our dealings with terrorists, we lower ourselves to their level. Since they seem to have no moral or ethical code guiding their actions, neither should we.
He correctly suggests that a Jew would never receive humane treatment in Gaza after being wounded carrying out an attack there. Heck, I'll go one better: Even without carrying out an attack, a Jew in Gaza doing nothing but walking around admiring the scenery would be in mortal peril from most of the residents he/she encountered there.
But by the same token I wouldn't expect humane treatment from an animal. if an ox happens to gore me while I'm out walking, that doesn't give me the right to be cruel to it. Jewish law forbids cruelty to animals. I am allowed to kill the ox (humanely) or leave it alive, as I choose. But the animal's actions - specifically once it no longer poses a threat to me - do not set aside my obligations under Jewish law as to how I may and may not treat it.
How much more so when the 'animal' in questions is a human being; created in the very image of the One who created this framework of rules and obligations within which I live?
I'm not saying we need to patch up the terrorists and set them free. And I disagree with anyone who would suggest continuing such an insane 'catch and release' program with those who have vowed to kill us. Although, that strays into a political, rather than a religious discussion... something I've decided not to indulge myself today.
But my central problem with Rabbi Blech's article goes far beyond his assertion that we should not treat wounded terrorists (or at very least, that we should only treat them at our convenience, after all the terrorist's victims have been treated; no matter how lightly).
No, my real disappointment is with his final paragraph where he summarizes his thesis as follows:
"Indeed, it is a nice thing for us to fulfill our mission as Jews and to be a light unto the nations. But in order to do so we need to survive. For that, we dare not say "we will be righteous even if it kills us" – for it might do just that."
With all due respect, Rabbi Blech, nothing about our mission as Jews is a 'nice thing' (i.e. something that should be done if possible, but not obligatory). As Jews, every aspect of our behavior during every waking moment of our lives is divided between 'permissible' and 'forbidden'.
What you are suggesting may not specifically fall into the 'forbidden' category under Jewish law (I'll bow to your superior knowledge of such things). But it certainly would succeed in lowering us to the level of the 'animals' who don't know any better.
And if we are willing to do that... what is the point of being a Jew?
Thursday, October 15, 2015
Another Public Service Announcement
I know! Two in one day!!! The generosity is flowing strong today from the treppenwitz editorial offices...
It has come to my attention that a Palestinian family has misplaced their 13 year old son, Ahmed Mansara. He apparently went missing the other day after engaging in some innocent fun in Pisgat Zeev with his 15 year old cousin, which resulted in two Israelis civilians being critically injured (boys will be boys!).
Sadly, the 15 year old cousin's whereabouts are known (the morgue), since he was shot and killed by Israeli security forces as he charged at them while brandishing a knife. [see my previous post to find out why this might not be a good game for innocent people to play]
Needless to say, Ahmed's parents have been beside themselves with worry, what with not knowing where their lost boy is. And to add to their pain, Palestinian Authority President Mahmood Abbas announced to the press that their son had been 'executed' by the Israelis; a statement I'm sure he didn't realize might inflame the Palestinian public.
Well, I'm pleased to be able to bring this little misunderstanding to a happy conclusion with the announcement that Ahmed Mansara has been located, alive and well at Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem (where he's been all along!).
The boy is in light to moderate condition after being hit by a car while fleeing the good-natured game of'butcher knife-tag he had just finished playing with an Israeli 13 year old. Unlike the Israeli boy he knifed (who was in critical condition), Ahmed is doing quite well thanks to the Israeli doctors and nurses who treated him compliments of the Israeli taxpayers. Here he is after enjoying a good meal:
I'm sure President Abbas will now apologize for the anguish he inadvertently caused the fraught parents, and that the little scamp will stay closer to home in the future.
A Primer on Avoiding Mis-Identification
I read with deep concern this morning that many Palestinians are "scared of being mistaken for a terrorist".
This fear is mentioned in a New York Times article entitled 'Jerusalem Grows More Grim And Polarized With Clampdown', which anyone accidentally reading the body of the article might discover is actually not about unilateral Israeli oppression of the poor Palestinians, but rather about a direct Israeli reaction to the scores of murderous attacks that have taken place every day for the past couple of weeks.
But I digress.
The fear described in the article; specifically that the Palestinian population is frightened that they may be mistaken for terrorists, and as a result be targeted by Israeli security forces, can't be easily be dismissed.
Let's leave aside the inconvenient fact that in armed conflicts, international law requires that combatants wear uniforms and insignia and civilians not be targeted in attacks. I say leave it aside because it is the terrorists who are ignoring international law and sowing all this potential confusion, not the entire population... so the larger Palestinian community should not be collectively punished (or exposed to additional danger), just because of a few bad actors.
Therefore, as a public service I would like to lay out three simple rules which, if followed, should protect any innocent civilian from attack by Israel's security forces (or legally armed civilians):
Rule # 1. Do not attack anyone.
Rule # 2. Do not hold or brandish a weapon (gun, knife, machete, etc), in a public place unless you are licensed/authorized to do so.
Rule # 3. Do not scream 'Allahu Akbar' in public while doing the things mentioned in Rules # 1 & 2.
I get that sometimes misunderstandings can happen. Family feuds, honor killings, settling of scores between criminals, all might appear to a soldier or policeman to be a terror attack. After all, not everyone is sensitive to the nuances of daily life in the Arab world or the cultural penchant for exuberant physical and religious expression therein.
Therefore, I would suggest that, for the time being anyway, any public gun/knife-play and shouted declarations of religious faith, be confined to areas not frequented by Israelis, tourists or the security forces tasked with protecting them.
This has been a Public Service Bulletin provided by the editorial staff of this site. Don't thank us... we're givers.
Tuesday, October 13, 2015
A Proposal For Reaping Good From Evil
One of the more troubling aspects regarding the enemies that Israel faces is that they seem to have no respect for human life, much less for the human body after life has departed.
Even as they scream to the international community about Israel's alleged violations of the Geneva Conventions and international law, our enemies routinely try to use the remains of fallen Israeli soldiers and civilians as ghoulish bargaining chips in contravention of every existing legal and ethical norm.
Naturally, nobody outside of Israel seems to care that refusing to repatriate an enemy's remains is contrary to recognized and accepted international agreements. If they did, the E.U., U.S., U.N. and International Red Cross would all be threatening to withhold any aid to Gaza until the remains of Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul are returned to their families for burial.
Needless to say, at this juncture it is clear that we aren't going to be able to close down the despicable Arab 'shuk' in human bodies /body parts that our enemies have established. So perhaps the time has come to find a morally and ethically acceptable way to play by rules that, if not identical, are at least parallel to those of our enemies.
I suggest the following:
Until such time as our enemies begin adhering to the internationally accepted rules of war, any time an enemy combatant (terrorist, militant, soldier, shahid... whatever term you prefer), is killed and falls into Israeli hands, the body should be immediately rushed to the nearest teaching hospital where organs and tissue (corneas, skin, etc.), that remain viable can be harvested and used to save lives and treat injuries of Israeli citizens, regardless of religion or ethnicity.
Once that has been accomplished,the body should be handed over to medical students and trauma surgeons to be dissected and studied in order to gain a better understanding of how to treat trauma (gunshot wounds, blast damage, etc.).
Once the studies have been completed. The body should be respectfully buried at sea so as to ensure that no possibility of repatriation can be coerced, and so that its final resting place does not become a place of pilgrimage.
Human cadavers for medical use are hard enough for medical schools to come by. Having the opportunity to study a cadaver with the kinds of injuries that both terrorists and terror victims routinely suffer is nearly unheard of.
I have heard the arguments for and against punishing the families of terrorists by demolishing their homes, or even holding them legally, criminally and financially responsible for the actions of their relatives who deliberately set out to maim and kill.
But as much as such punitive measures might appeal to my sense of justice and revenge, I have to agree with the families that no matter the indoctrination and incitement the dead terrorists may have received at their parent's knees, the decision to try to take a human life was theirs, and theirs alone.
So I grudgingly accept that the families cannot be held responsible for the actions of relatives who die trying to kill. But by the same reasoning, I categorically reject their claim to the remains of someone for whom they say they are not responsible.
Let the bodies of the terrorists be used to create a little light in the world they tried so hard to darken with their evil. In this way, perhaps some good will come of these beastly individuals who are willing - even eager - to die trying to take as many innocent lives as possible with them.
And if the time ever comes that our enemies begin to show any interest in adhering to international norms pertaining to the respectful treatment of enemy remains, we can go back to returning their dead.
Obviously, if that day ever arrives, it would mean the loss of invaluable transplant-able organs and tissue, not to mention the educational opportunity to advance the assessment and treatment of physical trauma. But it would also be a clear indication that our enemies were becoming more humane... extending the glimmer of hope that the treatment of bullet, shrapnel and blast injuries would become an arcane specialty; practiced by few, and with fewer real world applications.
May it be so...
Monday, October 12, 2015
Animal Control for the Confused and Uninitiated
It's common sense... but it bears stating: If a wild dog attacks you, you shouldn't try to bite the animal back ... you shoot it, or use whatever means you have at your disposal to neutralize the threat. Then you call the authorities - the dog catcher, for instance - to take over.
By the same token, if you live in an organized society, you shouldn't respond to reports of wild/stray dog sightings by going out on a hunting expedition. It isn't your job to go trying to catch or kill dangerous animals!
That's why we choose to live in an organized society. We have police and dog catchers and veterinarians whose job it is to keep our streets safe.
And aside from an extreme example, such as if you (or someone near you) are being attacked, these official figures are the only ones who have the authority to kill or capture a dangerous animal.
We are all aware that there have been a rash of attacks by dangerous animals lately. But I would remind my friends and neighbors that this should not make them feel they have the right or authority to go out hunting wild dogs. The government agencies we have established and funded, and to which we have granted a monopoly on force, are the only ones who should be out on patrol.
You don't seek revenge when it comes to animals. You identify the problem and let the authorities deal with it.
Freelance dog-catchers are, in my opinion, on the same level as the animals they hunt, and are more than likely to hurt or kill a human being with their misguided zeal than actually bag a dangerous animal.
I hope it is clear that I haven't been discussing dogs.
Sunday, October 11, 2015
Really, New York Times? Really?!
In the past four days there have been more than 15 serious terror attacks against Israelis throughout the country. Stabbings mostly, but this morning a female Palestinian would-be suicide bomber tried to kill a policeman, but only managed to wound him when she shouted "Alluhu Akbar" blew up her car next to him.
It goes without saying that the UN has been completely silent regarding this string of terror attacks, not to mention the Palestinian leadership's incitement that has caused it (they traditionally only condemn Israel).
But even when the New York Times gets the facts wrong (more often then not, deliberately), they at least mention what is going on over here.
Today they were true to form:
Here are the headlines on the New York Time's Middle East Page at this very moment:
By DIAA HADID and RAMI NAZZAL
Young women and children join confrontations with Israeli security forces as political groups offer to bus university students to demonstrations.
Hmmm... 'turning up intensity' and 'Diversity'. That sounds almost admiring, doesn't it?
By JODI RUDOREN
The Israeli and Palestinian leaders are both facing a spiraling situation that is testing their ability to maintain control of restive constituencies.
Wow, strong headline! Too bad it makes no reference to the fact that ALL of the dead Palestinians were killed trying to infiltrate Israel and/or carry out terror attacks. And the body copy places the Palestinians leadership (which has been inciting their people) and the Israeli leadership on an equal footing.
By JODI RUDOREN
A Jewish man in the southern city of Dimona was charged with stabbing a municipal worker and three others in yet another episode of the spiraling unrest between Israelis and Arabs.
While burying/ignoring more than a dozen verified reports of ongoing Palestinian terror attacks, the New York Times somehow found the time and column space to report on an isolated incident where a Jewish Israeli attacked Arabs. From this one could be forgiven for deducing that the ongoing trend is Jewish terrorism, not Arab!
Sadly, my small voice is lost among the deafening silence (or enthusiastic agreement) from the New York Time's core readership.
Really, New York Times? Really?!!!
Friday, October 02, 2015
A Defining Moment
[A guest post by Zahava]
Knowing where I live, you might think I would be used to the bloodthirsty rhetoric and incitement from the Palestinian leadership by now. But I'm not. I will never get used to hearing those with whom we are supposed to be engaging in negotiations, openly celebrating the slaughter of innocent civilians.
Once again, Hamas and Fatah have spoken. They have called the brutal murder of a young couple driving their children home late at night "heroic".
I actually looked up the word ‘heroic’ today and found the following courtesy of Wikipedia:
“Hero (masculine or gender-neutral) or heroine (feminine) (Ancient Greek: ἥρως, hḗrōs) is a person or character who, in the face of danger and adversity or from a position of weakness, displays courage, bravery or self-sacrifice—that is, heroism—for some greater good; a man or woman of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his/her brave deeds and noble qualities.”
I am not going to parse the definition for you. If you've gotten this far, you already understand the extraordinary perversity involved in such a grotesque misuse of the word.
What, however, are you going to do about it?
Nearly three centuries ago, Edmund Burke an Irish statesman, had the courage and the moral character to state that “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” Truer words have never been spoken.
Tuesday, September 01, 2015
In case there is any doubt what today is...
Monday, August 03, 2015
A Missed Opportunity
It feels more than a little wrong to suggest the presence of an opportunity in the acts of terror I mentioned in yesterday's post. But there was... and, tragically, this opportunity was completely missed.
In the wake of these senseless, cowardly acts of violence, thousands gathered across Israel to protest the recent increase in incitement and ideologically-based attacks.
These demonstrations could - and should - have been a groundswell of national outrage meant to roundly denounce the tiny, lunatic-fringe at both ends of the religious and political spectrum, and to allow the Israeli mainstream, regardless of gender, creed, status or camp, to shout to the heavens that you do not have an imperative (nor the right) to attack and destroy those with whom you disagree!
But like the hypocritical travesty that is the annual Rabin memorial, unity and inclusion were the furthest things from the minds of the organizers of yesterday's rallies.
Had these organizers thought to extend a welcoming hand to the religious community and right wing political organizations - both of whom shared the secular left's sense of shock and outrage over these despicable acts, but lacked a large, well-organized forum to express their outrage - the entire country could have come together in a rare healing moment of unity and understanding.
The images from yesterday that never were will haunt us for years to come:
These rallies across Israel should have seen Hashomer Hatza'ir youth groups standing arm in arm with teens from Bnei Akiva and Ezra. Right wing 'settlers' from Israel's periphery and heartland should have been standing side-by-side with political lefties from the country's cosmopolitan center. National religious and haredi citizens should have been standing in solidarity beside secular and LGBT Israelis.
But none of that happened.
It didn't happen because the organizers of these rallies were more interested in seizing the opportunity to point an accusatory finger at their political opponents than in seizing the opportunity to recognize the shared sense of outrage and shame that knows no religious or political boundaries.
It is truly tragic to think that the deaths of a young woman at a Gay Pride parade and an infant in a politically motivated arson attack, might be seen as an opportunity. But they were... and the opportunity was completely missed.
The organizers and speakers at these demonstrations were so blinded by their disdain for what they see as their political and ideological enemies, that they couldn't perceive the tragic irony of allowing their baseless hatred to enlarge the yawning chasm between our country's disparate groups who, at long last, finally had a common cause and shared sense of outrage.
I didn't think it was possible to be more shaken, ashamed or saddened than I was by the stabbing attack at Jerusalem's Gay Pride parade and the arson attack in which an 18-month-old Palestinian infant was killed.
But as I contemplate the missed opportunity for national unity that could - and should - have been seized in the wake of these senseless tragedies, I seem to have discovered new depths of despair.
Sunday, August 02, 2015
Terrorism is Terrorism is Terrorism
While there is no universally agreed upon legal definition of 'terrorism', the following has been recognized and adopted by a large part of the civilized world:
"Criminal acts intended or calculated to provoke a state of terror in the general public, a group of persons or particular persons for political purposes are in any circumstance unjustifiable, whatever the considerations of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or any other nature that may be invoked to justify them." [source]
With that firmly in mind, I would like to use this humble soapbox to state unequivocally that the two attacks this week - the arson attack which led death of an Arab child, as well as the stabbing attack at the Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade which led to the death of an Israeli high school student (not to mention the many others who were injured in these two incidents) - were acts of terrorism, pure and simple.
These terror attacks were every bit as heinous as any act of terror anywhere in the region or world, and the perpetrators of terror - any terror - should be caught, tried, and punished to the fullest extent of the law.
Sadly, in my humble opinion, the Israeli legal system does not (yet) have an adequate punishment for lethal acts of terror.
Prison terms, fines, destruction of houses... none of that is sufficient to send the clear and unambiguous message that those who feel they have the right to take a life in the name of ideology, should know that at the end of the full and thorough legal process, awaits the executioner.
There is no room whatsoever for discussion of right, left, religious, secular, gay, straight, Israeli or Palestinian in any of what I have written above. There is only the absolute sanctity of human life... and the rule of law which is meant to protect it.
To consider any other path is to begin the descent into the kind of chaos we are seeing all around us in the region today.
Thursday, July 30, 2015
The Silly, Sappy, Innocent Face Of Israel They Don't Get To See
Countless times each day I find myself seeing, hearing, tasting... experiencing something that I wish I could somehow share with people around the world.
If asked, most of them would say that Israel is a drab, desolate, strife-torn concrete and barbed-wire war zone. Because that's what the media (even those outlets nominally friendly to Israel's cause) shows them.
And all the official and grassroots efforts to package and export images of an Israel full of vibrant history, ancient archaeology, religious splendor, technical entrepreneurship, scientific innovation, medical breakthroughs, etc., fall flat, because of the "yeah,... but..." factor (as in, "Yeah, I know Israel is ___________, but I saw/heard/read that..."
Those negative images and messages reinforced daily in the media are virtually unshakable, and will not be overcome by the most inspired positive 'Hasbara' (propaganda). Or so I have always assumed.
And then I saw a silly, sappy commercial for an Israeli Drug Store chain, trying to sell a new model of shaving razors... and I realized that it is this simple sappy, silliness that could potentially get in under the programmed prejudices and defenses of the misinformed masses and start to allow people to see and understand how wonderfully normal (and beautiful) Israel really is.
I'd be interested to hear what you think:
Sunday, July 19, 2015
Peace For Our Time
[British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain waving the Munich Agreement upon returning from the signing ceremony with Adolf Hitler on 30 September 1938. On 15 March 1939, Germany invaded the remainder of Czechoslovakia, negating the treaty... and by September of 1939 had invaded Poland]
Diplomats love to wave signed agreements. It is their very raison d'etre!
And when questioned about the content, nature or wisdom of the agreements they are waving, they invariably respond that 'diplomacy is preferable to war'... as if those questioning them (or anyone, for that matter), would actually prefer a military conflict to diplomacy.
What they fail to acknowledge (or learn from history) is that war is not simply the lack or failure of diplomacy. War can be caused - even be made inevitable - by seemingly successful diplomacy carried out by inept or poorly matched diplomats.
The only thing required for that outcome is for one party to openly, and desperately, want to finalize an agreement at nearly any cost... and for the other party to leverage that desperation to gain sufficient time to prepare for, and wage, war completely on their own terms.
Hitler was almost ready to wage war in 1938, but needed just a bit more time to complete all the necessary preparations. Chamberlain, with the best of intentions, graciously provided him with all he required.
If Iran adheres to the agreement that John Kerry was waving so enthusiastically in the photo above, they are still less than a decade from legitimately acquiring nuclear weapons.
If they do not abide by it, they are just weeks from crossing that threshold. The glaring problem with the agreement is that it provides Iran longer to consider whether to comply with inspection requests than the time required to develop a nuclear weapon. You do the math.
One would think that a basic grasp of history would be a prerequisite for a career in diplomacy. Apparently it is... for Iranian diplomats.
Thursday, July 02, 2015
What's Good For The Goose...
In this part of the world, one gets used to living with inexplicable double standards... especially as they relate to Israel's conduct vs the conduct of, well, pretty much everyone else.
For instance, we are about to find ourselves in the dock at the Hague (before the International Criminal Court), for war crimes the IDF allegedly committed during last summer's war in Gaza. This despite the fact that the IDF's civilian-to-combatant casualty rate was an astoundingly and unprecedentedly low 1:1, while the US-led 'coalition' civilian-to-combatant casualty rate in Iraq and Afghanistan was more than 2:1.
But I have to admit that I am having trouble swallowing demands from the US that Israel blindly negotiate /finalize an agreement with the Palestinians, while reserving for themselves the right to walk away from a bad Iranian deal if it doesn't "provide assurances" and " allow verification" of the terms of the agreement.
The Palestinians have never lived up to their past commitments (to disarm terror organizations, renounce 'armed resistance', recognize Israel, stop incitement, refrain from making unilateral moves such as joining UN bodies, remove calls for Israel's destruction from their Charter, etc.).
So why is it that Israel is the one faced with threats of isolation and sanctions when we walk away from a bad deal for the simple reason that we have no way of verifying that the entity which with we are negotiating (the Palestinian Authority / Fatah), will be in power - or even exist - the day after a 'land-for-peace' deal would be implemented?
Given that Hamas overthrew the PA/Fatah government in Gaza in a violent coup immediately after Israel withdrew and handed over the keys, it is not unreasonable to assume the same thing would happen in the West Bank.
Add to that the fact that ISIS is now threatening to topple Hamas, and we are faced with the specter of an even more dangerous and intractable enemy within easy missile and artillery of Tel Aviv and Ben Gurion airport, immediately after an Israeli withdrawal from part or all of the West Bank.
In the following video, the President of the United States makes a perfectly reasonable statement regarding his right and intention to walk away from a bad deal with the Iranians. But leaves unanswered the question of why he denies Israel the same right.
Apparently, what's good for the goose isn't good for the gander.
Thursday, June 18, 2015
The UN Security Council is meeting today to hold a public debate on the latest United Nations report on children and armed conflict.
This is, of course, a laudable topic for public debate... especially by so august a body [cough].
But as usual, the debate will be focusing on Israel; specifically on the impact on Palestinian children of the 2014 war in Gaza.
In the report, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is quoted as saying "the unprecedented and unacceptable scale of the impact on children in 2014 raises grave concerns about Israel's compliance with international humanitarian law ... (and) excessive use of force." [source]
Let's forget, for the moment, that the report ignores the effect on Israeli children of the thousands of missiles and mortars that were deliberately fired towards Israeli population centers before and during the 2014 Gaza war.
What really deserves notice in Ban Ki-moon's statement is the word 'unprecedented'.
If you aren't sure what it means, I'm nothing, if not a giver:
- never done or known before.
I can forgive the U.N. Secretary General having a tenuous grasp of English. After all, he is not a native speaker of the language, and was only posted to English speaking countries for 42 of the 45 years his diplomatic career has spanned (the non-English speaking countries being Austria and Slovenia, respectively... although one could argue that during those non-English-speaking postings the lingua franca of his work and social life was still likely English since, according to his biography, he doesn't speak German or any of the dozens of Balkan languages). [source]
However, one would expect that the Secretary General of the United Nations, who holds a bachelor's degree in International Relations from Seoul National University, and a Master of Public Administration from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, to have a passing knowledge of human history and the devastating effects of warfare on civilian populations.
But even if he managed to skip those classes in school, it is inconceivable that someone who, at the age of six, was forced to flee with his family to live on a remote mountainside for much of the Korean War, has absolutely no recollection of the devastation that conflict inflicted on the children of the Korean Peninsula. [source]
Unfortunately, this sorry little excuse for a career diplomat has gone on record before the most prestigious and influential international body in the world (which he leads), stating that never before in the annals of recorded history, has any military power inflicted so much suffering and devastation on the children of its enemy during an armed conflict, as Israel did on the Palestinians of Gaza in 2014.
That is what unprecedented means.
You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.