The Vilna Gaon and Jewish Destiny: Michael Freund, Jerusalem Post, October 3, 2012

This [past] Friday (Oct. 6) marks the anniversary of the passing of one of the greatest men to have walked this earth over the past few centuries, a figure that had a lasting impact on the Jewish people, as well as the State of Israel.


Anti-Semitism without Jews in Malaysia: Robert Fulford, National Post, Oct 6, 2012

In Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, politicians and civil servants devote a surprising amount of time to thinking about Israel, 7,612 km away. Sometimes they appear to be obsessed by it. Malaysia has never had a dispute with Israel, but the government encourages the citizens to hate Israel and also to hate Jews whether they are Israelis or not.


What Does Israel Do If Obama Is Re-elected?: Barry Rubin, Jewish Press, October 4th, 2012

Israel’s government needs to ensure the continuation of U.S. aid, including assistance for anti-missile systems, intelligence sharing and other forms of cooperation. Unless Obama decides to go all-out on an anti-Israel vendetta, he is likely to see this issue as a low-priority one. All he has to do is nothing.


On Topic Links


A Truly Credible Military Threat to Iran: David Rothkopf   Foreign Policy, October 8, 2012

Team Obama and Crunch Time on Tehran: Michael Widlanski, Jerusalem Post, October 8, 2012

Honoring an anti-Semite?: Alan M. Dershowitz, Gatestone Institute, October 9, 2012



Michael Freund

Jerusalem Post, October 3, 2012 23:07


This [past] Friday (Oct. 6) marks the anniversary of the passing of one of the greatest men to have walked this earth over the past few centuries, a figure that had a lasting impact on the Jewish people, as well as the State of Israel.


It was 215 years ago this Friday, on the 19th of Tishrei during the intermediate days of Succot, that Rabbi Elijah the Gaon (Hebrew for genius) of Vilna returned his soul to its Maker. Most contemporary Jews have heard of this prodigious scholar, his vast erudition and unmitigated commitment to exploring all aspects of Jewish knowledge and learning.


But few are familiar with how he laid the intellectual, spiritual and physical groundwork for the rebirth of the modern Jewish state more than a century before Theodor Herzl raised the banner of political Zionism.  And in light of some of the challenges now facing Israel in the international arena, it is well worth taking a look back at the revolution that the Gaon wrought, the lessons of which remain remarkably relevant even today.


Indeed, much has been written about the Vilna Gaon’s towering scholarship and achievements. As Prof. Jay M. Harris of Harvard has noted, the Vilna Gaon “set in motion an ethos of study that was to revolutionize rabbinic learning.” He revived the study of the Jerusalem Talmud and other ancient Jewish texts, sought to harmonize conflicting passages that had confounded other scholars for generations and meticulously traced the sources for the rulings contained in the Shulchan Aruch (the code of Jewish law).


He waded through the vast sea of Jewish lore, correcting inconsistencies and making emendations where necessary, driven by an unquenchable thirst for truth and accuracy. A profoundly humble man, the Vilna Gaon neither held nor sought any public or communal position, devoting himself with all his might to the texts of our people. But his influence would extend far beyond the bookshelf, thanks in part to a simple yet weighty idea that he passionately advocated: the Jewish people should not remain passive in bringing about their own redemption.


Though this belief went against the grain of much of European Jewry’s worldview at the time, the Gaon nonetheless encouraged his students to make aliya, which many did in three large waves that began in 1808. Eventually, thousands of his disciples and their families moved to the Land of Israel. As a result, by the middle of the 19th century, the majority of Jerusalem’s population was Jewish for the first time since the Roman invasion, and thus it has remained ever since.


All thanks to the vision of a lone Jewish scholar in a study-hall in Lithuania. The Vilna Gaon’s groundbreaking conviction that the Jewish people needed to take practical steps to reclaim their ancient homeland were best expressed in the volume Kol HaTor (Hebrew for “Voice of the Turtledove,” a reference to a verse in the “Song of Songs”), which was written by his student Rabbi Hillel of Shklov.


The book cites the words of the prophet Isaiah (54:2-3), who said, “Enlarge (“Harchivi” in the original Hebrew) the place of your tent and let them stretch forth the curtains of your dwelling places… for you shall spread out to the right and left, and your descendants shall possess the nations and inhabit the desolate cities.”


The Kol HaTor says in the name of the Vilna Gaon that these verses contain within them the key to Jewish redemption, for the prophet Isaiah’s call of “Harchivi” is a command – a call to action to Jews everywhere to move to Israel and settle every corner of the Land. He notes chillingly that the only alternative to “Harchivi,” to Jewish growth and expansion, is “Hachrivi” (Hebrew for destruction). In other words, there is no room for withdrawal, or for turning back.


Finally, says the Gaon, “we must know in advance that all the precious treasures included in the blessing of ‘Harchavah’ (enlargement) will come only when action is first take by the people of Israel themselves in an awakening from below.” With these words, the Vilna Gaon laid down a clear challenge to each and every Jew, delineating that our task is not to sit passively and wait for redemption from exile, but rather to take action and bring it about.


Through this novel approach, the Gaon became a harbinger of modern Zionism, a forceful promoter of Jewish activism and a restorer of Jewish self-confidence and esteem. He stared at the seemingly impossible and overcame it. Propelled by a belief in the justness of our cause and deep faith in the Creator, he left behind a legacy of Jewish reclamation and restoration.


After centuries of endless exile and persecution, the Vilna Gaon taught us all a critical lesson, one which resonates particularly strongly in light of today’s often frightening headlines: the Jewish people are not prisoners of fate, but partners with God in shaping our own destiny. It is a lesson that we would all do well to learn. (Top of Page)




Robert Fulford

National Post, Oct 6, 2012


In Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, politicians and civil servants devote a surprising amount of time to thinking about Israel, 7,612 km away. Sometimes they appear to be obsessed by it. Malaysia has never had a dispute with Israel, but the government encourages the citizens to hate Israel and also to hate Jews whether they are Israelis or not.


Few Malaysians have laid eyes on a Jew; the tiny Jewish community emigrated decades ago. Nevertheless, Malaysia has become an example of a phenomenon called “Anti-Semitism without Jews.” Last March, for instance, the Federal Territory Islamic Affairs Department sent out an official sermon to be read in all mosques, stating that “Muslims must understand Jews are the main enemy to Muslims as proven by their egotistical behaviour and murders performed by them.” About 60% of Malaysians are Muslim.


In Kuala Lumpur, it’s routine to blame the Jews for everything from economic failures to the bad press Malaysia gets in foreign (“Jewish-owned”) newspapers.


The leaders of the country assume that Jews and Israelis deserve to be humiliated as often as possible. In 1984, the New York Philharmonic cancelled a visit because the Malaysian information minister demanded that a composition by Ernest Bloch, an American Jewish composer who died in 1959, be eliminated from their program. In 1992, an Israeli football player with the Liverpool team was refused permission to play in Malaysia; the team cancelled the visit. The government banned Schindler’s List, calling it anti-German and pro-Jewish propaganda. The same government later decided it could be shown if seven scenes were cut. Steven Spielberg refused, so the government removed all his films from Malaysia’s screens.


In 2003, the prime minister’s political party gave delegates to the United Malays National Organization copies of Henry Ford’s anti-Semitic book from the 1920s, The International Jew, a favourite of Hitler, translated into Bahasa Malay.


For half a century, Israel has tried to establish diplomatic relations, but Kuala Lumpur has always replied that Muslim opinion makes that politically impossible. Instead, Malaysia has joined the Arab campaign to defame Israel. Trade with Israel is officially banned — but goes on nevertheless, through covert arrangements with third countries. (Sales of products from Israel’s Intel computer chip factory to Malaysia amount to many millions of dollars a year. Malaysian policy softens temporarily when confronted with certain products at the right price.)


It’s only when we grasp the unremitting and mindless hostility of countries such as Malaysia that we begin to understand the pain and difficulty of Israel’s place in the world. This is the context in which we should think about the Harper government’s pro-Israel policy. Israel faces automatic enmity from all the Arab nations, most other Muslim-dominated states and the many organizations in democratic countries that dedicate themselves to showering abuse on Israel (and no one else) in the name of human rights.


Except during civil wars, no other state, not even the worst dictatorship, not even Iran or China, is so badly and so often maligned. Now only Canada and the United States (in certain moods) give Israel the benefit of the doubt.


Yet many Canadians apparently believe that there is something unfair in this situation, not in the invective heaped on Israel but in Canada’s habit of friendship with the only democracy in the Middle East. It’s argued that this policy has done harm to Canada. Jeffrey Simpson of The Globe and Mail says that because of our attitude to Israel, “Canada’s reputation in the Arab world is mud.” Tony Burman, of the Toronto Star, former head of Al Jazeera English, and now a journalism teacher at Ryerson University, says that our government’s “passionate pro-Israeli stance” has damaged Canada’s reputation throughout the Middle East “after decades of being one of the world’s respected ‘honest brokers’ on Mideast issues.”


That phrase “honest broker” seems to me one of the most dubious of Canadian clichés. I have not once in several decades seen it applied to us by a citizen of some other country. In my experience, it’s one of those compliments many Canadians, and only Canadians, pay to Canada. Burman expresses nostalgia for an attribute that hasn’t existed, so far as I’m aware, since the 1950s.


Simpson says the Harper government’s policy is based on a simple-minded black-and-white view, on the evangelical Christian streak among Conservatives, on the idea that Israel is a democracy and Arab countries are not and on a hope of prying Canadian Jews away from the Liberals. Or, just possibly, there might be another reason: Because it’s the right thing to do. (Top of Page)




Barry Rubin

Jewish Press, October 4th, 2012

 “Don’t Panic” – Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

I’m going to try to analyze what Israeli strategy might look like if Obama were to be re-elected. I don’t want to write a partisan piece — predicting every type of the most horrible disaster and open hatred from the White House — but a serious analytic effort. This involves speculation, but policymakers have to develop the most likely scenarios in order to plan ahead.


Let me start, though, with a joke. An asteroid hits the ocean, producing a giant tidal wave so powerful that within an hour all land will be covered by water. Television networks put on a variety of politicians, alleged wise people, and religious figures to speak with the doomed population. The rabbi among them explains: “All I can say is that you have one hour to learn to breathe underwater.”  That is Israel’s mission. To survive a second Obama term brought on it by the American — including a large majority of American Jewish — voters.


The first thing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does is send a warm message of congratulations to the re-elected president. He is going to be president for four years, like it or not, and Israeli leaders will work hard to minimize any antagonism. At least with Netanyahu strongly entrenched, Obama will understand that he cannot subvert the Israeli government to get some other prime minister more to his liking (i.e., someone ready to make unilateral concessions in exchange for getting nothing in return)….


1. Maintaining bilateral relations


Israel’s government needs to ensure the continuation of U.S. aid, including assistance for anti-missile systems, intelligence sharing and other forms of cooperation. Unless Obama decides to go all-out on an anti-Israel vendetta, he is likely to see this issue as a low-priority one. All he has to do is nothing.

Here, Israel’s contacts with Congress and the Defense Department will be critical. The Democrats in Congress will have to show whether they still do actually support Israel — and a majority of them do — by joining with the Republicans in backing continued aid and cooperation. The Defense Department has generally good relations with Israel and also benefits from Israel’s technological advances.


There are real prospects for maintaining bilateral relations on their current level. Obama can be expected to mistreat Netanyahu and to say things that totally misunderstand Israel and insult its interests, but when you are a country of 7.5 million allied with a superpower, your leaders have to take such behavior, as long as it remains verbal.


2. Keep Obama from damaging Israel’s situation in regard to the Palestinians


Obama will have to decide whether to put an emphasis on the Israel-Palestinian “peace process,” meaning pressure on Israel to make concessions while the Palestinian Authority (P.A.) doesn’t keep its commitments and makes no compromises. He might decide to do so based on his ideological predispositions.


Yet there is some evidence that Obama won’t behave this way. His failure on peacemaking is the only such defeat he has ever acknowledged. He knows it is hard and the administration almost certainly knows — though it will never admit it publicly — that what Mitt Romney said was right. The P.A. doesn’t want to make a peace deal with Israel.


Moreover, there have been interesting developments regarding the main strategic motive for the idea that a peace deal is necessary as soon as possible and requires pressure on Israel. This factor is called “linkage” — the concept that bashing Israel and getting the Palestinians a state as soon as possible will solve all of America’s other problems in the Middle East. Once this is accomplished, Muslims and Arabs will love the United States and — more importantly in one man’s mind — Obama.


What’s important here is not just that linkage doesn’t work, but that this reality has never before been so obvious. With anti-Americanism and crisis coming from all directions — Iran, Syria, Egypt, Libya, and so on — will Obama see bashing Israel as a panacea?


There’s no question that during his first term, especially the first two years or so, Obama really believed this and tried very ineptly to institute such a strategy. Yet he knows it didn’t work. At any rate, if faced with such a situation, the Israeli government is quite capable of offering cooperation, giving in on relatively unimportant issues, stalling for time and essentially calling the P.A.’s bluff. In the end, nothing will happen.


3. How would Obama handle the regional Arab situation and threats from revolutionary Islamist forces that he has helped to unleash and even to put into power?


In my view, the number one danger Israel faces is not Iran, but Egypt. A radical regime now exists in Cairo that wants to wipe Israel off the map, is willing to help Hamas — which rules the Gaza Strip — on that project, and might get directly involved itself.


During Obama’s second term, Israel is likely to face sporadic attacks from the Gaza Strip that periodically it will have to retaliate against. Obama will remain aloof on this problem, which isn’t good but is manageable. The real difficulty is whether Hamas launches an all-out attack as it did in late 2008.


But this time it would have some level of Egyptian support. Such help could take many forms: Hamas headquarters, weapons storehouses and other facilities being moved onto Egyptian territory so that Israel cannot touch them; a massive flow of arms, weapons, and money across the border financed in part by the ruling Muslim Brotherhood; an influx of Egyptian volunteers to fight alongside Hamas, whose death would lead to howls of revenge in Egypt; and other such measures.


Beyond this, Egypt could escalate into allowing — even if denying responsibility — cross-border terrorist attacks on Israel. Attempted cross-border attacks are already routine and the Egyptian government does nothing to suppress the groups involved. It is not inconceivable that from the mass demands of Salafist and Muslim Brotherhood forces, by the revolutionary enthusiasm of the regime and by ideological hysteria, Egypt could end up in a war with Israel. That might happen if it proved necessary to send Israeli military forces into the Gaza Strip, as happened in 2009.


Israel cannot depend on the United States to press sufficiently hard for enforcement of the treaty or to deter Egypt. As a result, Israel will have to be ready to fight such a smaller or bigger war by itself. If a Muslim Brotherhood-dominated regime were to be in power in Syria, it would join in. The only bright spot is that other Arab countries would stand aside. Perhaps even Hezbollah might content itself with the firing of some symbolic rockets rather than have Lebanon flattened in a “Sunni war.”


In fact, for the first time in almost forty years, under Obama Israel could not depend on U.S. support or protection against any Arab threat or aggression. Israel would just have to take care of itself. But the key issue: would Obama send arms — perhaps pressed by Congress and public opinion even if he didn’t face election — or would he play neutral and just do nothing while he pursued useless diplomatic efforts?


4. Iran


Briefly, there is no way that Obama would attack Iran or support an Israeli attack no matter what Tehran does. American sanction efforts would continue hand in hand with Iran going full speed ahead on obtaining nuclear weapons. Israel would still attack Iranian facilities if this were deemed necessary for national survival, but the bar on what constituted acceptable reasons for attacking would be raised.


Israel could also not depend on U.S. support in the aftermath. On the contrary, Obama could be outraged and blame Israel for terror attacks on Americans, the spiraling cost of oil, and other resulting problems. After all, he doesn’t face reelection — he can tame the pro-Israel Democrats with a few crumbs, and he wouldn’t care what the public opinion polls said. If necessary, Israel would have to take that risk. But how does one define “necessary”?


So Obama’s re-election would be a serious problem for Israel, not a catastrophe or an end to the state. But for the first time in four decades, every Israeli leader would understand that the country could not depend on the United States as a protector. In fact, the Obama administration could be counted on to make things worse. (Top of Page)



A Truly Credible Military Threat to Iran:  David Rothkopf   Foreign Policy, October 8, 2012

The Israelis and the Americans are zeroing in on a strike option that has a real chance of deterring the mullahs…the action that participants currently see as most likely is a joint U.S.-Israeli surgical strike targeting Iranian enrichment facilities.

Team Obama and Crunch Time on Tehran:  Michael Widlanski, Jerusalem Post,

October 8, 2012


Amid his election campaign, US President Barack Obama promised “no daylight” between the US and Israel when it comes to stopping Iran's nuclear bomb-making. Many hope this pledge will be kept, but it is unlikely the US will launch military moves against Iran.


Honoring an anti-Semite?: Alan M. Dershowitz, Gatestone Institute, October 9, 2012

At a time of increasing anti-Semitism in many parts of the world, it is deeply disturbing that the city of Clifton, N.J., — in the shadows of New York City — is considering naming a park after a virulent anti-Semite and racist named Chester Grabowski, who died in April.


Shabbat Shalom to all our readers.



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