THE COLLAPSE OF ZIONIST LEADERSHIP
Jerusalem Post, June 23, 2011
The Jewish Agency and World Zionist Organization will be meeting in Jerusalem next week. Of late, the media have been conveying the message that many Diaspora Jews, especially youngsters, are becoming alienated from the Jewish state. It is sometimes even implied that more Jews are engaged in castigating than defending Israel.
This is certainly a wild exaggeration. Despite the combined impact of postmodernism and the hostile anti-Israeli environment, the majority of activists, including young people, remain faithful to the Jewish state, which represents the core of their Jewish identity.
However, it’s true that established Jewish leaders in many communities display a penchant to downplay pro-Israel advocacy and assume a low profile. This trend was boosted as the liberal media began highlighting and lauding as heroes Jews who demonize the Jewish state. This in turn emboldened them to demand recognition as legitimate members of the mainstream Jewish community.
Regrettably the response of many confused communal leaders was to prattle on about the virtues of enlarging the “Jewish tent” to include organizations like J Street, which inaccurately portray themselves as “pro-Israel, pro-peace” while shamelessly lobbying foreign governments to exert pressure on Israel. They failed to appreciate the incongruity of integrating into their ranks groups whose prime objective is to undermine Israel.
This chaotic arena led to what can only be described as bizarre behavior unprecedented in Jewish communal life: “rabbis” claiming to promote “tikkun olam” by actively supporting and engaging with avowed enemies of the Jewish people; debates conducted within federations as to whether Jewish philanthropic funding should be directed to organizations promoting anti-Israel plays and films; the New York Jewish Federation bestowing $1 million of charitable funds on the fervently anti-Israel George Soros-sponsored group Jewish Funds for Justice; individual Hillel directors treating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a dispute between two morally equivalent parties, on occasion even favoring the Palestinians; and student activists in the UK, Canada and the United States being urged by Jewish establishment bodies to assume low profiles and avoid confronting anti- Israel demonstrations.
What typifies this insanity was a recent “very difficult decision” undertaken following a fervent debate at Brandeis University’s Hillel as to whether to exclude from the “big tent” Jewish Voices for Peace—an organization shamelessly calling for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel. The problem was resolved by endorsing a recommendation by Martin Raffel (senior vice president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs), who ruled that supporting boycotts of goods produced in the West Bank should be considered a legitimate (!) Jewish activity. However, as Jewish Voices for Peace also opposed an independent Jewish state, he felt that this “crossed a red line,” and the decision was made to exclude them! It is incomprehensible why preponderantly Zionist contributors to these philanthropic organizations tolerate such abuse of funds.
The principal reason for the emergence of such troubling developments seems to emanate from inadequate leadership. During the early years of the state, Labor Zionist governments invested major resources toward nurturing links with Diaspora Jewish leaders.
No aspiring Jewish communal leader would conceivably contemplate criticizing policies which could have life-or-death implications for Israelis.
However, recent government leaders, including prime ministers, have neglected Diaspora Jewish leadership, and instead fawned over wealthy Jews, from whom they solicit support for their political and personal enterprises.
Historically, the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) and the World Zionist Organization (WZO) were the principal parties responsible for promoting the Zionist cause within Diaspora Jewish communities. In fact, their program of Kibbush Hakehilot—the Zionist “conquest of Jewish communities”—succeeded to such an extent that support for the Jewish state from “Zionist” and Jewish communal leaders became virtually indistinguishable.
Alas, that activity eroded in the 1980s, as JAFI was largely reduced to a bloated bureaucracratic instrumentality occupied with activities that could equally be conducted by other state instrumentalities.
Nobody disputes that JAFI still operates important Zionist educational projects like Birthright and Masa.
The seminars on delegitimization which they will be conducting at their forthcoming board meeting are a commendable academic exercise, but are duplicated by virtually every major Jewish organization engaged in public affairs, and the participants are not necessarily likely to be indulging in Israel advocacy. However, beyond such projects, JAFI has abysmally failed to fulfill its principal obligation—promoting the centrality of Israel in Jewish communal life throughout the world.
Despite great expectations, the chairman of JAFI, Natan Sharansky, a hero of the Jewish people and the symbol for renascent Zionism, has until now proven a major disappointment. He is perceived as having capitulated to the demands of wealthy (primarily American) board members determined to dilute core Zionist projects and transform JAFI into a replica of the American Jewish fundraising federation system.
Many Zionists were deeply frustrated with Sharansky’s decision to substitute JAFI’s traditional primary goal of aliya (which was already operated by Nefesh B’Nefesh) and concentrate almost exclusively on the vague objective of “promoting Jewish identity,” which surely does not conflict with aliya, and which everyone supports. Ironically the aliya department was disbanded precisely when Western countries began to emerge as a major new potential source of immigrants.
The WZO, whose funding has been drastically curtailed and which is now totally separated from JAFI, is justly regarded as an utterly impotent body with marginal impact on the Jewish world. It continues convening global meetings and congresses in which nobody takes the slightest interest. Other than the Australian, British and South African Zionist federations, which carry on with minimal support from the parent body, its Diaspora offshoots have disintegrated.
Today, WE desperately need a global Jewish pro-Israel caucus which could emerge from a reformed JAFI. But it should not depend on existing personnel tainted with failure, or primarily on wealthy donors. It must incorporate a wide cross-section of Diaspora and Israeli Jewish activists engaged in public communal life and encompassing all sides of the political spectrum and religious streams within Judaism. The sole proviso for entry should be a genuine commitment to promoting Israel as the center of the Jewish people.
The principal objective of a reformed JAFI must be the reconstruction of an unashamedly pro-Israel Jewish leadership in Diaspora communities, including within the American federations, Hillel and rabbinical bodies. It should endeavor to ensure that only those willing to publicly support the right of Israel to defend itself will be elected to communal leadership roles.
Such an action group should speak out when establishment communal leaders remain silent in the face of anti-Israel activity. Importantly, it should promote Zionist education and ensure that every Jewish high school allocates at least a few hours a week to teaching about modern Israel, so that when students arrive on campus they are sufficiently informed to respond to the anti-Israel onslaughts.
In the profoundly challenging times now confronting the Jewish people, action to bring about such changes should be considered an absolute priority.
Representing the vast majority of committed Jews, a group dedicated to these objectives would have a dramatic impact on the quality of Jewish communal life, and help restore bonds between the Diaspora and Israel.
CAN ISRAEL BE A “JEWISH STATE?”
Council on Foreign Relations, July 14, 2011
Negotiations between Israel and the PLO have been stalled for many reasons, but a central issue is the Palestinian refusal to acknowledge Israel as a “Jewish state.”
The whole idea behind the partition of the Palestine Mandate in 1947 was, in the words of U.N. General Assembly resolution 181, the creation of an “Arab state” and a “Jewish state.” The Arab rejection of Israel as a Jewish state is in fact at the heart of the Middle East conflict. It is based on the widespread refusal to accept Israel as a permanent presence in the region, but is usually couched in more acceptable terminology—indeed, the language of “rights.” As one news story put it, “Palestinian negotiators have recognized Israel’s right to exist, but not as a Jewish state, which officials say would prejudice the right of return for refugees and violate the rights of Israel’s non-Jewish residents.”
In other words, the argument is that if Israel is a “Jewish state” it will certainly, unavoidably, necessarily discriminate against non-Jews. The problem with this debating point is that those who use it apply it only to Israel; no one ever voices any concern about states based on Islam and discriminating in favor of Muslims.
There are actually four states whose very name contains a religious reference: the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, and the Islamic Republic of Mauritania. But beyond those, in every Muslim-majority country the constitution asserts a special role for Islam. The Jordanian constitution says “Islam is the religion of the State” and of course “No person shall ascend the Throne unless he is a Moslem…of Moslem parents.” No converts! But Jordan has a Christian minority that is five to eight percent of the population (Eastern Orthodox, Circassian, Melkite, and other sects).
Egypt is about ten or even fifteen percent Christian (Copts), but its current provisional constitution states that “Islam is the religion of the state.… Principles of Islamic law (Shari’a) are the principal source of legislation.” Moreover, this is unlikely to change: presidential candidate Mohammad ElBaradei, viewed as a Westernized moderate, recently released his version of a new Egyptian constitution that similarly holds “Islam shall be the religion of the state.… Sharia shall be the main source of legislation.”
The constitution of Malaysia states that “Islam is the religion of the Federation,” even though the country is only about sixty percent Muslim. It is roughly twenty percent Buddhist, ten percent Christian, and six percent Hindu, among other religions.
There are many similar examples. The religion of the state is Islam in Oman, Qatar, and Kuwait (where there are estimates that fifteen percent of the population is non-Muslim)—and one could lengthen the list. In Afghanistan, the constitution holds that “The sacred religion of Islam is the religion of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan” and “No law shall contravene the tenets and provisions of the holy religion of Islam in Afghanistan.” The president must be a Muslim. The Saudis go one further, refusing even to have a constitution: “The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a sovereign Arab Islamic state with Islam as its religion; God’s Book and the Sunnah of His Prophet, God’s prayers and peace be upon him, are its constitution.…”
It is worth adding that Muslim states are not alone in their religious ties. The constitution of Denmark, for example, states that “The Evangelical Lutheran Church shall be the Established Church of Denmark, and, as such, it shall be supported by the State,” and unsurprisingly “The King shall be a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church.” Same for Norway: “The Evangelical-Lutheran religion shall remain the official religion of the State” and “The King shall at all times profess the Evangelical-Lutheran religion.” And of course, the Queen of England is “Defender of the Faith,” and the faith is Anglican Christianity.
So what? So the usual arguments against the acknowledgement of Israel as a Jewish state are hypocritical and specious. Every Arab state is far more Islamic than the “Jewish state” of Israel is Jewish; to take one example, Israel imposes no religious test for the offices of president or prime minister. Moreover, the treatment of religious minorities is far better than in the Muslim states, as the flat ban on building even a single church in Saudi Arabia and the repeated violence against Christians in Egypt and Pakistan remind us. If some secular professor maintains that all states should be devoid of religious identity, fair enough; that is a principled argument. But when Arab political leaders say they will never acknowledge Israel as a Jewish state, that isn’t an argument at all. It is a reminder of their continuing refusal to make peace with the Jewish state and with the very idea that the Jews can have a state in what they view as the Dar al-Islam.
IN RAVAGED LIBYA, GHOSTS OF JEWISH PAST
Ynet News, July 22, 2011
What was once the most beautiful synagogue in Libya’s capital city can now be entered only by sneaking through a hole smashed in a back wall, climbing over dusty trash and crossing a stairwell strewn with abandoned shoes to a space occupied by cooing pigeons.
The synagogue, Dar al-Bishi, was once the center of a prosperous Jewish community, one whose last remnants were expelled decades ago in the early days of Muammar Gaddafi’s regime.
Inside Libya, little trace of them remains. Abroad, however, surviving members and descendants of the community are very much alive, watching with fascination from afar as Gaddafi’s forces and a NATO-backed rebel insurgency battle for control of a country some of them still see as home.
“I have somewhat mixed feelings. I am sympathetic to people who want him out,” said Libya-born Gina Bublil-Waldman, referring to the embattled dictator.
But Bublil-Waldman, who heads an organization of Jews from Arab countries in San Francisco, said she was still angry and hurt by the memory of her family’s expulsion from Libya. Those feelings remained strong, she said, and at this point she “would be afraid to go.
Navit Barel, a 34-year-old Israeli of Libyan descent, said the upheaval made her want to visit the country where her parents were born. Her mother and father, now deceased, both grew up near the Dar al-Bishi synagogue.
“I feel like it brought back my yearning to talk to my father,” she said.
Libyan Jews seem proud of their heritage and even nostalgic for their ancestral home. But they are also bitter at the mistreatment they suffered at the hands of Libyan Muslims and at the eventual elimination of an ancient native community in a wave of anti-Jewish violence linked to the rise of the Zionist movement and the creation of Israel.
Today, most of the community’s few crumbling remains lie in Hara Kabira, a sandy slum that was once Tripoli’s Jewish quarter.
Inside the Dar al-Bishi synagogue, faded Hebrew above an empty ark where Torah scrolls were once kept reads “Shema Israel”—“Hear, O Israel”—the beginning of a Jewish prayer. The floor is strewn with decades of garbage.
What was once a ritual bath next to the synagogue now houses impoverished Libyan families. In a nearby alley, three arched doorways in a yellow facade are decorated with Jewish stars of David. The building was once the Ben Yehuda Jewish youth club, said Maurice Roumani, a Libyan-born Israeli and Libyan Jewry expert. Barel’s father, Eliyahu, taught Hebrew there.
The government now owns it.
Jews first arrived in what is now Libya some 2,300 years ago. They settled mostly in coastal towns like Tripoli and Benghazi and lived under a shifting string of rulers, including Romans, Ottoman Turks, Italians and ultimately the independent Arab state that has now descended into civil war.
Some prospered as merchants, physicians and jewelers. Under Muslim rule, they saw periods of relative tolerance and bursts of hostility. Italy took over in 1911, and eventually the fascist government of Benito Mussolini issued discriminatory laws against Jews, dismissing some from government jobs and ordering them to work on Saturdays, the Jewish day of rest.
In the 1940s, thousands were sent to concentration camps in North Africa where hundreds died. Some were deported to concentration camps in Germany and Austria.
Their troubles didn’t end with the war. Across the Arab world, anger about the Zionist project in Palestine turned Jewish neighbors into perceived enemies. In November 1945, mobs throughout Libya went on a three-day rampage, burning down Jewish shops and homes and killing at least 130 Jews, among them three dozen children.
After Israel was founded in 1948, it became a refuge for Jews of ancient Middle Eastern communities, including those of Libya. Barel’s father fled in 1949, and her mother soon after. Most were gone by the time Gaddafi seized power in 1969. The new dictator expelled the rest, who were ordered to leave with one suitcase and a small amount of cash.
Jewish properties were confiscated. There was no way to determine how many. Debts to Jews were officially erased. Jewish cemeteries were turned into dumping grounds or built over, and most of the dozens of synagogues around the country were either demolished or put to different use. Some became mosques. A community that numbered about 37,000 at its peak vanished.
Inside Libya, the memory of Jews is fading. Elderly Muslim residents who remember their neighbors stay silent, worried they’ll be accused of being Jewish sympathizers.
“There were Jews here once, but they left,” said one Muslim resident of Tripoli’s old Jewish quarter. He nervously shrugged when asked of their fate.
Still, the Libyan Jewish community left small legacies behind.
Their famous fish stew, known as hraimeh, is widely eaten in Libya today. Recently, a government official accompanying international reporters to a seafood restaurant in Tripoli called it “Jewish food” as he hungrily scooped it up. Muslims who defy their faith’s ban on alcohol imbibe homemade bocha, a fig-based spirit once made by local Jews.
Today, Libyan Jews and their descendants number around 110,000. Most live in Israel, with others in Italy and elsewhere. None, if any, have any desire to return as residents, but Moussa Ibrahim, a spokesman for the embattled Gaddafi government, said they would be allowed back—if they first disavowed their Israeli citizenship. “They cannot have both,” Ibrahim said.
The Benghazi-based rebel government would not comment on whether it had any intention of mending relations with the country’s old Jewish community. Spokesman Jalal al-Gallal would say only that there would be “freedom of religion” in a future Libya.
Roumani, the Libyan Jewry expert, said he has a yearning to return, but knows that the places he knew are long gone.
Roumani described a memory of himself as a child in Benghazi: He is walking to synagogue with his father, listening to a chanted recitation of the Quran, the Muslim holy book, coming from a radio in a nearby cafe.
The synagogue is now a Coptic Christian church. His father’s grave was lost when Gaddafi’s regime built over the cemetery.
THE ROAD TO SERFDOM AND THE ARAB REVOLT
Wall Street Journal, July 8, 2011
The late great Austrian economist F.A. Hayek would have seen the Arab Spring for the economic revolt it was right from the start. For generations the Arab populations had bartered away their political freedom for economic protection. They rose in rebellion when it dawned on them that the bargain had not worked, that the system of subsidies, and the promise of equality held out by the autocrats, had proven a colossal failure.
What Hayek would call the Arab world’s “road to serfdom” began when the old order of merchants and landholders was upended in the 1950s and ‘60s by a political and military class that assumed supreme power. The officers and ideologues who came to rule Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Algeria and Yemen were men contemptuous of the marketplace and of economic freedom. As a rule, they hailed from the underclass and had no regard for the sanctity of wealth and property. They had come to level the economic order, and they put the merchant classes, and those who were the mainstay of the free market, to flight.
It was in the 1950s that the foreign minorities who had figured prominently in the economic life of Egypt after the cotton boom of the 1860s, and who had drawn that country into the web of the world economy, would be sent packing. The Jews and the Greeks and the Italians would take with them their skills and habits. The military class, and the Fabian socialists around them, distrusted free trade and the marketplace and were determined to rule over them or without them.
The Egyptian way would help tilt the balance against the private sector in other Arab lands as well. In Iraq, the Jews of the country, on its soil for well over two millennia, were dispossessed and banished in 1950-51. They had mastered the retail trade and were the most active community in the commerce of Baghdad. Some Shiite merchants stepped into their role, but this was short-lived. Military officers and ideologues of the Baath Party from the “Sunni triangle”—men with little going for them save their lust for wealth and power—came into possession of the country and its oil wealth. They, like their counterparts in Egypt, were believers in central planning and “social equality.” By the 1980s, Saddam Hussein, a Sunni thug born from crushing poverty, would come to think of the wealth of the country as his own.
In Libya, a deranged Moammar Gadhafi did Saddam one better. After his 1969 military coup, he demolished the private sector in 1973 and established what he called “Islamic Socialism.” Gadhafi’s so-called popular democracy basically nationalized the entire economy, rendering the Libyan people superfluous by denying them the skills and the social capital necessary for a viable life.
In his 1944 masterpiece, “The Road to Serfdom,” Hayek wrote that in freedom-crushing totalitarian societies “the worst get on top.” In words that described the Europe of his time but also capture the contemporary Arab condition, he wrote: “To be a useful assistant in the running of a totalitarian state, it is not enough that a man should be prepared to accept specious justification of vile deeds; he must himself be prepared actively to break every moral rule he has ever known if this seems necessary to achieve the end set for him. Since it is the supreme leader who alone determines the ends, his instruments must have no moral convictions of their own.”
This well describes the decades-long brutal dictatorship of Syria’s Hafez al-Assad, and now his son Bashar’s rule. It is said that Hafez began his dynasty with little more than a modest officer’s salary. His dominion would beget a family of enormous wealth: The Makhloufs, the in-laws of the House of Assad, came to control crucial sectors of the Syrian economy.
The Alawites, the religious sect to which the Assad clan belongs, had been poor peasants and sharecroppers, but political and military power raised them to new heights. The merchants of Damascus and Aleppo, and the landholders in Homs and Hama, were forced to submit to the new order. They could make their peace with the economy of extortion, cut Alawite officers into long-established businesses, or be swept aside.
But a decade or so ago this ruling bargain—subsidies and economic redistribution in return for popular quiescence—began to unravel. The populations in Arab lands had swelled and it had become virtually impossible to guarantee jobs for the young and poorly educated. Economic nationalism, and the war on the marketplace, had betrayed the Arabs. They had the highest unemployment levels among developing nations, the highest jobless rate among the young, and the lowest rates of economic participation among women. The Arab political order was living on borrowed time, and on fear of official terror.
Attempts at “reform” were made. But in the arc of the Arab economies, the public sector of one regime became the private sector of the next. Sons, sons-in-law and nephews of the rulers made a seamless transition into the rigged marketplace when “privatization” was forced onto stagnant enterprises. Of course, this bore no resemblance to market-driven economics in a transparent system. This was crony capitalism of the worst kind, and it was recognized as such by Arab populations. Indeed, this economic plunder was what finally severed the bond between Hosni Mubarak and an Egyptian population known for its timeless patience and stoicism.
The sad truth of Arab social and economic development is that the free-market reforms and economic liberalization that remade East Asia and Latin America bypassed the Arab world. This is the great challenge of the Arab Spring and of the forces that brought it about. The marketplace has had few, if any, Arab defenders. If the tremendous upheaval at play in Arab lands is driven by a desire to capture state power—and the economic prerogatives that come with political power—the revolution will reproduce the failures of the past.
In Yemen, a schoolteacher named Amani Ali, worn out by the poverty and anarchy of that poorest of Arab states, recently gave voice to a sentiment that has been the autocrats’ prop: “We don’t want change,” he said. “We don’t want freedom. We want food and safety.” True wisdom, and an end to their road to serfdom, will only come when the Arab people make the connection between economic and political liberty.
(Mr. Ajami, a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution
is co-chairman of Hoover’s Working Group on Islamism and the International Order.)