How Shall We React to the Terror in Paris?

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World Trade Center’s spire lit in France’s colors: blue, white and red.

Our prayers are with the victims of the horrible terrorist attacks across Paris. Now is the time to grieve.

The natural reaction is to strike back and avenge the carnage. But before we do, let us pause and consider our actions, making them deliberate and thoughtful, to do more than lash out and punish: Who is the enemy and how do we best work to defeat them in the long-term war of ideologies in which we are engaged?  We are compelled to answer this question before we can take the next step.

It is enticing to react and retaliate, but violence untargeted or mistargeted will serve to create more victims and foment more hatred. The threats are real, but we need to know who the adversary is and the most effective ways to combat the enemy. Precipitous action will do far more harm than good.

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Walls of the Old City Jerusalem lit with image of French flag.

Sadly, some struggle to support the French, seeing this tragedy as an opportunity to say “turnabout is fair play” due to perceived and real anti-Semitism in France. We are better than that. The Jewish values of chesed (kindness) and rachamim (mercy) compel us to reach out and provide comfort and support. Our compassion helps us to rise above all kinds of hatred and Judaism becomes a beacon of light to the nations.  We reach out to the people of France with a unique understanding of the pain and suffering they endure, uniting with them in a battle against the darkness.  We need to declare the principles of liberté, égalité, fraternité belong to all of us.  By doing so, we demonstrate that our values give us strength, the strength to love others and the strength to fight when we must against those who would eradicate us.

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This Land is Our Land

FlagsTwo iconic songs reverberate in my mind. The first is the American classic, This Land is your land, This Land is my Land. It is a dream of a shared society here in America. The second song is the deeply moving Theme from Exodus, with its seminal line “This Land is mine, God gave this Land to me.” This soaring tribute to the Jewish Homeland is the dream of a people rooted in an ancient connection to the Land. The two songs are not as dissimilar as they appeared initially to me because of what is missing.

Woody Guthrie’s Ballad in its beautiful message of inclusion does not include the Native Americans of the land. The message of Exodus is similar in its treatment of the long-time native inhabitants of Israel. The Palestinian narrative likewise does not have a place for the Jewish State. Each song of hope is exclusive to its own kind.

Sharing can be profoundly difficult, particularly when it is with people unlike us, whether culturally, ethnically or by some other difference. It is even more problematic if the claim of one is at the expense of the other, as some zero-sum game. The Israeli and Palestinian people both struggle with it and suffer from it. “This land is MY land” seems to be the respective song of each. For many Palestinians, Israel’s existence notwithstanding, the long view holds that eventually Israel will go away and the rightful owners will again return. And Israel defines itself as the Jewish state, born from a combination of hard work to build, war to defend, investment, political will and an historic claim. The Israeli’s ongoing and expanding presence in the West Bank however severely complicates the landscape.

If Israelis and Palestinians will not amend their respective stories both sides will continue to fight, one to preserve what is there, one to restore something there. These limited narratives foment strife and hatred and also inflict great human suffering in a world growing ever smaller and more dangerous. As long as each side clings fast to a story that rejects the claims of the other, the status quo will continue. Statesmen and visionary leaders on both sides must work to move past narratives that are mutually exclusive and find space to coexist with the other. Then these leaders must persuade the people of this reimagined future. Both sides must embrace a peaceful coexistence to finally stop the otherwise never-ending cycle of death and destruction. For neither side is ready or willing to go away.

Can Zionism embrace the Palestinian narrative respectfully?

Would the Palestinian narrative accept Israel’s legitimacy?

Ironically, because both Israelis and Palestinians are so fully committed, each requires the other in order to survive, let alone thrive, for neither will ever give up. Furthermore, in this difficult and ever more radicalized region external forces challenge both. A new way forward based on cooperation and mutual respect is desperately needed for both peoples. Let us pray that someday all might sing together.

It Takes Two for Peace, President Abbas

DomeMuch of the angst between Israeli and Palestinian sides has been centered around finger pointing. It is easier to tell the other side what it must do before peace can come. The Israelis put the onus on the Palestinians, claiming Israel is ready to go. And the Palestinians do the same. Neither side makes hard decisions. Netanyahu digs his heels in. And Abbas likewise takes an intractable stand.

Many of us, who advocate for a two-state solution, speak of our ability to control only what happens on our side. We talk about the things that Israel can do to create space for peace, or even promote unilateral moves Israel can make to achieve peace. We continually call upon the Israeli government to take proactive steps regarding restarting peace talks and settlements. But realistically that is not enough.

The truth remains that peace can only come when both sides are prepared to make the difficult and courageous choices, which include concessions neither want to make. But they both are compelled to make these compromises in order to create the greater good of peace for all. Leaderships must be prepared to truly be visionaries and take bold steps.

So Mr. Abbas, your people, the world and your potential ally Israel are watching current events and your responses very closely. We hear your silence when youngsters brutally attack with knives and deliberately place themselves in harms way in a futile and desperate attempt to incite and murder. We hear your voice fanning the flames of hate with falsehoods playing on the emotions of the Muslim faithfuls regarding the Temple Mount/al-Haram al-Sarif/Har Habayit, and the purposeful false report of the death of a 13-year-old. Through these things, you clearly tell us where you stand as the leader of the Palestinians and on the opportunity for peace.

You appear to have turned your back on your people. You are willing to make them a nation of perpetual martyrs, permanently disenfranchised with no hope of a homeland, only the fantasy of victorious war over Israel.

It is time to make Israel your ally. She is both legitimate and permanent. So the choice is yours: a never-ending battle using your people as pawns, or the creation of a viable peace between two nations living cooperatively. Ultimately, perhaps your goal might be to someday stand like Ronald Reagan and declare it is the time for the Security Wall to come down. And in an era of peace, your Israeli counterpart will be all too likely to comply.

In Israel, a Nation of Laws Is Tested

ThemisViolence continues to escalate in Israel, with the knife as a weapon of choice, and fear is spreading as attacks come from seemingly out of nowhere.

The natural and proper inclination is for law enforcement to become even more vigilant in order to prevent attacks rather than only respond. But the police however must be judicious in how they protect the citizens of Israel.

Israel is a nation of laws. She prides herself on having a legal system similar to the American ideal founded on the principle of equal protection under the law. Now this system is being severely tested and Israel’s heart and soul are at risk.

If Israel permits the profiling of people and the preemptive assault on individuals outside the prescribed due process of the legal system, then it loses and the terrorists win. Israel cannot be democratic if it limits the application of law to select privileged classes, such as Jews, while others, such as Arabs, fall outside that sphere. A crackdown on terrorism cannot come at the price of the fundamental principles of Israel.

The violence and barbaric nature of these attacks on civilians (police included) are certainly not random acts. Is this a mass response to “occupation” or are these individual actors perpetrating crimes as copycats? It certainly seems to not be the latter. Even if not expressly ordered by a central control, the attacks are coordinated.

The first order is to restore calm. The second order is to cool the boiling over of the cauldron. Repression of an entire group, such as the Arabs of East Jerusalem, and sealing off of that portion of the city, will provide a temporary subduing of these attacks. A closer and deeper look at the grievances that encourage this violence as a legitimate response is required. Then deliberate steps must be taken to create a society that is fair and just.

Both the Israeli government and its citizenry must balance the need for security and safety against the fair application of law to all.  It is very tempting to let fear drive the reaction to violence. The harsh and repressive measures of which politicians speak, that deprive people of protections under the law, and penalizing suspects and whole segments of society, will not solve the problems but foment them instead.

Israel is at its best when it strives to attain the ideals upon which the state was founded as expressed in the Declaration of Independence and basic laws. Israel must hold on to these guiding principles more tightly than ever before.

I do not condone or legitimize the violence. Those that have perpetrated these attacks should be duly punished for breaking the laws of the State and of civilized society. Now it is up to the State and civilized society to solve the problems that have contributed to fomenting such deep discontent with a system of justice that speaks to everyone.

What the West Should Learn From ISIL Palmyra Destruction

palmyraAll of us are sickened by the horrible barbaric acts of ISIL and rightly so. Their vision incorporates an intolerant hateful extreme interpretation of Islam, destroying and creating terror wherever they are, in the name of a new triumphant Caliphate.

We have watched helplessly while ISIL destroys Palmyra, an extraordinary archaeological remnant. I find this somehow ironic, for Palmyra is nothing more than remnants. The remains of Palmyra are ruins precisely because of a history where the next invader destroyed what preceded. So ISIL continues to do what has done for millennia.

I certainly do not suggest that ISIL is either civilized or legitimate, anything but. However, human beings have a past where we often find a need to conquer and destroy rather than honor and build upon what came before. These ancient ruins are sites of destruction and murder from history. They are tied to cycles of building and prosperity punctuated by war, overthrow and occupation. Possibly we can learn more in this moment beyond how to preserve ancient monuments.

Perhaps if we are to truly honor Palmyra, saving the inhabitants of the land should be the priority. ISIL is partially a reaction to a failed nation-state, which we, the “civilized” West, had supported. The developed countries helped to create a festering problem by permitting strongmen to ruthlessly rule because it was in our political interests to do so, rather than create an organic sustainable government whose legitimacy is derived from the people governed. ISIL is attempting to fill a void created when the dictatorship is finally overthrown and no institutions or even a history of governance are there to take its place.

The “civilized” world must accept its responsibility in creating the situation that now exists and therefore engage in nation building to create a place where the native peoples can live in peace. In the interim, it is our responsibility to provide safe haven for the refugees and victims of war by providing shelter, food and clothing through temporary facilities as well as through immigration. Only when the civilized world does these things can we say we truly honor our past and that humanity is indeed progressing forward.

Oregon Shooter’s Access to Weaponry Was Too Easy

Memorial-candle-copyThe mass shooting and murder at Umpqua College in Roseburg, Oregon has made this yet another difficult and tragic week in the U.S. The murderer did this with weaponry that was too easily accessible.

We need to commit ourselves to keep guns out of the hands of people seeking to harm others as evidenced by a violent criminal history or by a struggle with mental illness. People who are inherently irresponsible cannot handle guns responsibly.

We cannot accept that mass murder and domestic terror are acceptable costs of living in the U.S. Yet every time we allow no constructive action to reign in gun violence in this country we become part of the problem. These deaths are no longer just the responsibility of individual actors, be they angry or crazy. The blood is now on our hands. [Read more…]