Category Archives: Israel

Oren’s “Ally”

Last week, a Muslim Arab named Abdul Azeez shot and murdered five US soldiers at military recruiting centers in Tennessee on the last day of Ramadan, and the Obama administration, puzzled, will not leap to conclusions about the motive of the attacker. Of course, a ten year-child with a casual familiarity with the news could tell us what the motive was, and so the officials responsible for protecting the American people must be seeking some motive “other” than the obvious.

This ongoing flight from reality – and the dramatic changes that have been wrought to American foreign policy in the last six years – is the subtext of Michael Oren’s “Ally: My Journey Across the American-Israeli Divide.” For those who wish to know the inside story of the deterioration of relations between the two countries since Obama became president – a willful and intentional distancing from and disrespecting of Israel and the traditional alliance and friendship between the two countries, it is a fascinating, and at times, riveting read. Oren, a New Jersey native who was Israel’s ambassador to the United States for four years of the Obama presidency, had a front row seat to the tumultuous twists and turns, and as an historian, a keen eye for both small details and the big picture.

Oren’s portrait of the life of an ambassador, at least Israel’s ambassador, is wearying in the best sense of the word. There were times when I felt tired just reading about his day. The early morning calls to and from Israel, the rowing on the Potomac for some private time, and then the lobbying, speeches, travel, embassy management, daily crises and endless cocktail parties late into the night followed by more calls to Israel, are enough to drive anyone to drink, which seems to be what people do at the nightly cocktail parties anyway. His personal story is compelling, notwithstanding the gaps in his narrative. A young oleh who becomes a lone soldier and within a relatively short time finds himself on official business in the Soviet Union and then sitting as an advisor to the Israeli mission at the UN was apparently more than an IDF paratrooper but likely involved in some clandestine work as well. His access to high government officials, long before his official posting to Washington, is unusual by the standards of the average American oleh, and his rise – which took decades – nevertheless seems meteoric. He can be excused those gaps.

By all accounts, he is immensely talented and articulate, and as a reader of both of his prior history books, I have learned that he is a perceptive historian and keen analyst. Reviews of “Ally” have extracted the sound bites, the inside baseball of who like and dislikes whom, and confirmation or refutation of certain events that were rumored to be true. Oren does rebuff some of the conventional wisdom of the last few years: in one celebrated incident, Obama allegedly dissed Netanyahu by leaving him to eat dinner with Michelle and children, disappearing for hours and leaving Netanyahu to stew in the White House alone. Oren debunks that, claiming that Michelle and the girls were not even in the White House that night and Obama merely said he was going to sleep (at 9:00 PM) and the rest of the team of Israelis and Americans worked for several hours. Of course, Oren is also reporting just what he was told and saw, and it is unclear why the sleep excuse was better than the dinner excuse – but nothing can hide the unprecedented animosity between the leaders of the two countries. Much of Oren’s work as ambassador seemed to be defusing explosives and smoothing over rough spots in the relationship. He failed, but only because the experiences, world views, value system and interests of Netanyahu and Obama are so incompatible.

Leaving aside the commonly reported anecdotes, a few points struck me about Oren’s experiences. The book focuses on the tug of war between the two identities Oren bears within him – as an American and as an Israeli, no more poignantly reported than in the book’s opening when Oren had to surrender his US passport and renounce his American citizenship at the US embassy in Tel Aviv before assuming his post in Washington. It is quite moving and the range of emotions – and tears – palpable. (His wife and children retained their US citizenship.) Yet, it is equally clear that Oren retains strong and mostly positive feelings about America, which is welcome, if only in that it sets him apart from other American olim who feel some compulsion to appear more Israeli by disparaging the land of their birth.

With that, Oren is not a typical American oleh in that he is a mostly secular Jew with a strong sense of Jewish identity. He tends to regard the religious component of Judaism (that is to say, its essence) as just one (oftentimes lamentable) aspect of the kaleidoscope of pluralism that he cherishes, and so the Orthodox, their lifestyle, the obligation of mitzvot, and even the settlement of the land of Israel are perceived more as inconveniences than they are desiderata. The cultural and national facets of Judaism animate him more than the religious, which dovetails with his upbringing, but leaves him grasping to find cogent reasons why the modern Jewish people has any claim to the land of Israel more substantive than that our forefathers once lived there.

As such, he did and does find the settlement movement to be an irritant, and if he doesn’t fully subscribe to the execrable theory that but for the settlements there would be peace, he doesn’t firmly repudiate it even if he acknowledges that they too are Israelis whose views must be considered. Similarly, he clings to the two-state solution fantasy, even if (better than the political left) he realizes that the time is not yet ripe and might never be ripe for another partition of the land of Israel. Like others of his background and temperament, he yearns for the halcyon days of Ben-Gurion, which in reality were not so peaceful but during which Israel’s international reputation was much more favorable, cushioned as it was by the detritus of the Holocaust.

Yet, Oren is also acutely aware of the unique role he was given. Secular Israelis are always a little suspicious of Americans who make aliya (who leaves a land with everything for a land of milk and honey?) and continue to perceive them as Americans. To Israelis, he remained Michael (not Mee-kha-el) and I was curious – he doesn’t say – whether Netanyahu generally conversed with him in Hebrew or in English. (He often drafted Netanyahu’s English remarks but Netanyahu also wrote his own or deviated from the text with the soaring oratory to which we have become accustomed.) Indeed, Oren’s appointment followed a Netanyahu pattern in his second tenure as Prime Minister, in selecting for prominent positions a non-rightist (Oren, Livni, Barak) so as to buy protection from a hostile media and a potentially adversarial US administration. It didn’t always work, although in fairness, it might have been (and be) worse without that moderate cover.

Read from a broad perspective, the book can be used to answer one bewildering question: if Iran is the enemy of the United States and Israel, and Israel and the US are allies, then why is the United States strengthening its enemy Iran while weakening its ally Israel?

The answer will trouble Obama’s Jews who also claim to love and support Israel. Obama has endeavored to undermine the relationship between the two countries from the very beginning of his term. It is well known that Obama sought to create daylight between the diplomatic positions of the two countries from the moment he took office, in two ways. The first was by demanding a settlement freeze, followed by an Israeli surrender of territory and the creation of a Palestinian state. Netanyahu was resistant, although he did weaken several times – conceding the establishment of an Arab state in his Bar Ilan speech or acceding to a ten month settlement freeze in order to induce Mahmoud Abbas to negotiations. Both were coerced by an Obama administration that has never tired in its demands for shows of good faith by Israel and only Israel, and neither worked, for reasons much discussed in recent years. More importantly, notwithstanding all these concessions, Netanyahu was still blamed for the absence of peace; Abbas? Never .Indeed, Oren – like others – concludes that Obama’s hostility to Israel made Abbas’ positions even more hard-line than they otherwise would have been.

The second way that Obama has impaired the US-Israeli relationship is by reorienting US foreign policy away from support for Israel (and even pro-American Sunni Muslim countries like Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia) and towards Iran, as bizarre as that sounds. I can’t help thinking that the hand of Iranian-born Valerie Jarrett is behind this, but do not exclude Obama’s own radical ties as he ascended the political ladder in Chicago. Oren maintains that the key to Obama still lies in the two autobiographies he wrote, in which his radical views are delineated, but too little attention was paid to them.

Thus – in an exchange that is especially prescient these days – Oren in conversation with Henry Kissinger was incredulous that the US would allow Iran to become a nuclear power and thereby end American hegemony in the Middle East. Kissinger: “And what makes you think anybody in the White House still cares about American hegemony in the Middle East?” Indeed, and it is therefore not surprising that Obama could acquiesce in Iran’s nuclear program even as Iranian leaders and mobs shout “Death to America!”

There is something ominous in Oren’s behind-the-scenes political accounts, some of which have recently precipitated White House calls for apologies and corrections for the airing of unpleasant truths, and that is this: Obama has tried to shield himself from accusations of being anti-Israel not only by doing the obvious nice (helping extinguish the Carmel fire) and the political nice (supporting Israel at the UN) but also by surrounding himself with Jews (Emanuel, Axelrod et al) and using them as his attack dogs against Israel. In fact, the only Democratic politician who publicly stood up to Obama was the disgraced Congressman Anthony Wiener, an odd duck for several reasons including his marriage to an Arab Muslim who is a leading advisor to Hillary Clinton, a public friend of Israel but in private, as Secretary of State, as nasty to Israelis as any Obama-ite.

This fear of defying Obama – and it is a fear – will weigh heavily on Democratic and especially Jewish Democratic Congressmen in the upcoming deliberations over the Bad Deal with Iran. (It’s very American; we have had the New Deal, the Fair Deal, the Square Deal and now we have the Bad Deal.) Chuck Schumer is in an unenviable position only because he is a politician. He yearns to succeed Harry Reid as Senate Democratic leader –and if he opposes Obama on Iran, it is extremely unlikely even though Obama will be gone from office. Democrats will come under intense pressure, and for supporters of Israel and a strong America, it is not enough to vote no. They have to solicit other “no” votes as well. Democrats are forced into bitter struggle between the right choice and the expedient choice.

There was also an astonishing level of personal animosity towards Israel and its elected leaders that was apparent in many ways. One stood out: in autumn 2012, Netanyahu planned a military strike against several of Iran’s nuclear facilities. He was threatened by administration officials with dire consequences if he attacked. He didn’t. A year later, those same officials ridiculed him as a coward using a common barnyard epithet. And the White House routinely publicized proposed Israeli attack mechanisms to warn Iran and remove the element of surprise. This is the Obama for whom 7 of 10 Jews voted.

It is also distressing, albeit commonplace, to recognize the politician’s knack for the redundant repetition of code words that mean little and are often utter falsehoods. Oren almost laughs recalling the incessant references of the Obama team to the US-Israeli alliance as “unbreakable and unshakeable.” Even as the administration was trying to break it and shake it, liberal Jews still loved to hear the words, which matter to them more than actual deeds. Oren doesn’t say it, but that phrase could take its place with “if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor,” “Iran will never be allowed to obtain a nuclear weapon” and “in case of violations, sanctions will snap back.”

Additionally, while on the topic of words, Oren notes that there is no greater dichotomy than the politician’s suave, dignified posture in public and the rampant vulgarity and crudity that take place off-stage.

But with all the turbulence in recent years, there still is a pervasive sense that the US-Israeli relationship is unbreakable and unshakeable, transcends even the hostility of any particular president, and can really “snap back” given effective and sympathetic leadership in the future. That is because, as Oren underscores eloquently, the intrinsic values of both countries are similar, rooted as they are (at least fundamentally) in the Torah and shared notions of human rights, personal freedom and universal morality. In that sense even the term “ally” is limiting. I once heard President Bush (II) emphasize that the Saudis are allies but the Israelis are friends – and friends share a closer bond than allies.

Oren’s Ally is a well written, engaging book, filled with trenchant analysis that clearly articulates a widely held view in Israel. Mistakes do creep in to any book and here as well. Omri Casspi plays “in”
the NBA, not “for” the NBA, and more egregiously, Senator Joe Lieberman was a candidate for Vice-President in 2000, not 2004. But even as one can take issue with certain policy conclusions and even some of his world views, Michael Oren – a dedicated servant of the Jewish people, now a Member of Knesset from Kulanu – has written a book that gives us an enthralling inside view of all the complications, complexities and vicissitudes of the relationship between the United States and Israel, a relationship that is bound to get more prickly in the coming months. For sure, the nature of that alliance will be a critical issue during the coming presidential campaign assuming that Jews finally wake up and cease casting their political fortunes with just one party, indeed, the party that is actively engaged in enabling Israel’s most implacable foe to acquire the deadliest weapons known to man.

More importantly, on a personal level, Oren’s tale is captivating – the New Jersey kid who dreams of becoming Israel’s ambassador to the United States and fulfills that dream, after making aliya alone. It is the dream of every oleh – to settle in and make a positive contribution to society – and thus both an American and an Israeli success story.

Obama is No Fool

On some level, it is not surprising that Barack Obama, son of an anti-American, anti-Western Muslim, and John Kerry, grandson of an apostate Jew, would empower the radical Islamic State of Iran with a nuclear weapons agreement that weakens the United States and the free world and endangers the very existence of the State of Israel. It was equally obvious that an agreement empowering Iran and guaranteeing its production of nuclear weapons and continued propagation of terror would be signed eventually. The only uncertainty was when, precisely, Iran would determine that it had extracted enough concessions from its interlocutors so as to declare victory.

Obama is no fool, although he does take his audience and his supporters for fools. It is hard to determine whether he believes his own rhetoric. Few – especially Iran – believe that the agreement will “prevent it from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” as Obama opined. Even fewer should believe that “every pathway to a nuclear weapon is cut off.” Only the willfully delusional will argue that Obama’s folly has “stopped the spread of nuclear weapons” in the Middle East. (On the contrary, it will jumpstart Saudi Arabia’s drive for a nuclear capability and perhaps even Kuwait’s and the Emirates – as none of those countries will wish to rely, and sensibly so, on America’s promises.)

Perhaps, most egregiously, is this whopper: “the international community will be able to verify that the Islamic Republic of Iran will not develop a nuclear weapon.” These deceptive words mask the sad reality that the agreement actually requires 24 day notice before any inspection takes place, and even then Iran has the right to refuse the inspection and refer disputes to a committee for endless discussion of the matter. Imagine, for a moment, if the police had to obtain a search warrant from a judge and then had to give 24 days’ notice to the suspects! That is ludicrous when applied to the search for contraband like illegal guns or narcotics; it is positively obscene when proposed for the search for nuclear weapons.

Add to that the sanctions relief – sanctions that will never be snapped back – and that will furnish Iran with billions of dollars and bolster the Iranian terror regime that will foment worldwide terror and murder an untold number of Jews, Americans, Westerners, Christians, non-Muslims – and many Muslims as well; the arms embargo that will be lifted sooner rather than later; and the absurd reality that Iran has violated each agreement it has signed in the past and effectively employs the Islamic doctrine of taqiyya that permits it to lie and dissemble in order to spread the jihad against all infidels – and this agreement is an epic catastrophe in the making.
So how did it happen? If Obama is not a fool, what is he? Venal? Not necessarily. Only dupes will believe that the United States negotiated from a “position of strength.” Hah – only Iran ever walked away from the negotiations, and several times, and Iran easily played an American negotiating team desperate for a deal at any price. Following the pattern of Obama’s dealings with Syria, all of his red lines vanished during the negotiations with Iran (and Syria is widely believed to still possess chemical weapons, despite its assurances). So what is it?

Oddly, Obama has never been coy about his real goals. His supporters, though, especially Jewish liberals but others as well, have intentionally blinded themselves to those goals and satisfied themselves with empty rhetoric, toothy smiles, and invitations to lame Chanuka parties and Pesach seders (some even held not on Chanuka or Pesach).

It is this: in 2008, Obama was criticized when he commented that President Reagan was a “transformational President,” violating the liberal code to which he otherwise adheres that one should never praise a Republican for anything. His critics were mistaken; Obama wasn’t praising Reagan, he was just making an observation. Reagan was a transformational President in ways that Obama disapproved but Obama saw himself in that same mode – as a president who would fundamentally transform the United States.

At the risk of subjecting myself to the same criticism, I will state the obvious: Obama has succeeded in that objective and has become a transformational President, but in so doing has grievously harmed the United States internally and externally. He has transformed the domestic scene by creating entire new classes of dependents, expanding enormously the welfare state, forcing millions (and in coming years, millions more) on to government funded health care, and subsidizing a considerable underclass of unemployed and underemployed Americans. Globally, Obama has transformed America into an unreliable ally, an adversary to longstanding friends and a follower in a world without a powerful leader. The international field has been left open for bad actors to exploit – and they have, gleefully. His projection of American power is minimalistic and antiseptic, designed to inflict enough damage to quiet those Americans who believe in the goodness and morality of the USA and are therefore supporters of a robust use of force but never enough power to actually win a war, accomplish any strategic goal or intimidate America’s traditional enemies.

Worse, while America’s friends – Israel, Britain, France and others have been disrespected and trampled upon, and America’s allies – like Saudi Arabia – disregarded and slighted, America’s enemies for generations – Cuba, Iran, Venezuela and others – have been revived, resuscitated and emboldened. Obama must believe that those countries were antagonistic to the US because of some personal pique on the part of all his predecessors, the much despised Yankee imperialism, or some other American failing. Apparently, it has not dawned on Obama that those countries were enemies of the United States because of their corrupt ideologies, depraved and repressive regimes, and the absence of any shared values or interests. All his predecessors were therefore wrong, misguided and short-sighted; hence, the unctuous absurdity that he uttered: that the Iran pact “has achieved something that decades of animosity has not,” as if the “animosity” was just imprudent and the quest to deprive Iran of nuclear weapons repugnant and jingoistic.

It is clear that the status quo was working, that sanctions were taking a toll, and that Iran was suffering. It was also clear that Obama always opposed the sanctions (he resigned himself to claiming credit for them only when Congress passed the legislation overwhelmingly) and that military action by the US against Iran was never  seriously contemplated by Obama. Indeed, a variety of Israelis have noted that Obama has been more worried about an Israeli preemptive strike against Iran’s nuclear program than about Iran’s nuclear program. Thus did Obama forfeit all American leverage, if he ever intended to use it.

It is crunch time for American Jews, especially liberal Democrats in Congress and their Jewish supporters. The Iran deal must be stopped, and all means of pressure from Jewish organizations, donors, individuals must be brought to bear. I don’t want to hear how Charles Schumer is Israel’s “guardian” if he votes to give a nuclear bomb to Iran, nor am I interested in Torah musings from Cory Booker. Kirsten Gillibrand must be told that this will make or break her relationship with her Jewish constituents. G-d bless NJ’s Bob Menendez who has endured great hardship and been persecuted by the Obama administration in an effort to silence him – and has remained steadfast in his opposition to this sellout. AIPAC must use all its influence and not worry about future access; future access will not matter once Iran acquires a nuclear weapon, and perhaps not even if they are given billions of dollars to foment more terror.

We should also crack down on politicians who claim to have “Israel’s back.” People are stabbed in the back by those who betray them, and everyone walks in back of a coffin. Forget the back, the clichés and the empty promises. I pray that liberal Jews will not seek face-saving measures to avoid confronting the harsh reality that is before us – the betrayal of Israel through the reversal of three decades of US policy.

But none of this is only about Israel. It has been US policy for decades to prevent the acquisition of nuclear weapons by rogue states; for the first time, under Obama’s failed leadership, the United States is birthing and subsidizing the acquisition of nuclear weapons by a rogue regime, and the world’s leading state sponsor of terror. It is time to ask the question: are Jews committed more to the Democratic Party or to their identity as Jews? It should be an easy question to answer – but I recognize that for so many, it is not.

Much has been made of the failure of the US negotiators to secure the release of four American citizens currently being held prisoner in Iran on trumped-up charges. Frankly, I’ll be surprised if they are not released within a few months – and not surprised at all if they will be used as a bargaining chip by Iran, with or without administration connivance. As in: Iran declaring next month that the four will be freed if Congress approves the agreement, thereby cynically placing the onus of their continued captivity on Congress rather than on Iran. It is an unsubtle form of blackmail.

It sounds trite to argue, as many have, that Obama is doing this for his “legacy.” Jimmy Carter also had a legacy, as did Neville Chamberlain. Indeed, we should recall now Churchill’s stirring rebuke to Chamberlain when he returned with “Herr Hitler’s” signature on that infamous piece of paper: “You were given the choice between war and dishonor. You chose dishonor and you will have war.” Recall as well Chamberlain’s pathetic excuse uttered on his deathbed: “Everything would have been all right if Hitler hadn’t lied to me.”

More than seventy-five years later, the naïve Chamberlain again walks among us. The Churchill’s of our age are being marginalized and lambasted, just like the original was. We are left with the inevitable results of a failed presidency that has remade America in a way that threatens the American dream and the stability of the world. Obama’s peculiar blend of arrogance, messianism, naiveté, and disdain for traditional American leadership has brought Iran to its feet and America to its knees.

It was all, so sadly, predictable. Can it be reversed and stopped in time? Once again, the Jewish people are alone, with the world community acquiescing in arming our most bitter enemies with genocidal weapons. If that does not serve to concentrate our minds during these Three Weeks as we commemorate the destruction of the Bet HaMikdash and other calamities in Jewish history, and doesn’t induce us to examine our behavior and repent, then what will? If we do not realize now that we are living in historic times and on the verge of great transformations, then when will we?

P.S. For a sobering view of the hubris and foibles of politicians and their grand pronouncements, see this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6TcbU5jAavw

The common denominator? Wendy Sherman, lead US negotiator with Iran, also led the negotiations with North Korea.

Inflection Point

Question: if an Orthodox rabbi does things that are not particularly “Orthodox,” do those actions then become defined as “Orthodox” because he did them or does he cease to be called an “Orthodox” rabbi? The answer is not entirely clear, even if it should be. Some actions are so egregious that the claim to Orthodoxy would seem to lapse, others cross or skirt the line of propriety, and still others are hailed as courageous innovations by many who are not schooled in Torah and Mesorah.

The question is general and I do not suggest that the above applies to Rav Shlomo Riskin, nor that Rav Riskin should be compelled to resign as Chief Rabbi of Efrat. I, for one, did not even know that his position was held pursuant to the authority of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel; I just assumed he served at the deference of his constituents in the city he was instrumental in founding. On the one hand, a retirement of age of 75 seems about right, if only to reinvigorate the rabbinate everywhere with younger blood; on the other hand, Rav Riskin is indefatigable even at 75, with an energy level that dwarfs that of many younger rabbis and he would certainly remain in Efrat whatever the Rabbanut does. I am among a group of numerous rabbis who admire and respect Rav Riskin for his accomplishments, his personality and his midot, all of which have inspired generations of Jews of all backgrounds including Orthodox. And, for sure, I would not want the Rabbanut passing judgment on American rabbis, so I will not pass judgment on their decisions even as I hope that this matter is resolved amicably and with full respect for all concerned.

Truth be told, no rabbi (and I mean, no rabbi,  from the time of Moshe Rabbenu until today) enjoys universal support and approbation. It is the nature of the profession, and Rav Riskin has begun to stake out positions on the leftist wing of Orthodoxy that has riled up many of his erstwhile supporters, some of his own constituents and perhaps even elements of the Chief Rabbinate. I have no inside information, but I can state with some degree of confidence that, in general, religious mavericks play better in the spiritual anarchy that prevails in America than in the more formalized religious establishments that exist in the State of Israel. Israel, after all, is the Jewish state, and providing that designation with substance has been a controversial endeavor since 1948, if not before.

In the United States, where the government stays out of matters of religious doctrine and where – especially today – the ethos is staunchly secular, few people really care (outside the particular denomination in question) what happens, what changes and what stays the same. If Episcopalians ordain women and Catholics do not, it is well understood that Episcopalians perceive themselves as deviating from tradition to promote a modern agenda and Catholics are clinging to their traditional norms. In our world, we have witnessed a steady erosion of commitment to traditional norms under the rubric of “Orthodoxy” and often emanating from putative Orthodox rabbis. The only recourse is censure from Orthodox Jewish organizations but that has been almost non-existent or ineffectual for reasons best known to them. Thus, the American religious environment is much more hospitable to the culture of “each man does what it right in his own eyes.”

Israel is different, for obvious reasons even beyond the integration of religion and state. Take the conversion issue, which allegedly is one dispute the Rabbanut has with Rav Riskin. (He favors the bill granting conversion authority outside the Chief Rabbinate framework to local rabbinical councils.) In Israel, conversion of a foreigner conveys not only Jewish status but also Israeli citizenship. The latter is clearly a valid concern of government even if the former is not. One can understand why conversion carries with it more than the change in personal status that it does, for example, in the United States; in Israel, there is a national dimension as well. The government – and a national entity, like the Rabbanut –

has to be involved and give its approval. And even conversion of those who are already Israeli citizens should not engender two (or more) standards of conversion – those for Israeli citizens and those who are not. The laws of conversion do not sustain such dichotomies. There cannot be one level of kabbalat hamitzvot incumbent on Israeli citizens who wish to convert and a wholly different one that pertains to non-Israeli citizens who wish to convert. Indeed, do not dual standards constitute a violation of tormenting the convert? Unless we just want to convert every Israeli citizen (just try it on the Muslims!) then the criteria for conversion to Judaism must be based on Jewish and Torah constructs and not nationalistic ones, such as IDF service. Many non-Jews also serve in the IDF.

This must remain so if for no other reason than this: I cannot dictate to the State of Israel who can or cannot be an Israeli citizen but I never agreed to delegate to the Knesset of Israel or its Government the authority to determine who is or isn’t Jewish. Those laws were made by Torah and are the province of the Sages – and not even individual Sages, but the consensus of each generation. Otherwise, the conversion anarchy that used to exist in the United States will find its way to Israel’s shores, if it hasn’t already.

No individual rabbi has the authority to unilaterally change the procedures or requirements for conversion or even to rely on minority precedent that has been rejected by generations of Jews, anymore than he can change Shabbat to Sunday for the convenience of his congregants.

So, too, the phenomenon of female clergy is alien to Israeli Orthodox life and is a hard sell, there even more than here. Indeed, its advocates are disproportionately not indigenous Israelis (i.e., they are disproportionately American) and are simply importing the disorder of American Orthodox life to Israel. Many do not know any better than to say “well, if a rabbi endorses it, it must be fine.” That is an error.

To answer the question raised at the outset requires a little history. As noted here in the recent past, we have been down this road before. Most Conservative rabbis in the early years of the movement were in fact Orthodox, both in practice and even in ideology. There was a time – the 1930s, for example – when more YU graduates went directly to JTS than to RIETS for rabbinical training. There were people who straddled the fence and people on both sides of the fence. That almost never happens today because Orthodoxy grew and became more established, but more importantly, the norms of the Torah world became more settled and deviations from those norms were quickly repudiated.

There were Orthodox rabbis who rationalized the absence of a mechitza in shul; did that then make mixed seating an “Orthodox” practice? There were Orthodox rabbis who rationalized appearing bare-headed in public; did that then make bare-headedness an “Orthodox” practice? There were Orthodox rabbis who favored changing the procedures for shechita, permitting kohanim to marry divorcees, allowing women to count for a minyan and using microphones on Shabbat. The list goes on. We have a vast literature, so there are sources for everything, or almost everything. But none of the above became “Orthodox” practice because they were never widely accepted and were indeed widely rejected, notwithstanding the occasional “source” here or there. (Similarly, one can find singular opinions in lower courts in the US that do not become established law or precedent. The “kosher switch” is a good example of something proposed, almost uniformly rejected but will no doubt live on. Many of the rabbis who promoted any of the above eventually dropped out of “Orthodoxy” because the dissonance in their lives was too much and their acceptance of the Mesorah too tenuous. They became the vanguard of the non-Orthodox movements.

To reject “change” is not necessarily a sign of stagnation or even “ultra-Orthodoxy;” it is often just a simple act of faith and a submission to G-d’s will. So, too, the passion for “change” is not always rooted in a pure understanding of Torah; sometimes it is influenced by personalities, pressure and outside (even non-Jewish) stimuli.

We are at an inflection point in Orthodoxy as the desire to dilute the Mesorah – think women rabbis, for one, something that was a hallmark of non-Orthodoxy for 40 years – has enormous media support but less popular support, and certainly no support inside the more populous Haredi world. (Personally I wish they would stop the charade of concocted titles and just call them rabbis; people can then accept it or reject it. I don’t think if Carly Fiorina is elected President she will get a different title than that of her male predecessors.) The female clergy has made inroads in some communities, often less committed to halacha generally, and that is certainly understandable; told that the forbidden is now permitted – in this and other areas – people are naturally drawn to experience the new and exotic. This is a weakness of Modern Orthodoxy, and the relative silence of the modern Orthodox organizations is significant in its own way. Endless discussions, think tanks and competing papers usurp the place of clarity and psak. If a lawyer or doctor was as indecisive, each would lose his clients or patients and rightly so. But life goes on and each organization focuses on what is important to it.

I sincerely hope that Rav Riskin resolves whatever dispute he has with the Rabbanut (or vice versa, although I haven’t read an official word of the Rabbanut at all about this matter) and we see the return of the traditional Rav Riskin who has inspired countless thousands of Jews to a greater love, appreciation and observance of Torah. The Jewish world needs his mentshlichkeit, his passion, his goodness and his Torah. We also need his leadership in preventing Orthodoxy from drifting back into the last century.

 

 

In the Halls of Congress

This year’s NORPAC mission to Washington was the largest ever, numbering some 1500 souls who descended on the nation’s capital to lobby for Israel, and at this stage, for the United States as well. NORPAC is the principal pro-Israel Political Action Committee (as opposed to AIPAC, which is a political affairs committee that does not offer financial support to politicians); NORPAC does, and so congressmen freely open their offices to Jewish visitors from the tri-state area. Well over 90% of Congress were personally visited by members of our group.

Actually, they open their offices to everyone. Capitol Hill teems with visitors, lobbyists, and tour groups with varying needs and young staffers with a desire to make an impact, make a difference, make connections or at least hobnob with the mighty and influential. Certainly, most lobbyists are seeking some pecuniary advantage – a bill that advances their interests, an exemption from some legislation that would hinder their causes or something that benefits them personally. NORPAC is unique in that no participant accrues any personal benefit. It’s all for Israel and to promote the US-Israel relationship, and Congress is overwhelmingly – but not uniformly – receptive.

To be sure, there is tension, even trepidation, on Capitol Hill regarding the negotiations with Iran and Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons capability. Few believe that President Obama is capable of effective negotiations, and many believe that he has little interest in preventing an Iranian bomb, as long as it doesn’t happen, as he says, “on my watch.” That is a sorry excuse for statecraft, as the global imperative to stop Iran does not end on January 20, 2017, which, in any event, can’t come soon enough. Republicans demonstrate unconcealed contempt for Obama, but that is largely matched by the Democrats’ ill-disguised contempt. Politicians being politicians, Democrats hitched their wagons to Obama when they thought the going was good, but now see a legacy of devastating electoral defeats, a diminished role for Democrats in Congress, and, not least, a reckless and amateurish foreign policy that endangers Israel, the United States, and other  US allies in the region.

It is not easy being a Democrat in Congress these days. Most want to be on record as both opposing the Iranian bomb and doing everything in Congress’ power to stop it and simultaneously not antagonizing the President. These Democrats are playing hardball. As one Congressman reported, Democrats were threatened by their own caucus that if they didn’t oppose the Pacific trade bill earlier this week, they would be stripped of their committee assignments and none of the proposed legislation would thenceforth be entertained. In other words, defying Nancy Pelosi is an act of political courage and self-immolation, and few politicians have a genuine interest in the latter. The former is generally in short supply.

Parties being parties, this type of pressure always exists on some level but it is usually reserved for major issues – not every single piece of legislation. It is why the votes in Congress are so partisan. The notion of voting one’s conscience on issues has faded. Mr. Smith, call your office. And this reluctance will play a significant role in the deliberations on any Iranian treaty down the road.

It is clear that so much of the negotiations are hype that is attempting to obscure the dissembling and double talk. To date, no one knows what was agreed to in March, as the Obama administration and the Iranians continue to disagree on fundamental issues that were supposed to have been resolved. To wit: will sanctions be lifted immediately (Iran) or over time, based on compliance (US)? Will inspections be open, spontaneous and unfettered (US) or limited, planned, and not at all on military bases (Iran)? Will Iran have to reveal its research and development or not? Will Iran have to close certain facilities or not? Will Iran have to ship its already-enriched uranium to a neutral country or not?

If one wonders what exactly was agreed to with all the hoopla in Lausanne, it is a good question. No one knows for sure. No contract worth the paper it’s written on could possibly contain such fluid, ambiguous and contradictory terms. Some hold that the Iranians are dissembling for domestic reasons (Democrats) and Obama is telling the truth, and others opine that the Iranians are telling the truth and Obama is spinning once again (Republicans). Of course, if everything was worked out – even a framework – there would be no need for advanced negotiations and an agreement with a June deadline. But the fear is – how familiar does this sound? – a treaty will have to be ratified in order to know what’s in it.

Even then, most sane people know that Iran cannot be trusted to adhere to any agreement, and the world’s security is bring entrusted to mad mullahs who easily manipulate an incompetent president, who, for whatever reason, is desperate to have as a legacy an agreement with Iran that allows them a nuclear weapon long after he is gone. In essence, Obama has taken the world from a better place to a bad place, negotiating from a starting point wherein Iran has no bomb and a weak economy suffering from the effects of crippling sanctions to an end point where Iran will have a thriving economy and a nuclear bomb. That is the art of negotiations as taught in the bizarro world. As the US is already providing Iran with billions of dollars in unfrozen assets – in order to “induce” them to negotiate – Iran has already begun subsidizing again the families of suicide bombers and stepping up its support for world terror. One would think that should matter but not to this President.

The good news is that congressmen on both sides of the aisle are skeptical. The bad news is that few see any way around Obama’s end run and the Republicans have little confidence that their Democratic colleagues will have the courage to defy their president. We can hope that Iran is so obstinate that no agreement results, but Obama’s yearning for an agreement is so intense that Obama will likely sign something, anything, and leave the fallout (literally?) to his successors. You can even play that interview now, from 2019. Obama: “When I left office, I had ensured that Iran will not have a bomb. If they have one now, it’s the fault of the current administration. Or George W. Bush.”

Congressman Joe Wilson (R-South Carolina) gave us the most time of any Representative. He has his head on straight, has no illusions about Obama, and is worried for the future. He sees a president who just has a different vision for America that almost anyone else in DC, who has no great sympathy for Israel or other American allies and he just hopes that the damage can be minimized. He has the refinement of a true Southerner and the comfortable patriotism of a veteran military man (which, he is, as were his four sons). He was voted the second friendliest congressman, which led me to wonder what he did to lose out to the “friendliest congressman,” in this case Congresswoman Lois Capps (D-Ca). As she is retiring, the title will soon be up for grabs. The competition must be a very subtle affair; you can’t shove your way to the title of friendliest member of Congress.

In truth, it is impossible to visit DC without having more sympathy for the politicians. They work long hours for relatively little pay, they are forced to balance hearings and votes with the avalanche of people who want to meet them, seek out their help or favors, and not to mention the different people who ask for incompatible things. And then at night they have to raise money to finance the permanent campaign to try to thwart those who wish to run against them and find fault with every decision that they make. It is hard to know why someone would want such a job, although I can guess.

In any event, Washington is always an inspiring place to visit, notwithstanding the occasional sordidness of the politics. The gleaming white marble, the impressive government buildings, the Mall and the very layout of the streets reflect power, grace, and the grandeur of a government chosen by free people, still a model for the world. It is still “We the People” who wield the ultimate power, and just showing up and reminding Congress of the importance of the State of Israel to us and to most Americans makes an immeasurable difference. It also safeguards the US-Israel relationship as it navigates the treacherous road past this administration into an uncertain future.

Down to the Wire

Here in Israel, the formation of the government has literally come down to the wire with no clear path in sight. The assumption is that PM Netanyahu will be able to accommodate the “Jewish Home,” his erstwhile “natural” partner. But as noted here right after the election, Netanyahu has often backtracked on pre-election promises, turned to parties with whom he shares no real symmetry of views, and spurned his natural allies. There are so many competing interests and personalities the process is soap-operatic.

Israeli society is split, not evenly down the middle, but with a leftist minority that is substantial enough that the right wing can never win an outright majority, even given its multiple parties. Once again, the mandates were distributed in such a way that the small parties were given disproportionate control over the formation of the government, and each is squeezing the largest party – Likud – for as much as it can get.

The surprise of the week was the resignation of FM Avigdor Lieberman, who took his shrunken party (down to six seats) into opposition. He was an unusual Foreign Minister, to say the least: not really fluent in English, not engaged in the “peace process” negotiations – what one might think is the natural domain of a foreign minister – and subjected to recurrent investigations for alleged misdeeds, most of which amount to nothing. His muted status enabled Netanyahu to serve as his own foreign minister. But Lieberman’s six seats are not indispensable to the formation of the government, his role would not have changed much, and he craves another opportunity: to present himself as the right-wing alternative to Likud. That, too, is odd given some of his past positions in the real world (population and territorial exchanges), but then politics is odd. So why participate in a nominally right-wing government from a weak position when you can carp from the outside that the government is not strong, forceful or right-wing enough? That lays the groundwork for the next campaign, which looks like it will come within a year or two anyway.

The real drama is over the inclusion of the Jewish Home, and here the situation is much murkier. The Bayit Hayehudi is the successor to the parties of the Religious Zionist movement but rightly aspires to national, rather than sectoral, leadership. But it lost ground in the last election after Netanyahu blatantly appealed for the Jewish Home’s voters, asserting that the Jewish Home will definitely be part of his coalition but that he would have no coalition at all if Likud did not win more seats. This appeal worked, and it is clear that Likud picked up 4-5 seats that would have gone to Naphtali Bennett’s party.

What is equally clear is that, as noted here in March, Netanyahu has been known for playing post-election games, that nothing is guaranteed in politics, and that a weakened Bayit Hayehudi is less attractive to Netanyahu. That is indeed what happened, and despite all of his protestations, Netanyahu offered the Jewish Home the rough equivalent of cabinet scraps, construing it as a minor party. Bennett, who had been promised the Defense Ministry and rejected so far for the Foreign Ministry, was appalled. And rightly so: in urging Israelis to vote for the Bayit Hayehudi, I noted that people should vote their dreams and not their fears, and that the added seats for the Jewish Home would strengthen Likud with whom it could unite right after the election. That did not happen.

Worse, the Shas party was given control over the Religious Affairs ministry and the Rabbinical Courts, which would likely result in restorations of policies and practices that were widely panned by the public, both secular and religious, before they were reversed in the last administration. It is further inexcusable that Shas leader Aryeh Deri, a convicted felon, has been returned to government service after serving substantial prison time for taking bribes, as the sentencing judge noted, “in every government position in which he has served.”

What is even worse than the practical dimensions of the loss of the Religious Affairs ministry are the political dimensions. The Jewish Home is still, at its core, a religious party – the Religious Zionist party. Deprived of the opportunity to make a difference in the spiritual lives of the public, it becomes a shell without a core. That is one reason for the Bennett discontent and his persistent threats to go into opposition even if that results in a national unity government or new elections (both of which are likely to occur anyway in due course).

The better reason is that the Jewish Home has suffered in recent years because of the accusation that it is nothing but “Likud B.” In truth, both Likud and Bayut Hayehudi are parallel parties but they are not identical. Likud is a secular party, notwithstanding the presence in its ranks of some religious Zionists. It is a secular party and toes a secular, though traditional-leaning, line. The Jewish Home is a religious party, presumably capable of infusing the public debate with the wisdom of Torah. It would not be the worst thing to have some daylight between the Likud and the Jewish Home so the differences between them are underscored, something which would induce the latter’s voters to stay “Home” come the next election.

If Bennett is offered substantial ministries – Foreign, Education, Justice, for example, in which his party can shape Israeli society, then it is worthwhile to be part of the government. If not, not. What happens if the Jewish Home does not join the government? That is impossible to predict. The Labor party would not remain intact if it joined a national unity government, nor would Likud remain intact. As high-sounding as is the concept of “national unity,” little good comes from it, and governments that have enjoyed great legislative majorities in Israel in the last two decades have made disastrous mistakes. The configurations of parties and personalities are too abstruse to calculate. But to form a new government by bringing in current opposition figures who served in the last government and were fired, precipitating these elections, does not seem to be a very logical approach.

Of course, Bennett will be blamed for entering the government in some reduced capacity, and blamed for not entering the government and engendering either new elections or a center-left government. It seems to me that his best move is either being in opposition if he is offered little or being in the coalition if he is offered something substantial. Either way, he will be able to present his party as a credible alternative to leadership looking forward.

The other interesting phenomenon is the antipathy towards the Charedi party, Yahadut Hatorah. They make few demands, and most of their demands can be met by something the leading party can always trade: money from the public treasury. They unabashedly believe in the welfare state, income redistribution and the rest, and would feel much at home in today’s Democratic Party. Politics does make some strange bedfellows.

They may not be my cup of tea but Netanyahu is being widely lambasted for “caving in to the Charedim” and the Charedim for “blackmailing” the leading party. Which begs the question: why is it that when Netanyahu reaches an agreement with, say, Moshe Kachlon’s Kulanu party, that is perceived as fair negotiations and reasonable compromises but when he reaches an agreement with Yahadut Hatorah that outcome must be attributed to blackmail, pandering and bad faith? The only logical answer is anti-Charedi bias, which is outrageous. They have their voters and their right to be represented. And give them credit – they know how to negotiate and they know how to keep their agreements.

As this is disseminated, the Jewish Home is very close to entering the government with control of the Education, Justice and Agriculture ministries. All three promote basic interests of the party: the spread of Torah education, the reform of the leftist legal system to include more right-leaning, Torah-educated justices (as well having the values of Torah play a more explicit role in Israeli jurisprudence; the left will scream themselves hoarse) and support for the right of Jewish settlement.

That sounds like good negotiations and a good outcome. Assuming, though, that a 61-seat bare majority government is not long for this world, the Jewish Home is well-positioned to make a positive difference in Israeli life and lay the groundwork for the next stage of leadership.

And the merry-go-round continues…

Pesach and Gratitude

In one of the climactic parts of the hagada, we cite the Mishna ( Pesachim 117B): “Therefore  we are obligated to thank and praise G-d for what He did to our fathers and us” – all the wonders and  miracles  that accompanied the Exodus , and we begin  the recitation of Hallel . But then in the blessing that follows, we reverse the order, thanking G-d  who ” redeemed us and our fathers from Egypt. ” Why the change – first,  “our fathers and us” and then “to us and our fathers.”   Why the change?

There is a beautiful story in  the fascinating   hagada of Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon  about Rav Yona Emanuel, late editor of Hamaayan and long-time teacher of Torah in Israel. At his grandson’s brit milah  in 1985, he related a story that he said he had never told anyone before, not even his wife or children.

Forty years earlier , he said, it was Pesach Eve 1945, and  a young Yona Emanuel was imprisoned  in Bergen-Belsen. He had been forced  for a long period of time  to rise early and spend his day at hard labor. He came back exhausted, just like every day, broken already by two years of maltreatment. He was 19 years old. His father was already dead, his older and younger brothers were dead, and his little sister was dead. His mother was barely clinging to life, lying ill in her barracks. In that time, days before liberation, Jews were dying by the hundreds every day of starvation and disease.

That night – Pesach night – he sat at her bedside and recited the hagada. Of course he had no wine  and  no matzot. All  he and everyone around him had  – in abundance – wa s maror. Life itself was bitter.  He whispered the  hagada  to his mother – he didn’t know whether or not she heard it – until he came to th e blessing cited above.  And he said,  “Who redeemed us and redeemed our fathers,” and when he came to these words, the prayer in the blessing,   “just like He redeemed us and our forefathers from Egypt, so too He will bring us to other holidays and festivals that will come upon us in peace, rejoicing in the rebuilding of Your city and joyous in Your service,” he suddenly stopped.

He could not say the words. For the first time, he didn’t believe what he was saying. And he thought to himself: Will any of us live to see “other holidays and festivals?” Will anyone here see the holy city of Yerushalayim? Can anyone even expect to be happy again? He burst out crying, and stopped saying the hagada. Soon after, his mother died.

But now, forty years later, he continued: that night, if only I could have even imagined that I would live to see the land of Israel, together with one sister and two brothers; if only I could have imagined that I would eventually live in a Jewish state, marry and have my own children; if only I could have imagined that forty years later, I would be the sandak at my grandson’s brit in Yerushalayim; if I could have imagined any of that, I would have been able to finish the hagada that night.

Why in the text do we first say “our fathers and then ourselves”   – and then switch the order in the blessing to “Who redeemed us and our fathers ?” When it comes to offering praise to G-d, everything starts wit h the Exodus from Egypt.  Because our fathers were liberated, so in essence  were we. But when it comes to offering thanks to G-d, that has to come from us first – “Who redeemed us and our fathers . ” In every generation, we have to find the opportunities to thank G-d – for our lives and our families, for our bounty and our freedom, for Jewish sovereignty in the land of Israel, and  for being given the opportunities to live full, productive, peaceful and prosperous lives.

To all but the most pessimistic and dour, we are living in one of the golden ages of Jewish history. We are not without problems – and the world is becoming increasingly more dangerous –  but our problems pale before our advantages, our gifts and our blessings – from  the ingathering of the exiles occurring before our eyes, to  Jewish statehood , to peace and prosperity almost everywhere in the exile , even considering the recent tribulations .

It is that gratitude that should overwhelm us this Pesach, and fill us with a yearning to better ourselves, to enhance our observance of Mitzvot, our service of G-d, and study of Torah.  It should encourage us to say again and again, with feeling and sincerity,   “therefore we are obligated  to thank and praise G-d for all the miracles down to our ancestors and to us; He who took us from slavery to freedom, from agony to joy, from darkness to a great light.” May  He once again – as He did then – take us from servitude to redemption so we may merit in our day the complete fulfillment of the vision of our prophets, speedily and in our days.

A kosher and happy Pesach to all!

 

Cross Eyed

It has finally occurred to me why President Obama’s vision of the world is so skewed. He is cross-eyed,  though not in the physical sense. That is to say, his I’s are crossed and so his world view is distorted.

There is a long and honorable tradition in American history of debating the proper role of the United States in the greater world. Bret Stephens, in his recent book “America in Retreat,” spells out the debate with keen insight. This debate began in Washington’s time and extends until today, and has in different eras spanned both or either major party. In short hand, the two contrasting approaches are those of the Interventionists and the Isolationists.

Isolationists believe that the United States should keep to itself, safely ensconced behind two oceans and only involve itself in global affairs when the homeland or its interests are directly threatened. The US should avoid “entangling alliances” and, in modern lexicon, should not endeavor to be the world’s policeman. (Of course, as Stephens points out, no one wants to live in a neighborhood where there are no policemen.)

Interventionists do not hesitate to project American strength and especially values whenever and wherever it seems appropriate. Freedom, liberty, democracy and respect for individual rights seem to them admirable objectives and countries that embrace these values do not wage war against each other and generally make the world a better place. Interventionists also believe – deep down but often manifestly apparent – that the US is an exceptional society and, notwithstanding its occasional missteps, seeks a stable, prosperous and peaceful world instead of creating an American empire.

Certainly, since World War II, the United States has dominated world affairs, provided a bulwark against the expansion of Communism and even presided over its demise. It has intervened in a number of wars and skirmishes across the globe – usually with some American interest at hand, but often a very loose or fluid definition of an American “interest” – and even more frequently with humanitarian assistance in a case of a natural or political disaster afflicting some country, although not always.

Both Isolationists and Interventionists recognize the world is a very dangerous place and America cannot really hide behind its ocean borders anymore. This is not only because ICBM’s mock borders but also because the global economy is closely linked, and America’s own prosperity would suffer if it shut itself off from other countries. Of course, Isolationists have a much higher threshold to warrant American military involvement overseas.

These are necessarily simple definitions but over the decades and centuries the debate in the US has roughly followed these lines. At various times, Democrats were Interventionists (FDR, Scoop Jackson) and Republicans were Isolationists (Arthur Vandenberg, until World War II; Pat Buchanan). Although there are some outliers today as well, most Democrats tend towards isolationism and most Republicans tend towards Interventionism. All would agree that President Obama was elected in large part because, in 2008, Americans had tired of overseas military operations and favored retrenchment.

These are not just two distinct political philosophies but are also two disparate elements of the American psyche that are often in conflict and sometimes even in the same person. Americans hate injustice and especially genocide (as do all normal people) but differ as to whether there must be an American role in halting either repugnance. Thus, many Americans were horrified by the massacres in Darfur but many of them also felt there was no role for the American military and merely preferred to salve their consciences by “raising awareness” of the genocide but without actually doing much to stop it. “Raising awareness” is a noble venture but disconnected from a plan for action doesn’t save any innocent lives. Lamenting tragedies that can be avoided or minimized is certainly better than being indifferent to them, but not by much. And you can’t have it both ways – you cannot decry Interventionism and at the same time lament the inevitable effects of Isolationism. That, literally, is “dancing between two opinions” (I Kings 18:21).

No one has yet been able to repeal this truism: the only way to stop a man with a gun (or machete) is with other men having more guns. That simple bit of logic does not always permeate the natural do-gooder who has an aversion to war. Darfur is Iraq is Syria is Libya is Srebrenica is Rwanda is Cambodia is the Holocaust, etc. There are too many people who cry “never again” and when “again” happens again will again cry “never again” in a doleful refrain of helplessness and pity.

Obama is a reluctant warrior, to be sure, but here is where his I’s are crossed. He is an Interventionist where he should be an Isolationist, and he is an Isolationist where it would behoove him to be an Interventionist. Cross I’s!

When it comes to Israel, Obama is a brazen Interventionist, attempting to dictate solutions to a long conflict and threatening dire consequences if his will is not heeded.  He revokes prior commitments, pays lips service to Israel’s right of self-defense, exaggerates the plight of the Arabs of the land of Israel and even makes excuses for their brutality and mendacity.  It’s a classic bully tactic, but made especially insufferable because he gives a free pass to real dictators and thugs. If Obama has made a virtue of “leading from behind,” why can’t he employ that same virtue when it comes to Israel? The number of Arab dead in last summer’s Gaza War amounted to fewer casualties than in an off week in Syria, so why the obsession over the former and the disregard of the latter?

Conversely, Obama has exacerbated the suffering of millions across the globe by embracing a neo-Isolationism when American Intervention could make a difference. That American reticence has earned him admiration and respect but primarily from dictators throughout the world. Evil people want nothing more than to be left alone to carry out their acts of evil. The realignments taking place across Europe and the Middle East are rooted in the recognition that Pax Americana is over and America’s role in guiding world affairs to some sense of order – or at least a minimum of disorder – is on hiatus.

Blaming Bush – natural instinct in Obama’s White House – for the current collapse of Iraq is like blaming divorce on the fact that the couple married in the first place. (True; marriage is the leading cause of divorce. People who do not marry by definition never divorce.) Yes, but there are more proximate causes of divorce that need to be explored, and here as well. Bush the Iraq Interventionist was followed by Obama the Iraq Isolationist. There was no continuity in policy and in fact, the exact opposite – a reversal of policy. Hence the current chaos. In all the failed Arab states – Libya, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen – and in Russia’s expansionist ambitions, the hand of Obama Isolationism, of “America in Retreat,” is visible.

It is why Europe’s leaders deride Obama as a “follower, not a leader” and criticize his weakness, and why France, irony of ironies, has taken the leading role in trying to limit US concessions to Iran.

And those are the other set of I’s that are crossed – Iran and Israel. Obama has begun treating Israel like a pariah state, a threat to world order and security and a nation deserving of sanctions and reprobation because it is obstinately trying to cling to its divinely bestowed homeland while simultaneously attempting to create a model Jewish society and bring some good to the world. And for that – Israel is treated like Iran should be treated, with threats, recriminations and public humiliation of its leaders. If Obama could muster even a smidgeon of the deference to PM Netanyahu that he shows when referring to Iran’s Ayatollah – unabashedly – as “Supreme Leader,” then, well, he would be a different person.

At this point, Israel could benefit from a little American Isolationism, and the rest of the world could benefit from a little more American Interventionism. Obama could benefit from uncrossing his I’s and perceiving Israel as the friend and ally of the United States and Iran as America’s enemy. So could we – and so could truth and honor. Something is very wrong when Iran’s Khamanei joins a mob in chanting “Death to America” (just last week) without any discernible reaction from the American President, and pandemonium breaks out and vicious opprobrium are unleashed when Israel’s Prime Minister calls on his supporters to flock to the polls because Arabs are voting in large numbers.

Something is quite wrong – even ugly – in the differing responses to the two events. It is enough to make one’s head spin, another consequence of seeing the world with crossed eyes.