In an interesting week, I have been both attacked and defended by employees of Israel’s Foreign Ministry. What a strange turn of events, which tale follows.
Last month, I was part of a delegation of thirty rabbis who spent several days in Israel as guests of the Foreign Ministry, under the auspices of the World Zionist Organization. It was the result of a suggestion made by the new head of
the WZO (the first religious head of that organization founded by Theodor Herzl)
to the Foreign Minister that Israel should utilize the services of natural ambassadors – the pulpit rabbis across America – to get its message out. The usual channels do not work, and the pressure on Israel, cynical as it is, is intensifying. Israel is the only country in the world that has to defend its right to exist, defend its right to self-defense, and defend its right to its homeland – all to
a world that is losing interest in the Jewish national story and whatever
sympathy it once had.
Our group numbered ten from each stream, and many of the non-Orthodox rabbis (almost all creatures of the left) saw a side of Israel they had not seen before: Israel under siege, Israel struggling for peace, Israel willing to accommodate, and the aftermath of all the withdrawals of the last decades. It was a productive and rewarding week.
There was one question that I kept asking to the variety of speakers we met: why are you here? What right do the Jewish people have to the land of Israel ? I was shocked – but not surprised – by the number of Foreign Ministry officials – paid to explain Israel’s case to the world – who could not answer that question, which, of course, leads back to the Bible and the Creator of the Universe. Some did – of course – the religious bureaucrats, to be sure, and Minister Uzi Landau, an unabashed member of the old guard of Herut who heads a different ministry. They all base our right to the land of Israel in the Bible, in the fact that G-d
apportioned this parcel of real estate to the Jewish people for all eternity. One
even said he regular cites the first Rashi in Sefer Breisheet that states this
unequivocally. It is a point that I have harped on for months, that at least
frames the issue in dispute, and that – if uttered proudly – would at least
give Israel a credible argument in the world community. Otherwise, what the UN
giveth the UN can taketh away.
A number of FM honchos could not bring themselves to speak in those terms, likely for the best of reasons: they are secular and don’t believe in the Bible. And so they really have no answer to the question of “why are you here?” and can no more defend their right to Tel Aviv than to Hebron.
I spoke about this publicly, and a visitor from Israel present related this to a reporter for Makor Rishon, a religious-Zionist newspaper in Israel, who interviewed me two weeks ago, and then wrote in a banner headline on June 17, 2011, that “Israel’s Information Ambassadors do not believe in our rights to the land.” And he continued that, quoting me, that “many Rabbis were disappointed…they had no answers.” The visit failed in its objectives, and that I was “disappointed” that no one in the Foreign Ministry can justify Israel’s right to exist in the land of Israel. He also reported that I had been “attacked” by a ministry official, Martin Feld-Fleks.
He continued: “The Foreign Ministry did not like Pruzansky’s criticism,” and each defended their particular arguments. Yigal Palmor (ministry spokesman, and a fine and dedicated official) said he answered all questions, and does not remember being asked that. Fleks just countered with sarcasm that he does not need to be lectured by “Zionists” from Teaneck, New Jersey. (He is American by birth.)
Well. Sad to say (because these are my ideological soul mates), Makor Rishon got it partly right, and mostly wrong. Journalists are journalists, and truth always takes a backseat to whatever agenda the reporter advocates. If truth is the first casualty of war, it has been murdered again and again by journalists.
I wrote to him (and I trust it will be printed in this Friday’s paper) that he was much too negative, whereas the visit was mostly important and positive, and successful – well-conceived and well-executed. I don’t think most Rabbis were disappointed; certainly the non-Orthodox had other issues that were more important to them. There were a few officials who steadfastly refused to entertain the idea that we have a divine claim to the land of Israel, but Yigal Palmor was not of them. He was not asked “my question” because in his introductory remarks he already stated that we trace our claim to the Bible.
As for Flecks, a diehard secular, he didn’t “attack” me. We did have a sharp exchange when he asserted that “Israel has only two options; either create a Palestinian state or disappear.” I mentioned a third option (there are ten others) – grant legal resident status to those Arab residents of Judea and Samaria who accept Israeli sovereignty, much as you find in the United States where there are millions of legal resident-aliens who do not vote but are allowed to live, and designate the others of hostile elements to be treated as nations treat hostile enemies in their midst. (The US, of course, is unique; even illegal aliens are entitled to free health care and education, etc. but that is for a different essay.)
Fleks belittled that approach, to which I responded that he should not say
there are no other options but surrender (defeatism, in other words). When he
said that he would not want to play that hand in Vegas, I responded tartly that
the hand he did play – Oslo – destroyed 20,000 lives, engendered the loss of
substantial portions of the land of Israel, and left Israel more vulnerable
than before. He had no answer to that, which is why he chose the route of disparaging the “Zionists from Teaneck.” Of course, the questions stand, regardless of the provenance of the questioner, and the appalling inability to respond also stands, notwithstanding the position in the Foreign Ministry held by the answerer.
In the article, Fleks engaged in the gamesmanship of the diplomat, asserting that the “legal resident” status in the US that I mentioned refers to residents of Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia who are US citizens but cannot vote in Presidential elections. He is wrong on a number of counts, but surely he knows that I was referring to legal aliens (holders of Green Cards) who are not US citizens.
Here’s the interesting twist: a few days ago, Makor Rishon interviewed Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon (with whom we did not meet) and he said that, indeed, the Ministry has failed to emphasize our rights to the land of Israel, and that was one of the changes instituted by Foreign Minister Lieberman when he took office (obviously to the chagrin of some of the professional bureaucrats, who always know better and haven’t yet received that memo). Informed of my remarks and their rejection by his Ministry, Ayalon disagreed with his own ministry and stated that Rabbi Pruzansky “touched on the correct point” (naga ba-nekuda ha-nechona, in his words). “We do not emphasize enough our rights to the land… [but] I do that in every forum with which I am involved.”
Is the Ministry on the same page, all imparting the same message ? Obviously not, and in that sense it is an accurate reflection of the state of Israeli society. If you wonder sometimes why Israel’s message is incoherent, it is because it speaks
with different voices – even in official circles. Israel is the only country in the world where the Minister of Trade offers opinions on military matters, and
the Minister of Foreign Affairs on agriculture, and the Minister without Portfolio
on every other portfolio. Apparently, we were deprived of a national existence
for so long, that literally everyone has something to say about everything – including cabdrivers in Tel Aviv and even Zionists from Teaneck.
But peace can only come from pride, from knowledge, and from strength. Respect from the international community can only from pride, knowledge and strength. Strength derives from knowing our roots, and weakness oozes from the rootless. That is why it was so important that Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke with such passion and fervor, and showed a little backbone in the Oval Office.
It is only when we speak the language of rights that we can also claim justice, and only then will we have the inner strength and fortitude to overcome our enemies and usher in days of redemption and peace.