Kotel Controversy

Here in Israel, the recent Cabinet decision to segregate the Kotel (the Western Wall of the Temple Mount) into traditional/Orthodox and non-Orthodox, Western-influenced modes of worship have ignited passions on all five sides of the issue. From one perspective, the decision merely enshrined into law what had become a de facto non-Orthodox place of worship for several years already. From another perspective, the decision enshrines into law not only a violation of the status quo that had been in effect for more than fifty years, but also authorizes an especially vulgar violation of the sanctity of the holiest site in Jewish life. It’s not a mixed blessing but a mixed curse.
We start with the positive aspects of the decision. Permission to the non-Orthodox to hold sway over part of the Kotel defuses a major source of tension between Israel and part of American Jewry, and counteracts the incessant pressure and threats they make against Israel when they feel disrespected. Threats by Jewish secular politicians and the Jewish “religious” politicians to reduce their support for Israel if their demands were not met bore fruit, even if those threats were idle. (Remove the “Israel factor” from non-Orthodox life, and the substance of their Jewish commitment largely reads like the Bernie Sanders platform.) But reduction of acrimony is always a good thing.
Secondly, the decision has effectively banished the Women of the Wall and their provocations away from the main Kotel plaza and into the non-traditional section. This most certainly must stick in their craw, but does accurately define how the Torah world perceives them. Thirdly, as the location is not visible from the main plaza and need not be seen by traditional worshipers at the Kotel, the Kotel will no longer be a constant flashpoint for media stunts and public relations ploys. Rather, each Jew can choose his/her place of worship and not be affronted by the presence of the “other.” As such, it fulfills a pluralist vision, for those who worship in that temple. It purports to express a “live and let live” philosophy.
Sounds great? Here are the problems and they are serious. The decision, purporting to be accommodating, is one of the most divisive acts in Jewish life in decades, and perhaps not since the Reform movement’s patrilineal descent ruling in 1983. One of the greatest expressions of Jewish unity – that all Jews could gather at this sacred space, the remnant of the Holy Temple, and worship precisely as our fathers and mothers did for centuries – has now been shattered. The fraying bonds of Jewish unity will be further torn, hanging by a bare thread.
Secondly, and this irony should not be lost on any thinking person, the laws of Mechitza are derived (Masechet Succa 51b) from what took place on the Temple Mount. The fact that Jewish law requires a separation between men and women during prayer is derived from the very practice that took place on the Temple Mount that stands directly above the place where descendants of those very Jews are now brazenly flouting that very provision. So, why exactly are they there?
Some, to their discredit, have pointed out that there was no Mechitza in place at the Kotel until 1967, and generations of Jews prayed there in mixed or at least separate fashion. The ears that hear such a statement should tremble: for 19 centuries, the Kotel was controlled by non-Jews: Romans, Byzantines, and then for centuries, Muslims, followed briefly by the British. Should we act today in the sovereign State of Israel exactly as our enemies treated us – and the Kotel – during the years of our dispersion and persecution? To answer in the affirmative is to acquiesce in a breathtaking lack of Jewish pride, sense of Jewish nationhood and awareness of the historical moment. There was no Mechitza for centuries because our enemies, occupiers of Yerushalayim, did not allow it. And sovereign Israel should do the same?!
Additionally, even if we ignore for a movement that the Reform movement for generations rejected the concept of the Return to Zion, it still renounces the traditional Jewish dream and objective of rebuilding the Temple. Do they recite the thrice-daily prayer that the Temple should be restored speedily and in our days and the order of worship therein be restored? I think not. So, why exactly do they want to be there?
And the only way we identify the place in question as the Temple Mount is through the Mesora, the unbroken transmission of Jewish law and lore, that is rejected by the non-Orthodox movements. Indeed, the official position of the Palestine Authority is that there was no Temple Mount, fanciful and spiteful to be sure, but a clear denial of our tradition. (Not to belabor the incongruity, but the “Palestinians” are the group that lacks any tradition of living in the land of Israel for any appreciable amount of time.) In essence, Jewish groups that deny the Mesora are claiming their “right” to worship as they see fit in a place that is ours due to our Mesora and preserved by those faithful to that Mesora.
Furthermore, the non-Orthodox must surely concede that the way they wish to worship – mixed pews – is itself a violation of that very Mesora. And, although the decision currently prohibits the use of musical instruments or flagrant desecrations of Shabbat in the non-Orthodox zone, give that time. The will of the G-d of Israel, to them, must always defer to the gods of pluralism and religious freedom. Religious freedom is the freedom to construct your own religion. That is a Western value that animates too many Jews; but is it a Jewish value that should find expression in the holiest place in the holiest city in the holiest land on G-d’s earth? No.
It is inconceivable that the Vatican would open a Protestant church in its jurisdiction, or that Shiite sites might allow Sunnis to worship as they wish. (Given the world scene, free people can differ as to which scenario today is more unlikely!) Thus, allowing “all Jews” to worship as they wish in the name of pluralism engenders a variety of interesting possibilities? Jews for Jesus? Joint and commingled prayers among all religions? Should the new Kotel area become a venue for the performance of intermarriages? After all, one good Churban deserves another… On some matters “live and let live” shows a religious relativism that undermines what is sacred.
The decision, which I believe is well-meaning, harms the unity of the Jewish people, the sanctity of the place, and the integrity of Halacha, and those are in no particular order. It turns the Kotel into a shrine, in the worst sense of the term: the sanctification of a wall, of stones, with little consciousness of the G-d whose presence sanctifies the place, the G-d whose law we are enjoined to obey, and of the generations of Jews whose faithfulness and fidelity to Halacha kept alive the prophetic vision of Jewish national life that is now being realized.
There is something to be said for the notion that the Israeli-Jewish public is composed of a variety of tribes that has to find some way to co-exist, not just in order to deal with the real and pressing threats of our foreign enemies but simply because that is the way it has always been. In the ancient past, each tribe had its own character and interests, even if all were committed to Halacha. Our modern tribes differ in that commitment, and so historic compromises were made to foster co-existence. Control of Jewish status issues – marriage, divorce and conversion – were given to the Rabbinate. Public observance of Shabbat and Kashrut were guaranteed. Both commitments ensured the unity of the Jewish people. What is today characterized as “caving in to the ultra-Orthodox” was the simple recognition that the guardians of the Jewish faith and way of life – Torah-observant Jews, and not only the “ultra-Orthodox,” which the elitists use as a slur against a segment of the population that the average Jew is supposed to dislike – were best positioned to maintain the traditions, the unity and the faith of Israel. Here’s the open secret: we still are. That fact alone should promote a measure of deference to changes in the religious status quo.
It is unconscionable that Israel’s Chief Rabbinate and the Rabbinate of Yerushalayim were not consulted on this matter, and that the Rabbi of Kotel was consulted and basically ignored. The Minister of Religious Affairs was similarly not consulted. A neutral observer would likely conclude that matters of religious practice at the Kotel fall under the jurisdiction of any one of the aforementioned agencies. It is interesting that just two weeks ago Israelis were expelled from a building they had lawfully purchased in the holy city of Hevron because they allegedly did not have the appropriate authority from the Defense Minister under whose jurisdiction such purchases come. I suppose the difference between encroachments on the jurisdiction of the Defense Minister (who then unabashedly reverses the actions that were taken) and encroachments on the jurisdiction of the rabbinical authorities (which are ignored) is that the former has men with guns at his disposal and the latter do not.
What is well-meaning in the decision is not just the desire to reduce tensions in the Jewish world but also the attempt to keep the non-Orthodox in the fold, to limit the alienation they feel from Israeli life and Jewish destiny by placating them. The problem with this legitimization is that it almost closes the door to a complete return to true Jewish observance, and that is ultimately unfair to them and to their children. The reality is that the non-Orthodox movements exist – but the undeniable and tragic reality also is that their rate of assimilation, intermarriage and attrition from Jewishness is horrifying and catastrophic. We are losing souls, and the process of accommodation that the current decision implies has proven to be a failure.
The proof will soon be apparent. Some perspective is necessary and perhaps this too played a role in the decision. The fact is that the Kotel location will be available 24/7 but will be rarely used. Don’t expect a vatikin minyan or a midnight Maariv. Daily public prayer has not been a focus of the non-Orthodox for many decades, and the new space will be as unpopulated on a daily basis as are the non-Orthodox temples on a daily basis, notwithstanding that there might be a few exceptions. Their Kotel area, born in rebellion against G-d, will be a place for special events – and those who demanded it will still not be satisfied and will make further demands and threats.
I do recognize that there is even a difference between the informal use of the Robinson’s Arch area and official approval that ratifies a new situation. But can it be stopped? In this regard, there have been many unfortunate Israeli initiatives in the past that have been thwarted by the Arabs. As if on cue, the Wakf, the PA and the Jordanians have expressed their vehement objection to the plan. Expect the resurrection of the deceitful Arab claim that Israel is trying “to undermine Al Aksa.” Indeed, the location here is closer to Al Aksa than all the other times this lie was uttered; this too is a lie but Arab lies often affect Israeli policy. The plan may have to be abandoned in order to forestall Arab rioting.
Additionally, the Jerusalem Post reported last week that 60% of Israeli Cabinet decisions are never implemented. Many are announced to great fanfare and receive significant media attention – and then, nothing. One example: a Cabinet decision around ten years ago to move all (or most) government ministries to Yerushalayim. The politicians were lauded, the hypocritical world was outraged, the West denounced it, and since then, nothing. One reason suggested was the lack of money to implement many decisions, notwithstanding the great enthusiasm generated when they are announced. A better reason might be the frequent change of governments and ministers, each with their own priorities, which sees these pronouncements place on the back burner.
Who knows what the future of this decision, scheduled for next year, really will be? What is more pressing than accommodating all types of worship at the Kotel is the disastrous loss of souls to the Jewish people. To my mind, this will hasten that process, not delay it. Worse, the place on earth that was most suitable to unite all Jews will no longer exist in that form and serve that purpose.

I once heard Nechama Leibowitz z”l quote her brother as suggesting, after the Six Day War, that Israel should return the Kotel to Jordan. Otherwise, the day won’t be far off when Jews will turn the Kotel into a “Discotel.”   Those who are rejoicing should take notice, and focus more on substance than on symbols.

Spell Check

Many young people today have forgotten the art of spelling, if only because easy texting depends on the absence of vowels. And “spell check” (some sophisticated programs were developed here in Israel) enables a youngster to type without regard to proper spelling because misspelled words are automatically corrected. Certainly anyone who rights (!) anything quickly learns the limitations of “spell check,” but I have also learned that transliterating Hebrew words triggers the “spell check” in ways that are humorous, insightful, and occasionally absolutely profound.

For example, my use of Mishpacha (family) was corrected to “mishap ha,” which could occur in families that are careless, or in which one jokester loves to sprinkle the floor with banana peels. Mechutan (the in-laws) became “me human,” a plea for understanding, sensitivity, or at least a request for civilized treatment (fortunately, I have been blessed in that regard). Nefesh (soul) was changed to “necessary,” which is certainly true even if not entirely definitive.

“Spell check” obviously struggles with death. Avelut (mourning) has been transformed into “a rout,” or “a slur.” The former is a prevalent sensation upon the death of a loved one, as the survivors often feel defeated and overwhelmed, and the latter is best omitted from a eulogy. When the nifeteret (deceased woman) became the “niftiest,” it was clear that sometimes the eulogy can write itself.

Theological positions are frequently staked out. Maharat (the woman ordained by the neo-Conservatives) was perceived as a “Maharaja,” a royal position to be sure but not necessarily implying any religious connotation. Conversely, musmachim (men who achieve true rabbinic ordination) became “mustache,” a compromise between the beard favored by most rabbis and the clean-shaven few. Eilu v’eilu (these and these… are the words of the living G-d) is our understanding of a true machloket, a rabbinic dispute in which both sides have halachic validity. But when it is used frivolously, or to justify heretical or unacceptable positions, it metamorphoses into “evil veiled.” That’s not me talking; that’s “spell check.”

I have seen Halacha (Jewish law) become “headache,”which it is to some, sad to say, but to others, it is a “Hibachi,” whose use on Yom Tov has triggered discussions of the appropriate application of Jewish law. The finer points of Halacha often generate Sheilot, some of which are invariably “shallow,” but deserve to be answered anyway. Sometimes the answer is “no,” and the item in question becomes an “issur” (a forbidden substance) with which some people take “issue.” The Shulchan (Aruch) was not the code of Jewish law but a “Sultan,” who was an authority in his own right. And a Korban (offering in the Bet Hamikdash) was actually spelled as “Korean,” many of whom have a real affinity for the Talmud, and probably Seder Kodashim.

Shuls became “ships,” on which those who lose kavana (concentration) can sail during services. That can also happen when the davening (prayer) becomes “deafening,” the bane of many Shuls. But Shuls (obviously a word with diverse meanings) can appeal to our “souls” and also occasionally be a home for “shills.” Shuls should be welcoming to everyone. After all, gerim (converts) are just trying to “get in,” a process that can be “grim” if conversions are sought for the wrong reasons. In a shul populated by misnagdim (who are by no means “misanthropes”), a chasid might feel “chased.” After Shabbat, we say havdala, whether or not we are in “Havana,” but why would we be, especially since Cuba is still not a free society?

I tried to wish everyone bsorot tovot (good tidings) but it went right to the “Baptists.” And just as well. I’m sure I’ve missed dozens of other Spell Check specials. The lesson is that it is hard to keep track of all the subliminal messages we send whenever we put fingers to keyboard.

Hilarious. Not.

Hillary Clinton remains the odds-on favorite to win the presidency, and a more depressing opening to a column is difficult to conceive. She is front and center in the decline and fall of the American political system and a prominent exhibit in how the bar for presidents has been reduced almost to ground level. Consider the following.

Go and watch the movie “13 Hours” about the heroism of the US Special Forces team who saved dozens of Americans from certain death in Benghazi. If you can overlook the earthy language typical of militaries, one thought emerges from the aftermath of this diplomatic debacle: the utter irrelevance of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton during the assault on the American compounds there. The American President and the Secretary of State, the two individuals primarily responsible for the safety and security of American diplomatic personnel abroad, were simply AWOL.

When the phone rang with the emergency at 3:00 AM, Hillary Clinton didn’t answer, turned over, pulled the blanket and pillow over her head and went back to sleep.

One can debate whether this was incompetence or venality. Both politicians are completely unmentioned in the movie, and the only indirect reference to subsequent events is when, almost eight hours into the assault, an American television feed reported that in the US officials were saying the attack was a “street protest,” one of those under assault said: “Street protests? There are no street protests. What are they talking about?” The Clintonian explanation falls short; there wasn’t the fog of war as much as there was the murk of mendacity.

There were two main failures. The first was the refusal by Clinton to bolster security at these compounds despite intelligence warnings – and prior and repeated pleas from the Ambassador –that such was needed, and long before the Arab terrorist strike occurred. The second was the refusal by Obama and his underlings to order American Special Forces stationed in Italy – just four hours away, and fueled and ready to go – into Benghazi on a rescue mission. Of the four Americans who were murdered, three were killed more than ten hours after the assault began. Repeated radio requests for assistance were simply turned down without explanation.

It is easy to understand how Obama’s dream of becoming the first President in almost a century not to send American forces into combat on his own accord has cost and will cost American lives. It is even easier to understand the price the United States has paid across the globe for such fecklessness, and it underscores the bravery of the troops who fought and fight without the support of the ruling political establishment but for love of country and their brothers in arms, honor and duty.

Some of these points were raised in the risible Benghazi hearings in Congress, a spectacle that did not do justice to the men who fought and the politicians who let them down. To the mass media, Hillary Clinton emerged the victor, presumably because she didn’t break down on the witness stand and confess her guilt. The fact that she lied repeatedly (classic takeaway: the email to her daughter blaming the attack on Al-Qaeda elements at the very same time she’s peddling to the public the lie about the Mohammed-mocking video as the proximate cause of the attack) was willfully ignored, perhaps because Hillary Clinton lying is not exactly breaking news. (I met her in 1992, sat three feet from her across a table, and asked her two questions. Both answers were lies. This was four years before the late Bill Safire labeled her “a congenital liar.” Today, even provable lies are ignored because they are so commonplace.)

But the hearings were designed to fail. Rather than have one or two lawyers ask questions, the

sessions were a merry-go-round, with too many preening politicians and others simply fawning for the camera. There were too many participants with too little time to accomplish anything substantive, much like the current Republican debates.

A number of Republican representatives asked probing, uncomfortable questions, but even those questions took far longer than necessary considering the limited time each questioner had. All Hillary had to do was obfuscate for three or four minutes, even under tough questioning, and the session was over. Well, not quite over, because the microphone then shifted to the Democrats who pummeled her with brutal questions such as: “On a scale of 1-10, how great are you, 20 or 100?” Or, “These hearings are terrible. Will you ever be able to forgive us?” Vicious, nasty questions that somehow she was able to parry…

There was none of the momentum that examiners seek to develop when a hostile witness is being questioned, no continuity in the interrogation, and too much opportunity given to her to ramble and kill time. First-year law students would know to frame questions that required just a yes/no answer, and first  year associates would know how to follow up and focus on points when she was caught dissembling, rather than abruptly shift the line of questioning.

There were inconsistencies, ineptitude, lies, and policy failures all exposed but they were lost in the sea of befuddlement and bewilderment that did a disservice to the country and the victims.

It is clear that both Obama and Clinton prioritized saving their necks and developing cover stories rather than explain what they did or didn’t do, why assistance was not sent, and why people were left to die, all in order to protect a political narrative. Few will remember how, for almost two months after September 11, 2012, CBS hid an interview with Obama at the time in which he declined to label the attack “terrorism,” and even fewer will remember how Candy Crowley – the “moderator” in the CNN debate between Obama and Romney – leaped to Obama’s defense with an utter falsehood.

It is outrageous that Hillary is never asked about this matter but even to be asked about it at this point would not make a difference. The Obama team has perfected the two-step dodge. When they are asked about something nefarious or corrupt that has happened, they say they cannot answer because the matter is under investigation. That investigation then takes months. If the investigation is ever finished, and the results are even detrimental, they then say that “this is old news that has already been investigated,” or “you should ask the Justice Department.”  If only Nixon had been this clever; well, even that might not have saved him, because at the time there were Republicans in Congress who actually had a functioning conscience. If there is a Democrat in Congress who has a conscience and is not a partisan hack, please identify yourself.

Even the Clinton email scandal has been buried under an avalanche of falsities, prevarications and sheer corruption. It is obvious that she broke the law multiple times through the mishandling of classified information. It is unconscionable that she will likely get away with it. Even if the FBI recommends an indictment, the US Attorney need not prosecute, and even if she is indicted, Obama can always issue a complete pardon. And even if she was indicted and not pardoned, the Democrat electorate today is such that they would vote for her anyway.

She has evaded real scrutiny by claiming to have made a “mistake”  out of a desire for convenience, and that has so far successfully concealed the real scandal: not the server itself but the reason why the private server, walled off from the prying eyes of the public, the media and prosecutors, was used in the first place. My guess is – and this has been reported without much publicity – that the private server was necessary to monitor and delete at will proprietary information relating to the management and activities of the Clinton Foundation, one of the biggest pay-for-play entities in the world. Bill and Hill created this lucrative organization as a money-producing machine, hidden from the public eye, in which, under the guise of doing “good works” (apparently, barely 10% of their intake of hundreds of millions of dollars annually is spent on anything productive) they use the machinery of government to assist their donors with contracts and contacts. They rake in tens of millions of dollars every single year, and it seems there are numerous people just out of government on their payroll.

It is interesting how the latest reports revealed that all the revenue is funneled to a Canadian charity, which then subsidizes the Clinton Foundation with its largesse, all benefiting from Canadian law that shields the identities of donors to charitable organizations – unlike US law.

And the whole scam depends on Hillary Clinton being elected to the White House – a windfall to all their donors if she wins and a great misfortune to them if she loses. There is a lot more riding on this election than the future of this country and the free world.

Only someone counting on the ignorance of the electorate could proclaim herself a “proven fighter” (for what? Against who or what?) and a “proven leader” (for who and for what?) and get away with it.

As New York Senator, she accomplished nothing – no major initiatives, no legislation, no ideas  – although I have heard she did provide good constituent service. And as Secretary of State? Forget for a moment that the world is in a shambles, and that the situation in every area of the world has deteriorated. Forget that the Middle East is aflame, that she has open disdain for Israel’s Prime Minister and a blind spot when it comes to Israel’s true interests, that relations with Russia have been “reset” to the Cold War, that Europe is being overrun by Muslims and their terror, that traditional US allies are dismayed or dejected at their treatment from this administration, that the United States on her watch ceased being a world leader, that nuclear proliferation among evildoers is the real legacy of this administration, and that the forces of malevolence across the world are on the march.

Forget all that and ask a simple question: is there one place on the globe where Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State was able to advance a single American foreign policy interest – the very task of the office she held? I can think of none. And that qualifies her for … a promotion? Only in America.

The current disarray in the Republican Party –some of it natural to the primary process, some of it sidetracked by side shows – does not bode well for the election or the country. The media will protect Hillary like an etrog, even in the unlikely event that she is indicted. They have that much invested in her election.

But not as much as Hillary and her donors have invested. And there is nothing hilarious about that.

 

The Birth of a Religion

Last Thursday night, a Philadelphia police officer was shot in cold blood and wounded by a man in Muslim garb, shouting Islamic slogans, and purporting to act in the name of ISIS. Jim Kenney, the Mayor of Philadelphia, was quick to shoot down the assailant’s own stated motive: “In no way shape or form does anyone in this room believe that Islam or the teaching of Islam has anything to do with what you’ve seen on the screen. It is abhorrent. It is terrible and it does not represent the religion or any of its teachings. This is a criminal with a stolen gun who tried to kill one of our officers. It has nothing to do with being a Muslim or following the Islamic faith.”

This follows the playbook crafted for many years by President Obama, who resolutely rejects the notion that there is such a thing as “Islamic terror,” “Islamist terror,” “radical Islamic terror,” or any and all associations between terror and any Muslim. ISIS “has nothing to do with Islam;” that is to say, Islamic State is not Islamic and also is not a State. Its entire name is a lie! Leaving aside the question who is Obama to decree what is or isn’t Islamic (how can he speak in the name of Islam when he denies being a Muslim?), his renunciations would be more credible if they were applied universally to other groups.

For example, the rare attack by a white on a black in America is never a crime committed by one racist criminal but always a sign of the endemic racism that infects all of white America and a legacy of slavery 150 years ago. It reflects on everyone, not just the individual perpetrator. The rare attack by a Christian on an abortion clinic is always a sign of the radicalization of Christianity in America, spurred on by radical priests and ministers. All Christians are expected to take responsibility for the acts of the individual. The president and his minions have never been heard saying “This has absolutely nothing to do with Christianity.”

And Jews? The even more rare attack by a Jew on anyone is always met with communal guilt and recriminations, and a failure of the perpetrators’ parents, grandparents, teachers and neighbors. If a Jew jaywalks (shame on him!), he and his community will be denounced by Jewish organizations across the world. He will be subjected to public ridicule. Commissions and committees will be formed to deliberate where we as a people went wrong to produce such miscreants, whether or not the appellation “chosen people” is still deserved, and speculate whether there is any hope for the Jewish future. If he is an Israeli Jew, the UN Security Council will condemn him an, depending where he jaywalked, accuse him of being a war criminal.

The acts of an individual – Jew or Israeli – are always perceived by this government and the political left as a sign of the moral decay caused by the “occupation” and the rot at the core of Jewish society. It is never – never – construed as just the act of an individual lacking any connection to Judaism or Israel. It is always perceived as a reflection on Judaism, otherwise it would not be a shonda(!).  We should be able to avoid the specter of the shonda (!) by saying that they perpetrator should not be considered a Jew and his act has nothing to do with Judaism. But we don’t.

And one need not look further than the misdeeds of a couple of rabbis in the last few years, and the screaming headlines and seething discourses on the failed state of the rabbinate.  All rabbis are somehow tainted and suspect and require re-training and supervision. It is never the individual; it is always the group. Except when it comes to Islam.

Well, everyone can’t be wrong. And there are Muslims who denounce the terrorists, the terror, and lament the perversion of Islam, as Obama is quick to emphasize. If it isn’t Islam, then what is it?

The terrorists have invented a new religion, and we have just been to slow to acknowledge it. There is a religion called “Islam.” There is a new religion that should actually be called “Is-not-lam.”

Islam is a religion of peace that respects all mankind and is tolerant of all religions. Isnotlam is a religion of war, permanent and perpetual holy war. Islam treats all people with respect and dignity and affords them basic human rights. Isnotlam is locked in an endless struggle against all non-Isnotlamists who are heretics, fiends and infidels; indeed, Isnotlam even targets Muslims and has murdered more Muslims than it has murdered non-Muslims.

Islam represents the submission of the individual to God’s will and sees life as a paramount value. Isnotlam sees death and martyrdom as desirable – the epitome of one’s life work – and the application of that value to others, willing or unwilling, as a fundamental religious commitment. Islam co-exists in peace and harmony with all nations and creeds. Isnotlam seeks world domination and the imposition of Isnotlamic law on every other person on the globe even at the point of a sword.

What makes it especially confusing to the outsider is that both Islam and Isnotlam revere the same texts, dress in similar ways, speak the same language and abide by many of the same customs. But Islam underscores the tolerant portions of the Koran, whereas Isnotlam has distorted the Koran into something that is unrecognizable to the true Muslim. It makes it very difficult for the outsider to distinguish between the true Muslim and the Isnotlamist.

Muslims justifiably do not want to be lumped together with Isnotlamists, and do not want the actions of a few tens of millions Isnotlamists to reflect poorly on them. And what is particularly outrageous is that the Isnotlamists do not hesitate in judging other individuals by the groups to which they belong. They will wantonly murder Jews all over the world because they have a grievance with Jews or Israelis in Israel. They will wantonly murder Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Kurds, Yazidis, and others – Americans, Europeans, Russians, Africans and Asians – only because they are part of a disfavored group (i.e., everyone else on the planet) and not because of any particular grievance they have with those individuals.

The relentless insistence by Obama and his acolytes that persistent terror by Muslims has absolutely nothing to do with Islam sounds ridiculous and clueless until one realizes – as sadly, the President has not yet – that the problem is not Islam  but the new faith, Isnotlam. We are at war with Isnotlam, and would Obama recognize that and swiftly. Isnotlam through its various constituents – ISIS, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, the Taliban and assorted other groups – is causing tremendous harm across the world and has intensified its threats to all non-Isnotlamists.

Rather than saying what the terrorists are not – Muslimsand whose ideology they are not following – Islam – world leaders should boldly declare war on Isnotlam. We can only hope and pray that Isnotlamists are outnumbered by the good people on whom they are inflicting death, suffering and fear, and that those good people – freed of any accusations of Islamophobia and the like – can prevail in this world war.

And, apologists for terror, please don’t accuse me of Isnotlamophobia. We live in very serious times and cannot be distracted in this struggle, the civilized world’s quest for victory and survival. It would certainly help the cause if followers of Islam unequivocally denounced the followers of Isnotlam.

The Candidates on Israel

There must be a better way to elect a President.

The interminable campaign – I think the candidates for the 2020 election are already organizing – becomes a little more serious in a few weeks when real live Americans actually start voting. It is bizarre that so many candidates have already dropped out, long before even a single ballot has been cast, but not as bizarre as the fact that there were so many candidates to begin with.

It is a good time then to look at each of the Republican candidates for president and their attitudes towards Israel. Three caveats are in order. First, I am among those who believe that the Israel factor should not be the sole determinant of a person’s voting patterns. It goes without saying that an anti-Israel candidate could never win my vote. Nonetheless, if a candidate rated 90% support (however that is measured) and another candidate measured 80% support, it is not unreasonable to examine his/her positions on other issues. This is especially so since those other issues will tend to influence their dealings with Israel.

Second, it cannot be underscored enough that, fortunately, Israel is not a major issue in this campaign, or, for that matter, in the world today. An analysis published last week of the anticipated global hot spots in 2016 did not even mention Israel. Israel would benefit inordinately from the benign neglect of American diplomacy, which would certainly be an improvement over the hostile American diplomacy of the Obama-Clinton-Kerry era and also allow Israel – if it can summon the will – to take the elementary and effective security measures needed to stem the rising tide of Arab terror.

Third, any of the Republican candidates – and I mean any – would be an improvement over the current occupants of the White House and Foggy Bottom. Like many erstwhile American allies, Israel has been treated by the Obama administration more like a nuisance and an irritant than as a friend and ally. Of course, it hasn’t been completely negative; that can never be given Israel’s strong support in Congress and with the American people. But Obama has been an annoyance to Israel since the beginning of his tenure, and that is manifest not only through the strengthening of Israel’s enemies (Iran’s nuclear bomb is at the top of that list, along with US support for the Muslim Brotherhood) but also through PM Netanyahu’s persistent fear of taking the initiative against Arab terror and changing the dynamic of the conflict, both in order to avoid provoking Obama.

None of the Republican candidates bear that animus, or at least that ill-concealed contempt for Israel and its leaders that Obama and his acolytes have had, and that Obama spent 20 years listening to his pastor’s sermons.

That being said, the Republican candidates on Israel break down into three different categories: superstars, establishment and ciphers.

There are four superstars in the Republican galaxy on the Israel question, in no particular order: Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, and Marco Rubio. It is not just the kishke factor that excites some Jews but rather their essential worldview. They see Israel as a friend, not just an ally. They see Israel’s fight against Arab-Islamic terror as identical to America’s fight. They would not – as John Kerry does every time – rattle off the egregious Islamic terrorist acts across the world (from Bali to San Bernardino) and never mention Israel as a victim of Arab-Islamic terror.  They do not share the Obama-Kerry opinion that “Islamist terror” (strike that – Obama-Kerry never attribute Muslim terror to Muslims; call it “violent extremist man-made disasters”) in Paris, Madrid, London, New York, etc., etc., is unconscionably evil, whereas Arab terror in Israel against Jews has a rationale, is understandable, and really all Israel’s fault anyway.

That is a completely different worldview. Added to that, these superstars have no illusions about a “peace process,” have no interest in the creation of an irredentist Palestinian state that will serve as a base for radical Islam, and are rightfully content to let Israel handle its diplomacy and settle in its heartland as many Jews as it deems feasible. Strangely, they do not wish to dictate to the sovereign State of Israel where Jews should live! It is impossible to imagine that any of these four gentlemen would become more enraged by the building of a few homes in Samaria than by the detonation of a nuclear bomb in North Korea.

For years, Mike Huckabee has become a fixture at banquets of pro-Israel Jewish organizations and delivered speeches that could shame Israeli prime ministers with his unabashed support for a strong, confident Israel, the fulfillment of Biblical prophecies. Ironically, Cruz and Rubio’s foreign policy approaches differ markedly – except when it comes to Israel. All three – and Ben Carson – root their love for Israel and their appreciation of Israel’s historic rights and unparalleled struggles to the Bible. That depth of understanding and commitment is not subject to change. It is hard to imagine any of them lambasting Israel for defending itself against Arab terror, calling for restraint and “proportionate” (and thus ineffective) responses, or pressuring Israel to make more concessions to purchase ephemeral “good will” from its Arab enemies.

Then there are the establishment candidates, those who are pro-Israel, support Israel, want a strong Israel, but are also wedded to the traditional American diplomatic posture that supports the “peace process” – notwithstanding how ludicrous the phrase, much less the process, has become. They seek to balance support for Israel with alliances with Arab nations as well. That is not inherently bad, except when it leads the United States into the quagmire of double standards – castigating Israel for trifles while ignoring extreme violence, abuses and corruption in those Arab allies.

Numbered in this group are Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, and John Kasich. They are all what we would traditionally call “pro-Israel” – make no mistake about that – but they differ with the superstars in being grounded more in realpolitik than in a heartfelt attachment to Israel based on values and policy. In truth, we have never really had a President of the first category. Even Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, both motivated by good instincts, were still bound to the machinations of their diplomatic corps – some of whom served, it seems, for many years, and in both Democratic and Republican administrations. George Bush I was clearly in this “Scowcroft” mold, and further slanted by the execrations of James Baker.

The giveaway in all this is any reference to the phrases “revive the peace process” or “good will gestures.” These reveal that a candidate is beholden to Arabists at the State Department, has based his diplomatic goals on hackneyed clichés unrelated to reality, and will conduct the usual push and pull with Israel even as Israel tries to navigate through the treacherous waters of the hostile, barbaric neighborhood in which it is situated.

That notion of “reviving the peace process” leads to the third category – the ciphers. They are candidates whose positions are difficult, if not impossible to discern, and in this category we find Donald Trump, Carly Fiorina and Rand Paul. A cipher is not bad, just risky, because it is really unknown how they would respond to any situation. Rand Paul is an admitted isolationist, and therefore long perceived as hostile to Israel. That is untrue, as he has made clear and without compromising his values. Even Rand Paul has come around to accept the importance of military aid to Israel, not only because it benefits the US economy (70% of that aid is spent in the US helping American companies) but also because he recognizes Israel’s role in furthering US interests in an unstable part of the world. He lost favor years ago because of his opposition to foreign aid (again, he has backtracked on military aid to Israel) but it is hard to quibble with his comment that it is nonsensical for the United States – broke and indebted to the tune of $19,000,000,000,000 (nineteen trillion dollars; that’s a lot of zeroes) – “borrowing money from the Chinese to give to foreign countries.” There is something quite sensible about that.

Carly Fiorina is an excellent candidate – talented, articulate, grounded, and capable. But support for Israel must be based on something more than “I’ve met Bibi.” I’ve met Bibi too, but he has also met a lot of other people too. Carly will be a cipher until she addresses these issues more explicitly.

Which brings us to Donald Trump. (If elected, will he be referred to as “The President” or “The Donald”?) As a New Yorker, he certainly has a long and positive history with Jews. Many Jews – religious Jews also – have worked and still work for him. Famously, he was once the Grand Marshal of the Salute to Israel parade. But his campaign has been based on being the “anti-politician,” not bad per se(others have been elected running on that platform, like U.S. Grant), but rendering his stance on the issues, even on other issues, unknowable. He has boasted of his “unpredictability,” that he will not reveal his positions in any depth or detail so as not to give our adversaries any advantage.

That sounds better that it actually is, and what it is – is ludicrous. No one would buy a suit of “unpredictable” size, order “unpredictable” food in a restaurant, or marry someone of “unpredictable” character. Why then would anyone vote for a president who rejoices in his unpredictability? He needs to become slightly more specific on the issues. It is not enough to answer questions about specifics – the Middle East too – by saying “they won’t know what hit them,” “their heads will spin,” or “I’m rich and successful.” Indeed, not all of his deals were successful, as the WSJ reported last week, as a number of his companies went into bankruptcy and he teetered on the brink of personal bankruptcy himself.

Does anyone know how Trump relates to the Middle East? To Israel? To the settlements? To the “peace process”? To the Iran nuclear deal (except that it is the worst ever)? If Israel annexed Judea and Samaria, how would he respond? He hinted that he is not averse to the re-division of Yerushalayim or asking Israel for “sacrifices” for peace. I would state clearly my feelings for Trump as President – he is entertaining to be sure – but I too choose to remain unpredictable.

To quote Donald Trump, both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton would be “disasters” on the Israel factor. Sanders is a hard-core leftist whose sympathies are not with the Jewish state. And all we need to remember about Hillary Clinton is this: as the world burned, ISIS expanded and Islamic terror metastasized across the globe, Iraq fell and North Korea further developed its nuclear program, she chose to harangue – in most personal, insulting and undiplomatic language – Israel’s Prime Minister because a minor municipal official in Yerushalayim announced that day tenders to build apartments in the northern part of Yerushalayim. That is treatment that she never afforded any rogue, any scoundrel, or any terrorist across the world, and only those who don’t wish to see it will fail to see it.

As most of her Jewish supporters care more about abortion rights than Israel’s survival, this should not trouble them. But it does give us an insight into her mindset and worldview going forward. Voter beware!

Of course, any leader can change while in office, so we can only rely on current assessments. At this point, any and all Republican candidates would be far superior, for the United States and Israel to the alternatives.

 

Hilltop Youth

The Hilltop Youth are the targets de jour, a small group of teenage boys and girls, who have spent the past several years illegally settling various hilltops in Judea and Samaria in order to promote Jewish settlement throughout the land of Israel for both religious and political reasons. And, if one believes the media and politico’s reports, they or like-minded young people have been responsible for spontaneous and unprovoked attacks on random Arabs, wanton damage to their property, all culminating in the horrific arson-murder in the village of Duma.

That there is little to no evidence of any of this has not stopped the recriminations, the administrative detentions without charge, and the assaults on their character, if not also their bodies. I have never met even one of them, which qualifies me as much as anyone else to address their situation.

The rise of these youth, assuming for a moment that at least some of the aforementioned allegations are true, is said to reflect a failure of Religious Zionism who have produced such “unruly weeds,” as they have been called. But nothing could be further from the truth. Are any of these young people “Religious Zionists?” Are they disciples of Rav Avraham Kook or his son Rav Zvi Yehuda Kook, zt”l? Are they followers of Rav Reines, zt”l? Do they believe in the integration of Torah and the modern state? Are they great Torah scholars? What makes them “Religious Zionists?”

Religious Zionism has been accused for decades by its detractors of an undue focus on Jewish settlement in the heartland of Israel to the exclusion of all other interests of the movement, especially the infusion of Torah values into all aspects of Jewish statehood. I have never found that to be true, but do concede that, but for Religious Zionists, there would be little settlement in Judea and Samaria, and those areas would have likely already been surrendered to Arabs and strengthened their terror state.

It is ironic that accusers of the Hilltop Youth have attached them to Religious Zionism because of only one indicator: they live in the settlements. It is as if the detractors have reduced Religious Zionism to that one dimension – which they in any event despise – and concluded that, ipso facto, they are now exemplars of Religious Zionism. I would urge Religious Zionists to reject the indictment and the label, and certainly to lose the guilt.

Again, assuming the truth of some of the accusations, what would possess youth raised to observe Mitzvot and to love the land of Israel, to commit crimes and oppose the State? (I must confess that the allegations of the authorities that there are groups of young people who are actively planning to overthrow the government and install a monarchy are bizarre, farfetched, unworthy of serious consideration and the type of youthful exuberance that can be found, in analogous context, on American college campuses for the last fifty years.)

Nothing justifies attacks on any innocent person or his property, but we should for a moment consider the world in which these young people were raised. If they are older teens, they grew up during the years of Oslo, with the Arab terror movement growing in strength and confidence. They have not known even a day in which they could ride their highways without fear of stones, Molotov cocktails, or bullets being sent their way. They have been raised with the sad reality that if their parents wish to add a room to the family home, they will be denounced for their efforts by the US State Department and the United Nations, and prevented by their government. If they wish to build a block away, they might provoke a war. They see Arabs building all around them, living without any fear, and they have been made to feel like heroes to many Jews, but like villains and criminals to too many Jews, including officials in the government and those malevolent NGO’s who are funded by European governments and monitor every building block and every field.

They have attended too many funerals of their peers, and heard too many pious, politician speeches praising them, promising more building and more security (always around election time) and seeing none of it. They have witnessed the Arab terrorists who have killed and maimed their families and friends arrested and incarcerated – and then released to commit more acts of terror. They have grown up in an atmosphere of lawlessness – where often he who takes the initiative is rewarded and he who hesitates is lost or dead. They have seen Israeli courts order evictions of their neighbors from land purchased from Arabs with good money, only to have their ownership reversed on the most specious grounds with the money, of course, not returned.

They have seen people on the left take the law into their own hands when it suits them (the original Oslo negotiators were in violation of Israeli law) and they have seen people on the right take the law into their own hands when it suits them. In 1995, no less a personage than Ariel Sharon called on the youth of Judea and Samaria to “take the hilltops,” settle them so that the government cannot surrender that territory to the Arabs (bitterly ironic, in light of what Sharon himself would later do). This wasn’t hidden – Sharon said this in Israel, but I heard it from his own mouth in a lecture he gave in our shul. “Take the hilltops!” And we wonder why there are “Hilltop Youth”?

They have seen their government evict Jews from Gush Katif, and they have seen their government brutally evict their neighbors from Amona and elsewhere. They have been taught how the pre-State underground was lauded and lionized, and how even the Underground from the 1980’s (granted, there is a difference) found support in Israel, even its government and judicial system, and brought a halt of several years to Arab terror. They have seen Arabs burn their fields, steal their crops, and rustle their cattle – with little or no response from their government who fear international condemnation if they arrest Arabs for these “petty crimes.”

They have literally grown up under the gun in an abnormal environment wherein death and mayhem are constant companions, where hundreds have awakened one day as small children to learn that their beloved third or fifth grade teacher was shot and killed overnight by Arab terrorists. And the tears and protestations of their government notwithstanding, the measures that could diminish or end the conflict are not taken. All they hear are words and more words, praised by some for their courage, perseverance and self-sacrifice, as some politicians prefer to kick the can down the road even as others just use their government positions to enrich themselves. And they know there is no hope in sight of anything changing – just more terror, more death, more funerals, more victims, more wounded, more maimed, and more criticism and prattle from their hapless political elders. They have seen their government impotent, for the most part, in the wake of the most recent wave of Arab terror.

Hillel’s astute aphorism is timely: “Do not judge a person until you are in his place” (Avot 2:5).

Being reared in such an unpleasant environment has to take a toll, on both sanity and respect for the law. Frankly, I am surprised that anyone can endure such persistent trauma and remain normal, and gratified beyond words that the “Hilltop Youth” are such a marginal phenomenon. That more than 99% of settler youth are devoted, law-abiding Jews, filled with love of Torah, mitzvot, the land and people of Israel, and permeated with a spirit of self-sacrifice that inspires an entire nation (whether or not that nation realizes or appreciates it) is a tribute to, yes, their parents, teachers, Rabbanim, communities and the true Religious Zionist ethos.

Given all of the above, and lest the reader think that it serves to rationalize alleged bad behavior, it is important to note why the “Hilltop Youth” are wrong if they are committing any crimes at all.

Firstly, assaulting the innocent is a sin, a violation of the Torah which we all cherish. Damaging the property of innocent people is a sin, a violation of the Torah. Anyone who takes the Torah seriously will eschew any sin – and to live in Israel and not take the Torah seriously is a weird contradiction, albeit not an uncommon one. It is easy to observe the laws of the Torah when they do not challenge us; it is much harder when they do challenge us, but that is when the greatness and faith of the Jew is revealed. That is when our free choice comes into play.

Just because the enemy delights in attacking our innocent does not justify violating the Torah and attacking their innocent. We are obligated to punish the guilty – but not the innocent. We are mandated to follow the Torah at all times.

Secondly, attacks on the innocent are immoral. Justice demands that a human being can only be judged for his crimes and his crimes alone. While I do not subscribe to the pap that 99% of the Arabs of Israel are good, decent, law-abiding people (according to an Arab poll publicized by the ZOA, 67% of “Palestinians” support stabbing and murdering Jews!), no person is a legitimate target simply because he/she belongs to an ethnic group. To treat people accordingly is criminal, reprehensible and immoral, and those crimes should be prosecuted in accordance with the law (the law; that means with witnesses and evidence presented in court).

Thirdly, random attacks on Arabs, such as they occur and if they occur, are counterproductive to the cause of Jewish settlement, the justice of our claims to the land of Israel, and even the viability of the State of Israel. The Torah teaches us that the land of Israel is so holy that it cannot tolerate the shedding of innocent blood. We have to maintain a level of morality – even in wartime, and as the Torah prescribes – in order to be worthy of the land of Israel. To attack the innocent like the Cossacks attacked us, if indeed such takes place, undermines our moral right to the land of Israel. Self-control is always needed, and people who lack self-control will often respond viscerally and violently to any provocation. That is neither moral nor wise.

There is lawlessness in the land of Israel, like there is anywhere in the world and at any time in history. The youth can occasionally act lawlessly as the authorities can occasionally act lawlessly. Those who lump together all “Hilltop Youth” as worthy of condemnation, prosecution, or, as one wag put it, “cauterization,” are also responding viscerally and recklessly. That too is wrong. Those who are more outraged by young people singing an idiotic, repugnant song than they are about Arabs stabbing Jews to death should check their values. A little perspective is in order.

Don’t condemn entire groups for the alleged acts of the few. That principle should apply to Jews as well as to Arabs.

 

Dark Days

At the beginning of Parshat Vayigash, Yehuda mounted a spirited defense of his youngest brother Binyamin, accused by the mercurial monarch of Egypt of stealing the royal goblet. Yehuda, certainly, assumed Binyamin’s innocence and that the stolen merchandise had been planted in Binyamin’s sack, but could not know for sure. Indeed, other brothers, in the language of the Midrash (Breisheet Raba 92:8), castigated Binyamin as “a thief the son of a thief,” for he was the youngest child of Rachel who had stolen her father’s idols. Apparently, Yehuda felt that even a potential thief, with a pedigree of crime, deserved a defense and the proper administration of justice.

These are dark days in the land of Israel, and not just because the daily spate of Arab terror against Jews – stabbings, ramming, with the occasional shootings – shows no signs of abating. The government has settled in to its typical response of defensive measures, more barriers, more speeches, and calling for vigilance and perseverance by the population, and, of course, insisting that the rule of law be maintained. Yes, the rule of law.

It is painful to write what follows, and for some they will violate the unwritten rule that support for the State of Israel, whatever it does, must be instinctive, complete and unwavering. Perhaps it is the attorney in me that feels the need to raise awareness of these matters.

The recent allegations that the Shabak has engaged in torture against Jewish suspects in order to extract from them confessions are disgraceful, humiliating, a desecration of G-d’s Name and an embarrassment to the State of Israel. It must be conceded that they are only allegations, but so are accusations of criminal conduct. Four attorneys representing the accused – but deprived access to them for several weeks – last week detailed the alleged abuse: physical torture, beatings, burning and prodding of various parts of the body (including sensitive and private areas), sleep deprivation (in one case, three days), sexual abuse and other forms of debasement. True, even these are just allegations, but allegations grounded in physical evidence and first-person reports. The one adult arrested, released after three weeks of such maltreatment, returned to his yishuv after his interrogators admitted they had no evidence against him. His rabbi reported that he returned a broken man, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, and dysfunctional. The parents of a minor (most of those in custody are minors) were interviewed on Israeli television on Monday and claimed that their child – after three weeks of enduring such brutality – tried to commit suicide. He showed his parents the slash marks on his wrists, which weighs slightly more than the Shabak’s denial of the attempted suicide.

The predicate for these arrests was the arson-murder of an Arab family – parents and an infant child – in the village of Duma last summer. The crime, whoever committed it, Jew or Arab, was heinous, horrific, unthinkable and deserves to be prosecuted. The guilty should be arrested, tried, convicted, and incarcerated. But “Justice, justice, you shall pursue” (Devarim 16:20) – justice must be pursued but only through means that are also just.

The secular Israeli civil and human rights groups have been noticeably silent, along with American Jewish organizations (including some Orthodox ones) who are quick to condemn Israel for any mistreatment of Arabs. Of course, those civil and human rights organizations are less interested in civil and human rights than they are in defaming Israel on the world stage and bringing about its speedy demise. The suffering of Jews – whether at the hands of the Arab terrorists they coddle and defend or at the hands of the Shabak – is less interesting to them.

PM Netanyahu, and others in government, have denied the allegations of torture, decried the attacks on the Shabak, and asserted that the interrogations have been “lawful.”

That is not the most encouraging statement, if only because “lawful” in Israel is not identical to what is “lawful” in, say, the United States. Israel routinely, and the United States, sporadically, have used “enhanced interrogation techniques” on any number of Arab terrorist suspects over the years. But fair-minded, reasonable people should be able to distinguish between physical force used to extract information from terrorists about imminent or pending terrorist threats – and physical force used to extract confessions. The former saves lives. The latter? The latter ruins lives and debases the society that engages in those medieval practices.

As one of the Israeli attorneys put it last week, and notwithstanding the protestations of government officials, Israel has allegedly crossed the line that separates civilized countries from countries (he put it mildly) “that we would never want to be.”

Soon after the attack on the Arab family in Duma, Defense Minister Yaalon claimed that “we know who did it, we just don’t yet have the evidence.” That statement alone is jarring, as the only way the authorities could know who did it is with “evidence,” even the testimony provided by informants, either Jewish or Arab, or DNA evidence, or sightings of the criminals on the ubiquitous cameras in Israel. That, too, is evidence; whispered suspicions are not. And despite some indications that the crime might not have been committed by Jews – and it very well might have – the accusations against Jews do fit the narrative that sees right-wing settlers as homicidal, racist maniacs and Israel as an enlightened society that prosecutes its own when there is wrongdoing and is not reluctant to release convicted Arab terrorists to flaunt its “morality.”

If the first contention is false and disgraceful, the second is embarrassingly naïve if the motivation behind it is an attempt to win favorable plaudits from the “world community.” That is part of Israel’s persistent and futile effort to score world “public relations” points by mollifying Arabs and, in this case, persecuting Jews. But the only thing the “world” actually cares less about than Jews killing Arabs is Arabs killing Jews, and the effort to placate world opinion by finding Jews to scapegoat , by extracting confessions through torture, or by easing restrictions on Arab movements that have facilitated the most recent wave of terror is a fools’ errand and unworthy of a civilized society.

MK Betzalel Smotrich (Bayit Hayehudi) caused a stir last week, and was repudiated by his party leader, when he asserted that Jews in the current context cannot be “terrorists.” It’s a subtle, nuanced point that has much to commend it. Jews, r”l, can be murderers, thieves, and scoundrels but not “terrorists,” because terror transcends the immediate act and aims to engender fear – terror – among all potential victims. Thus, we must ask ourselves basic questions: are Arabs terrorized in the State of Israel? Are Arabs living in fear that their homes will be burnt or invaded and their families killed, or that their cars will be shot at on the roads? Are Arabs afraid to hire Jewish workers, lest their employees suddenly turn on them one fine day and try to murder them? Are Arabs afraid to walk the streets of Israel lest a random Jew stab them in the neck? Are Arabs afraid to stand at a bus stop or street corner lest a Jew ram them with his car?

The answer is “no,” to all of the above. Let’s get real: in the land of Israel today, only Jews are terrorized, not Arabs. The only fear Arabs have is that they will be killed trying to murder Jews, and I’m not even sure they fear that.

Those who have claimed that persecuting and then prosecuting the Duma suspects will save lives because otherwise Arab terror will be emboldened are… well, they are not really paying attention to current events. Anyone who believes that Arab terror – in Israel or anywhere in the world – can be “provoked” should not be allowed anywhere near the reins of power or influence. It is a risible notion.

Even worse, this case could be pronounced “solved” as a result of confessions allegedly extracted under torture. This is exactly what happened to Jews during the Middle Ages and thereafter, in the Inquisition and during other dark periods of our history: Jews forced to confess to crimes to which they did not commit. No confession extracted through torture should have any credibility, and every civilized judicial system deems those confessions inadmissible. No civilized society should extract confessions or otherwise fabricate evidence even to convict the guilty. It should be noted that Jewish law bars the use of any confession, period.  And the ignominy is exacerbated by the reality that the suspects allegedly tortured were primarily minors – children, teenagers.

Despite all the protestations, this episode has tarnished Israel’s image, and the brutality alleged has been so shocking that it has stunned most Jews into an embarrassed silence. That too is shameful.

If indeed Jews are responsible, r”l, then it is a low point in modern Jewish history, and highlights, among other things, the detrimental consequences of growing up in an environment in which terrorist attacks, sudden death, and grievous injury are daily realities. That is not normal, and a failure of successive governments. Of course, even if that were true, the Torah still prohibits acting upon those aggressive impulses, and nothing excuses the wanton murder of innocent people. It cannot be emphasized enough that the murder in Duma was a dastardly crime, and whoever committed it should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law and punished accordingly, Jew or Arab.

But prosecutions require evidence lawfully obtained, and the epitome of tainted evidence is the forced confession. The preservation of a civilized society depends on the execution of civilized laws, and on judges who will enforce those civilized laws, not judges who will whitewash the alleged criminal misbehavior of the authorities and turned a blind eye to alleged abuse of minors.

And here’s something that we all know. As sad as it is for the victims, and as frustrating as it is for the society of good and decent people, sometimes the guilty get away with their crimes. Famously, OJ Simpson beat two murder raps; certainly LAPD would have built an even stronger case had he “confessed.” Sometimes murderers are not caught. It happens more often than people think. Sometimes those who are guilty as sin are acquitted by juries. Nazis by and large got away with the unspeakable atrocities they committed against the Jewish people. And, sometimes murderers are caught and then – is it really possible? – released in a prisoner exchange to taunt the families of their victims and plot new terrorist acts.

It is immensely frustrating, but that is when the “rule of law” as a concept and value – not as a hackneyed cliché – must be actualized. To state that “we know who did it but we have no evidence,” so we will then go about and fabricate evidence, is the stock-in-trade of third world dictatorships and totalitarian societies. To beat confessions out of people (allegedly) is vigilante justice, not real justice.

Fortunately, there is a G-d, and that G-d finds ways to punish those who commit crimes without witnesses or evidence. So we are taught. That principle applies to alleged criminals as much as to those who allegedly torture people they suspect are criminals.

May G-d have mercy that no innocent people have to suffer because of the dishonorable conduct of the few. I hope the allegations against the incarcerated are untrue and the allegations against the Shabak are untrue. And may we merit living in an era in which the security forces of Israel fight their real enemies, that those enemies are finally subdued, and that all Jews return to service of G-d, love of Torah, fulfillment of mitzvot, and love of Am Yisrael.