Tuesday, November 18, 2008

An Imaginary Interview with Theodor Herzl

On November 16, 2008, the Jerusalem Post published this hypothetical interview with Theodor Herzl, written by David Breakstone, the "founding chairman of the WZO's Herzl Center and a member of the Zionist Executive, where he represents MERCAZ Olami, the Zionist arm of the Conservative movement."

Here is that interview, in its entirety:

Q: It is 60 years since the Jewish state you dreamed of came into being. Given...

Herzl: Excuse me. This is not the Jewish state I dreamed of.

Q: Pardon me?

Herzl: More than a century ago I declared, "Those of us prepared to hazard our lives for the cause would regret having raised a finger if we were able to organize only a new social system and not a more righteous one."

Q: We haven't done that?

Herzl: Please. Long ago I charged the Jewish people: "Fashion your state in such a manner that the stranger will feel comfortable among you." The recent riots in Acre, your treatment of foreign workers...

Q: But look at what we have managed to do. The technology, the desert in bloom...

Herzl: Listen to my leaders in Altneuland. "All you have cultivated will be worthless and your fields will again be barren, unless you also cultivate freedom of thought and expression, generosity of spirit, and love for humanity. These are the things you must cherish and nurture."

Q: I understood you only wanted a safe haven...

Herzl: Absolutely not! My vision was much nobler. "I truly believe," I wrote, "that even after we possess our land, Zionism will not cease to be an ideal, for Zionism includes not only the yearning for a plot of promised land legally acquired for our weary people, but also the yearning for ethical and spiritual fulfillment." I expected a great deal more from you.

Q: Are you suggesting the Zionist undertaking was a failure? Jews from across the Diaspora are in Israel this week for meetings of the same World Zionist Organization you founded more than a century ago. Would you have them disband it?

Herzl: God forbid! I may be disappointed, but I'm not a defeatist. This is not the time to forsake the ideal, but to embrace it, to inspire the next generation to take up the task of their forebears. I have said it before but I will say it again, "A community must have an ideal, for it is that which drives us. The ideal is for the community what bread and water are for the individual. And our Zionism, which led us hither and which will lead us still further to yet unknown heights, is but an ideal, an infinite endless ideal."

Q: You believe we are capable of regaining that sense of vision?

Herzl: The leaders of the WZO seem to think so. I remind you that on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of my death they adopted a new Jerusalem Program, an up-to-date revision of my Zionist manifesto from 1897. It calls for "strengthening Israel as a Jewish, Zionist and democratic state and shaping it as an exemplary society with a unique moral and spiritual character, marked by mutual respect for the multifaceted Jewish people, rooted in the vision of the prophets, striving for peace and contributing to the betterment of the world." Is that not vision?

Q: Fantasy might be more accurate. Are we really up to the challenge?

Herzl: "All the deeds of man have begun with a dream, and dreams shall they become."

Q: Was that an answer to my question?

Herzl: Look around you, all these accomplishments you take such pride in. A vibrant, full-color rendition of my black-and-white dream. But as deeds, they will ultimately amount to nothing if they do not become the foundation of dreams of your own.

Q: We have dreams all right, but not the sort you're talking about. Ours are a nightmare, filled with scandals, corruption, the machinations of...

Herzl: "That objectionable class of person, the professional politician" that the people of Altneuland eschewed entirely.

Q: Actually, the new mayor of Jerusalem claims to come from another mold. What advice have you for him?

Herzl: He should begin by reading my diary: "If Jerusalem were ever ours," I wrote, "I would begin by cleaning it up." But I went far beyond that, and I suggest he do the same. In my Jerusalem's Old City, "all the buildings were devoted to religious and benevolent purposes. Muslim, Jewish and Christian welfare institutions, hospitals, clinics stood side by side. And in the middle of a great square was the splendid Peace Palace, where international congresses of peace-lovers and scientists were held, for Jerusalem was now a home for all the best strivings of the human spirit: for faith, love, knowledge."

Q: Rather universalistic, no?

Herzl: But also very Jewish. Not many people know it, but alongside the Peace Palace, I also rebuilt the Temple, and even made sure it was well attended! What did my hero experience on his first Friday evening in Jerusalem? "The streets which at noon had been alive with traffic were now suddenly stilled. Very few motor cars were to be seen; all the shops were closed. Slowly and peacefully the Sabbath fell upon the bustling city. Throngs of worshipers wended their way to the Temple and to the many synagogues in the Old City and the New..."

Q: And suggestions for those hoping to be Israel's next prime minister?

Herzl: The social agenda must take priority. My Altneuland must become a model for your Tel Aviv, Sokolov's brilliant translation of my novel. In it, "We neither reward nor punish our children for their fathers' business transactions. All our educational institutions are free from the elementary schools to the Zion University. All the pupils wear the same kind of simple clothing... We think it unethical to single out children by their parents' wealth or social rank."

Q: Perhaps your standards are too high for us?

Herzl: Nonsense. You are still capable of grand things. I only wish I could electrify you as I did Barack Obama. We met only briefly, but I know what I said influenced him greatly.

Q: What was that?

Herzl: Im tirtzu, ayn zu aggada.

Q: Why are you convinced that impacted on him so profoundly?

Herzl: I heard the translator render the phrase into English.

Q: I don't understand.

Herzl: "Yes, we can," he said. Not a bad translation. I suggest you take it to heart.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Thomas Friedman, on the Election of Barack Obama as President

by Hersch Bernkovsky

Thomas L. Friedman starts his column, “Show Me the Money” (published in the New York Times on November 9, 2008) in the fashion of a puff piece: “It is ... a blessing that so many people in so many places [the whole wide world over] see something of themselves reflected in Obama, whether in the color of his skin, the religion of his father, his African heritage, his being raised by a single mother or his childhood of poverty. And that ensures that Obama will probably have a longer than usual honeymoon with the world.”

But he immediately dashes what seems to be uncontained exuberance with a quick dose of, can call for a moment of, reality: “But I wouldn’t exaggerate it. The minute Obama has to exercise U.S. military power somewhere in the world, you can be sure that he will get blowback.” Mr. Friedman points out that, due to “... his biography, demeanor and willingness to at least test a regime like Iran’s with diplomacy ...” Mr. Obama will be “... more difficult to demonize than George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.” In support of this, Mr. Friedman quotes Mr. Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment who asks, “How are you going to implore crowds to chant ‘Death to Barack Hussein Obama’?” (That question makes reference to the famous Iranian chant from the time of the seizure and holding of hostages from the US Embassy in Iran, “Carter, Carter nabudas.”)

But Mr. Friedman knows that eventually, it will be possible. Addressing the world, he says, “Show me the money!” He again bursts the celebratory balloon, “Don’t just show me the love. Don’t just give me the smiles. Your love is fickle and, as I said, it will last about as long as the first Obama airstrike against an Al Qaeda position in Pakistan.” Knowing that Russia, China, Venezuela, the Taliban, Iran, and others are not going to forestall testing President Obama, his resolve and his foreign policy.

And he calls on America’s allies, “... show me the money. Show me that you are ready to be Obama stakeholders, not free-riders — stakeholders in what will be expensive and difficult initiatives by the Obama administration to keep the world stable and free at a time when we have fewer resources.”

Then, perhaps naively, he states that “... surely everyone in the world has an interest in helping Obama, who opposed the [invasion of Iraq], bring it to a decent and stable end, especially now that there is a chance that Iraq could emerge as the first democracy, albeit messy, in the heart of the Arab-Muslim world.” Yet there is no proof whatsoever that “everyone in the world” has such an interest. Does Iran have such an interest, or does it have an interest in instability in that area? Does Iran really have an interest in seeing the establishment of a stable democracy on its borders?

In closing, he again admonishes America’s allies, “... thanks for your applause for our new president.... If you want Obama to succeed, though, don’t just show us the love, show us the money. Show us the troops. Show us the diplomatic effort. Show us the economic partnership. Show us something more than a fresh smile. Because freedom is not free and your excuse for doing less than you could is leaving town in January.”

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

I found some great new news sources ...

... on the Middle East.

The first is the TIME Middle East Blog by Tim McGirk, Scott MacLeod, Andrew Lee Butters, and Phil Zabriskie. On the first article I saw this,
"[Rahm] Emanuel was Bill Clinton's scrappy White House political director--he taught that president the Hebrew word for balls, baytzim--and has served three terms in congress."
So there is some humor, as well as some good blog articles on the Middle East - stuff that you don't usually see in the World Section of your local American newspaper.

The other source is the Los Angeles Times Middle East blog "Babylon and Beyond". There are some great pictures on there. If you scroll down a bit and look on the right side of the page, you can find a list of Middle East blogs from Morocco to Afghanistan.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Arab Bloggers Size Up Obama

The New York Times website has compiled the reaction of several Arab bloggers from the Middle East to the election of Barack Obama to the US presidency.

After reading several segments of this New York Times article, I feel that the Arabs of the Middle East are experiencing a great sense of hope -- a hope for a change in the United State' policy toward Arabs and Muslims, though they retain some reservations. All of the commentators in the Times article had viewed President-elect Barack Obama's speech at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference and had viewed Vice-President-elect Joseph Biden state that he is a Zionist. Some reservations had also been expressed about the appointment of US Congressman Rahm Emanuel (D-Illinois) as Obama's Chief-of-Staff.

Overall, they have expressed positive feeling about Obama. If Obama follows-through on his promises to gradually withdraw US troops from Iraq, I believe the Arab world will continue to admire him. I hope Obama will be able to use and credibility that he may establish with the Arab/Muslim world to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

I am uncertain if their attitude revolves around happiness that the Bush Administration is about to end, and that it won't be followed by a new one led by Senator John McCain, who they seem to perceive as either a continuation of Bush policy, or a new type of 'hard-line' American policy (unfavorable to their supposed interests and favorable to those of Israel). However, they all recognize the historical significance of Obama's election.

Their hope recalls a segment from Thomas Friedman's From Beirut to Jerusalem, in which large segments of the Lebanese population were overjoyed that the Americans were trying to bring peace and prosperity to Lebanon. America obviously failed there, but since that part of the world once viewed the US as a beacon of hope, freedom and democracy, it seems that they are beginning to so regard it again. There is a glimmer of hope that the Arabs (along with other peoples of the world) won't be afraid to call themselves friends of the US.

Realistically speaking, before Obama can begin to focus on the Middle East, he'll have to deal with the American economy. So those that express a hope in his policies will need to be patient. I have high hopes for him (perhaps unreasonably so, I admit). So we all will need to be patient. The wheels of progress, like those of history, turn slowly.

One of the blogs the NY Times presented a portion of is MideastYouth.com. I took a quick look at it -- it seems to be a good source for news about the Middle East. It also seems as if a vibrant community gathers there to discuss that region.

(edited by Hersch Bernkovsky)

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Obama nominates Rahm Emanuel as Chief of Staff

A day after being elected by the American people as the 44th president, Barack Obama nominated Congressman Rahm Emanuel (D-Illinois)as his chief of staff.
Representative Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, the fourth-ranking House Democrat and a close friend of Mr. Obama’s from Chicago ....
His father was born in Jerusalem and was a member of the Irgun, a Jewish terrorist organization that fought the British occupation of Palestine during the 30's and 40's. I don't think this is particularly important except that it is obvious that he's a Zionist. I don't know yet if he's a hawkish or a dovish Zionist but if he does accept the position as the president's right hand man, he will have a lot of influence on foreign policy.

In a 2005 interview with the Rolling Stone he said,
We're the party of change. We're the party of a new direction -- a break from rampant cronyism and the status quo. Period.
Doesn't that sound familiar? He was the head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), and his task was to regain control of the House and Senate. It looks like he put Obama in the White House as well.
On the Haaretz article, one of the commenters had this to say,
Since rich Jews have always financed Obama`s runs for office (in Chicago they were known by the code word, "University of Chicago", why not. Jews are for abortion even though we are a diminishing people. Jews are for higher taxes on the successful, even though we are thought to own the US and have 60% of the money. Jews are for civil rights, even though we are hired last and fired first. Jews are for closing down GITMO, even though every terrorist targeted us first. Jews are for talking and engaging with our enemies, including Iran, No. Korea, Cuba, Venezuela..and Syria..and considering the grievances of Hamas and Hezbollah, while thousands demonstrated in Tehran today shouting, "Death to Israel". Jews are leftists by nature, while Russia is deploying nukes around Polant. Go for it Emanuel.
I thought it was a good summary of Jewish political stances in the US.

In this very long NYTimes piece from 1997, it talks about the Emanuel brothers. One brother is a biomedical ethicist, and the other is a big shot Hollywood agent. The Emanuel in Hollywood inspired the Ari Gold character in the HBO series Entourage, my favorite character on TV by far.

Our first co-contributor

I'd like to introduce you to H.L.B. He's going to tell you about himself soon.

We haven't decided on what to call him yet.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Michael waits in line to vote....

Today, I voted for the first time. It was very exciting. The polling place was at the local York fire station between the main and west campuses of my university. The line of people waiting to vote stretched around the block. I waited for one and a half hours. Since I had finished all my classes in the morning, I wasn't worried about time issues. I brought the book "From Beirut to Jerusalem" (which I wrote about in the previous post) from the local library, so I won't get bored. The elderly couple behind me asked me what book I was reading so I showed them the front cover. Then they started telling me about the time they visited Beirut in '74. They wanted to visit before things started to blow up. They told me that they spoke with an Arab at a local restaurant who spoke perfect English and wore traditional Arab garb. He said that they were the first tourists he saw all day.

Eventually they mention something about the "turmoil in Israel." I didn't know what exactly that meant so I started talking about the coming Israeli election in January. They asked me who I like and I said I didn't know, just not Netanyahu. I told them how they he was a "hawk" and less likely to make peace with the Palestinians. Then the elderly woman told me how "God gave the land to the Jews" and how the Arabs want to kill us. "It said so in the Old Testament." I didn't want to confront her on the whole God thing so I just told her that we need to make peace with the Palestinians, they need a place to live too, and how we need to find willing peace partners from among the Palestinians. She asked me if I was Jewish, I told her I was Israeli. At this point I start to realize that she might be a Bible-believing Christian-American who supports Israel.

Eventually she spoke about how it says in Ezekiel that the Russians and Arabs are going to attack the "Land of Israel" from the north. And about how they made an alliance. She said that the signs are there and the prophecies are being fulfilled. She also said that God is going to defeat them and that the Jews are going to realize that God is protecting them (which I interpreted as Jews accept Jesus). I finally realized I'm talking to a Fundamentalist Christian, perhaps an Evangelical. I should have asked her if she knew that Israel's founders were atheists. I thought old people were supposed to be wise and smart. I no longer hold that view. Old people can be just as dumb as young people. I told her that I don't believe in prophecies after the prophet has died.

In conclusion, when you start talking about the Middle East with Americans, you just don't know how insane people are going to get. There are fanatics on both sides, Hamas/Hezbollah/Iran vs. settlers/Christian fundementalists.

Note: This was all going on while a man was playing guitar and singing about Jesus outside the polling place.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Obama the Diplomat

I know it's kind of late, but I'm going to officially endorse Obama here. Since the main topic of this blog is peace initiatives in Israel, I'm going to talk about his foreign policy. John McCain's policy toward Israel is just like Bush's. Not that it was bad, he was just uninvolved. Both candidates are pro-Israel but I'd like a president that will be more involved in the peace process. The Palestinians are more enthusiastic with Obama and more likely to trust him to handle peace talks. There is so much potential for him.

Two Book Recomendations

As some of you know, Thomas Friedman, is my favorite columnist/commentator/non-fiction-writer. I have been reading his column since high school. His political stance on the Middle East is like mine. Last week, I checked out From Beirut to Jerusalem from the college library. I am just amazed by the number of insights this guy has about Israel, Lebanon, and the Middle East in general. I think this book came out in the early 90's but this book is still relevant today.

One of the major themes this book is about is the myths that people in the US and Israel have about the Middle East. This reminds me of a more recent book Power, Faith and Fantasy: America in the Middle East - 1776 to Present by American-Israeli historian Michael Oren. Oren's book is more like an historical narrative while Friedman's book is more about his experience in Lebanon and Israel as a NYT's foreign correspondent. Both books are really easy to read.

One of the major events Friedman covers in his book is the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in the early 80's. While I was reading his analysis of that war, I kept thinking of how similar it is to America's war in Iraq. Oy, if only our American leaders had read this book and learned from Israel's mistakes. My dad, who served in the IDF and fought in Lebanon in the early 80's, was against the war in Iraq from the start. He used the Lebanon war as a reason not to invade Iraq. He knew that the American Armed Forces would be unprepared to deal with the different factions in Iraq and bring security to the locals, just like Israel failed in Lebanon.

I just hope we in the US can learn from our mistakes faster than Israel has learned from the first Lebanon war. We don't want to be in Iraq for another 13 years.

While I'm at it, I recommend all of Friedman's books. I read The Lexus and the Olive Tree which is about globalism, and The World is Flat which is about the 21st century economy.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

PM's last fight?

Departing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced to "halt to all direct or indirect government financing of illegal outposts."

I say - about time! I keep hearing stories in the Israeli press about settlers hurting injuring IDF soldiers. It might get worse, as Shin Bet security service chief Yuval Diskin warned that "a government decision to evacuate more territory may lead to a large-scale violent conflict with settlers, complete with live fire."

I started reading From Beirut to Jerusalem by Thomas Friedman, great book by a brilliant writer, which helped me realize how we in the US and Israel have so many myths about the Middle East. We must realize that the settlers are hurting as a country and as a people.