Author of "Embracing Auschwitz" and "Mensch•Marks: Life Lessons of a Human Rabbi - Wisdom for Untethered Times." Winner of the Rockower Award, the highest honor in Jewish journalism and 2019 Religion News Association Award for Excellence in Commentary. Musings of a rabbi, journalist, father, husband, poodle-owner, Red Sox fan and self-proclaimed mensch, taken from essays, columns, sermons and thin air. Writes regularly in the New York Jewish Week and Times of Israel.
Friday, October 27, 2023
In This Moment: The Recipe for Going Forward; What Happened at Cooper Union and White Plains?
In This Moment
The Recipe for Going Forward
(Spoiler: Bibi's Not Gonna Like It)
Here's how I see it, on this anniversary of the Pittsburgh shooting, as we recoil from the Maine shooting, making it 35,389 killed in gun violencein America in 2023, And now, we've reached three weeks since the massacre of October 7, with a ground war in Gaza looming, while Iranians are striking at US forces all over the region.
When the dust settles, is there a quasi realistic scenario that we can hope for that doesn't appear completely apocalyptic? What should we be hoping for? This is not a frivalous exercise - the Israelis are taking it very seriously (see this article in today's Ha'aretz) and we should too. The think tanks are thinking overtime right now, as the military folks feverishly play out intellectual war games. This slight pause has given the experts a chance to play things out. If not now, when?
Some common points are becoming clear in the analyses of the Institute and Friedman that appeared this week:
1) In order to win this, Israel is going to have to make concessions. That usually doesn’t happen when you win a war - except with Israel.
2) For Israel, the goal cannot be simply to win this round. It has got to be to win the war, not only to defeat Hamas, but to neutralize Iran and all it’s proxies. No more "mowing the lawn." We can't simply reset the clock and begin counting the days to the next round. These rounds have become too lethal for rinse and repeat.
3) In order to achieve 1 and 2, Israel is going to have to cultivate and sustain a coalition of allied nations to help rebuild Gaza and preserve the peace. Israel cannot do this alone, and that includes boots on the ground.
4) Working with the US, Europeans and Abraham Accord states presents tremendous opportunities, if we can get that far - if Hamas can be soundly defeated with a minimum of civilian casualties.
It all starts with the cup of Kirby - the continued solid. backing of the US. The White House spokesperson gave the perfect response when asked about Israel's moves against Hamas in Gaza that have caused harm to civilians. College students, take note of Kirby's tone here. Despite all the disruptive machinations of the far left and right - and no doubt the Russians and Chinese have been as disruptive as possible - the US leadership has remained steadfast in recognition that Israel has the moral high ground.
I don't mean to wax paranoid here, but I really believe that many forces are working overtime to promote mistrust among groups in this country.
They want to foster hate, toward us, by us and among us. We have to be aware of that, even as we stand up for that moral high ground that Israel justifiably holds with regard to Hamas.
But just because Israel has the moral right to defend its population and disarm Hamas, a scorched-earth battle plan is not the best option. We know now, according to Israel, precisely where the Hamas headquarters is, and sure enough, it's under a hospital - and there's proof. I can imagine scenarios unfolding where Hamas's strategic centers can be taken without having to destroy everything else on the block. But it will take a careful balance of military wisdom and careful statecraft to get there.
And for the first time ever, we have reason to seriously doubt Israel's capacity to muster that wisdom and statecraft.
When Winston Churchill replaced Neville Chamberlain after Dunkirk in 1940, the situation was similar. A debacle was behind them but the much bigger battle, the Battle of Britain, lay just ahead. The transition to Churchill could not have come at a more perilous time, and it was not inevitable. If you read the contemporaneous news coverage you can see how dramatic it was. Churchill had never run a government before. The deal was not long in the works. It just happened, because history demanded it. It's also noteworthy that Chamberlain was neither exiled nor purged. He remained in the war cabinet, which provided continuity. But he was no longer Prime Minister, which instilled in the country needed confidence. That is precisely what is needed now in Israel.
Very hard choices lie ahead, some of them military, some diplomatic and some involving the very nature of the state. If ever a true unity government were needed, it’s now, and that can't happen under current management. Most have believed that it is best to wait until after the war to deal with this government, but that was not necessary for Chamberlain and Churchill. Had they opted to wait, World War Two might have ended much sooner, but none of us would have been happy with the outcome.
Friedman, Ross and Kirby all propose pathways to future stability and a world where the residents of Sderot and Kiryat Shmoneh can return to their homes. But none of that can happen with this narrow government with Netanyahu at the helm. Having a war cabinet with Benny Ganz helps, but it is not enough.
Netanyahu always has loved to invoke the lessons of Chamberlain's appeasement of Hitler at Munich. Maybe he now needs to emulate the former Prime Minister and seek a graceful exit. When only a fifth of your nation believes you are not responsible for the most epic failure in the country's history, what exactly are you waiting for?
Tweets du Jour
What happened at Cooper Union?
What Happened in White Plains?
Click on the photo below to see the pamphlet of prayers created for an interfaith service in Jerusalem this past week.You can see that the Masorti movement was one of the sponsors. I found it very sensitively done - though very hard to pull off, given the raw pain we are all feeing. I've included below a prayer by a Muslim cleric and one by a rabbi.
The Extremist's Gambit Helps Explain Why Hamas Attacked Now (Mosaic) - The extremist’s gambit is a set of tactics designed to force a fearful or apathetic majority to see things the way the extremist does. This strategy is agnostic towards the ultimate aims of the radical group in question. It describes both the political campaigns waged by the revolutionaries who founded the United States and the confederates who tried to dissolve it. The extremist’s gambit does not even necessarily require violence: both butchers like Mao and Lenin and pacifists like Gandhi and Martin Luther King adopted their own versions of this strategy.
Wisdom in the face of destruction (Sapir Journal, Rabbi David Wolpe): That is why the rabbis say that one who is kind to the cruel will end up being cruel to the kind (Tanhuma, Parshat Metzora). They remind us that allowing cruel people to pursue their designs in this world will ultimately lead to innocents running, terrified and helpless, as evil men shoot them in the back, kill their children, and rape the women. It will lead to October 7. The great philosopher Maimonides, having fled from Almohad persecution in Spain in the 12th century, put it more comprehensively. “Compassion toward the wicked,” he said, “is cruelty toward all beings.” (Maimonides, Guide for the Perplexed, Part 3, Chapter 39)
Israel-Hamas war: It's not too late to salvage peace with Saudi Arabia - opinion (JPost) -Specifically, MBS must come away reassured that his original thesis for normalization—one based on a combination of overwhelming Israeli power and American security guarantees—remains the best bet for securing the kingdom’s future stability and prosperity. Achieving that outcome depends first and foremost on Israel, of course. But it won’t happen without the kind of unequivocal U.S. backing that Biden has superbly provided since the crisis erupted.
New Project Combats Israel Hate on Social Media, Post by Post (Israel 21c) A new Israeli initiative is helping social media users to identify and report posts that are harmful or contain false information as well as share content in support of the country as it enters its third week of war against Hamas in Gaza. TrendTrack – born out of an existing program to provide social groups with public data – presents a real-time list of pro- and anti-Israel content that is trending on Instagram, YouTube and TikTok. This allows users to monitor relevant posts, without forcing them to search for the content themselves.