Category Archives: Jews

UPHEAVAL BETWEEN ISRAEL AND THE PALESTINIANS

BLOG 403 September 24, 2018 

WISE ON THE MIDDLE EAST Each week Robert L. Wise, PhD, explores the Middle Eastern situation,  ranging from Egypt through Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and the surrounding area. Wise first traveled to Israel and the neighboring countries in 1968. Two his sons taught in Jordan and Lebanon universities. Wise presents an objective view of the behind the scenes situation in these countries.

On August 24, American President Donald Trump ordered the State Department to redirect the funding for programs in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to unspecified projects elsewhere. The Palestinians screamed!

PLO Secretary-General Saeb Erekat denounced the loss of funds as “disgraceful” and accused the USA of meddling in the internal affairs of the West Bank and attempting to impact their national options. The Secretary-General claimed the funds were not a gift to the Palestinians, but a duty of the international community because of the continuation of occupation that blocks the development and growth of the Palestinians.

Senior PLO official Hanan Ashrawi accused America of “cheap blackmail as a political tool.” He said further, “there is no glory in constantly bullying and punishing a people under occupation.”

The constant surfacing of the word “occupation” represents a new strategy the Palestinians have been using to present themselves as a conquered people. Of course, this is not true, but makes good propaganda. People with short memories or no information on the past are bound to take pity on their plight.

The truth is that immediately after the United Nations gave Israel the right to become an established nation on May 16, 1948, the Arab states attacked Israel. Many Arabs fled Jerusalem and other cities at the direction of Muslim Mufi Husseini (often pictured talking with Hitler). Al-Husseini opposed King Abdullah of Jordan’s plan to annex the Palestinians into Jordan (which would have solved the problem). The Arabs started a fight they could not finish. Eventually Israel erected a wall around their country because of Arab Muslim suicide terrorism inside Israel. Ever since, the PLO has been a struggling organization that will not negotiate for a settlement of boundaries because their ultimate objective is the obliteration of Israel.

That’s hardly occupation!

American Jews opposed moving the American Embassy to Jerusalem because they saw this ending any neutrality the US might have had and halting their role in bringing a peaceful settlement to the Palestinian-Israel chaos. They have been proven right to this point as America no longer has any role in negotiating peace between these two fractions. Trump’s arbitrary actions have greatly pleased Prime Minister Netanyahu at the cost of destroying any relationship the US had with the Palestinians.

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THE VIEW FROM JERUSALEM

BLOG 388 March 26, 2014

    Anyone who follows the news from Israel knows that the papers are full of the stories about the charges against Prime Minister Netanyahu and his wife Sara. Yaakov Katz in the Jerusalem Post reported that after losing the 1999 election to Ehud Barak, Bib’s conclusion was that to be Prime Minister he needed to have one newspaper under his control. He didn’t end up buying one, but may wish he had.

While the story is barely covered by American media, it remains the major story in Israel. However, the polls show the majority of the public still support Netanyahu. Even with the bad press he has received in Israel over the past few years, the polls give him a healthy position.

Why so?

A number of factors may well keep demonstrators home for the time being.

Israel currently has a strong economy with record tourism and low unemployment. I have been in Israel during years when this was not the case. From those experiences, I know how important the decreasing cost of housing can be. President Bill Clinton avoided impeachment basically because the economy was so strong near the end of his presidency. People didn’t want to rock the money boat. When people have a good job, they can be forgiving, or at least, look the other way.

Safety is paramount in Israel. Bombing of buses and personal attacks has kept the country on edge. Currently, Netanyahu has pushed the idea that only he can protect the country in the face of the nuclearization of Iran. Many citizens believe this option. I have also been in the Gaza area and observed how radical Israel’s enemy can be. As long as Netanyahu appears to be the one to keep the country secure, he has an edge.

And who’s going to replace him? The choices seem to be lacking. At the least, there does not appear to be a strong man on the horizon. Former defense ministry Moshe Ya’alon made a political mistake when he left the Likud party because he could have been a significant candidate for the job. Possibly no other world leader has met as many international leaders as Netanyahu has. Such a record is substantial. Without a clear choice for who will follow Netanyahu, many voters are willing to look the other way – at least for a while.

With the charges against Bibi and his wife Sara coming on two different fronts, the issue is serious and will continue to simmer. What’s next?

Stay tuned.

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HEY! LOOK WHAT’S TURNED UP!

BLOG 384 February 26, 2014

Taking a reprieve from the heavy stuff happening across the Middle East – let’s look at what’s turned up lately. Periodically, I like to catch my readers up on what archaeological finds have discovered. Israel in particular is a goldmine of ancient artifacts. Here’s the latest finds.

Israeli scientists just uncovered the earliest modern human fossil ever discovered outside of Africa. In Mount Carmel’s Misliya Cave an upper jaw bone has been dated back to somewhere between 177,000 to 194,000 years ago. Prof. Israel Hershikovitz of Tel Aviv University said this find radically changes the entire narrative of the evolution of Homo Sapiens, pushing back the dating 100,000 to 200,000 years. The  finds also suggests these inhabitants of the Misliya Cave were relatively sophisticated. The anatomical details fit the modern human race.

Another important and different find dates back to the era of the First Temple. A rare, well-preserved clay stamp was marked “governor of the city.” The Israel Antiquities Authority found the relic during excavations of the Western Wall Plaza. “Governors of Jerusalem” are mentioned in II Kings and II Chronicles. The find demonstrates that Jerusalem was a strong city and one of the most ancient capitals of the world 2,700 years ago.

Probably this stamp or seal was once attached to important documents and indicated the Temple Mount was then inhabited by highly important officials. On the seal two men face each other. Each figure is wearing a striped, knee-length garment. At the bottom it denotes, “belonging to the governor of the city.” Not bad! Huh?

Another excavation in a 1,100-year-old refuse pit in Jerusalem has revealed new insights into the dietary habits of the Israelites. The oldest eggplant seeds ever unearthed  were found there. Located near the Second Temple period pilgrimage road, the seeds had undergone change that left the outer form of the seed unchanged while preserving the seeds from decomposition.

Additional ancient websites revealed the ancient Jews strictly observed Kashrut dietary laws and primarily consumed mutton and goat meat. No pork bones or shellfish were found.

These findings confirm a Jewish presence in the past just as we find in the scripture. Moreover, the residue confirms the faithful practice of the people following the Torah and the instruction of Moses. It’s what we expected – and that’s a nice confirmation

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A CONTINUING ANALYSIS OF THE IMPACT OF CHANGE IN ISRAEL

BLOG 382 February 12, 2012

 

In the last blog, we observed the continued deterioration of the PLO under the leadership of Mahmoud Abbas. The West Bank’s capacities are so low that their negative response to President Trump’s announcement to move the American Embassy to Jerusalem and recognize the city as the capital of Israel was meaningless. We have also observed that the response from the surrounding Arab countries amounted to nothing. All of which signals a significant change in the way Israel is viewed in the Middle East.

Another indication of this shift came from a Saudi academic who voiced support for Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem. The head of the Middle East Center for Strategic and Legal Studies said that Arabs must recognize that Jerusalem is a religious symbol to Jews just as it is to Muslims. Abdulhameed Hakeen stressed that Israel and Saudi Arabia have a common enemy in a Nazi-like threat in Iran. He stated that the Arab mind must strip itself of the legacy of a culture of Jew-hatred and “denial of their historic right in the region.”

Earlier in the month a delegation from Bahrain made an unprecedented visit to Jerusalem as guest of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Next month a group of Israeli businessmen will visit the Gulf kingdom.

Perhaps, one of the most surprising revelations came in the February 4, edition of The New York Times in a story about the secret relationship between Israel and Egypt in controlling terrorists in the Sinai. Jihadists have been a source of terror in the desert region for some time, even bringing down a Russian passenger jet. However for more than two years, unmarked Israeli drones, helicopters and jets have made more than 100 airstrikes inside Egypt, often attacking more than once a week.

All occurred with the approval of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

Once enemies in a three year war, Egypt and Israel are now secret allies in a covert war with a common enemy. Israel’s role was concealed inside Egypt for fear of a backlash. However, after the terrorists brought down the Russian jet, in late 2015, Israel began its wave of airstrikes for which they are now credited with killing a long list of militant leaders.

As well as a positive sign for peace in the region, these actions demonstrate that it is possible for cooperation to occur. They give us further insight into why Arab countries made a limited response to Trump’s actions.

The new reality is that the common enemy is not the Jews.

It’s Iran.

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RUN IN AT THE WALL Part 2

BLOG 360 August 7, 2017

Last week we looked at any issue not particularly published in the United States. A struggle over religious observance at the Western Wall has developed into a political crisis in Israel. Prime Minster Netanyahu has been worried about the stability of his government because of this situation that we have been exploring the controversy.

Christians often have a hard time understanding all the fuss over this particular stone wall that has existed back to the Second Temple period. From Judaism’s point of view, the issue is far more than a commemoration of antiquity. Actually, the issue reflects a basic difference between how Judaism and Christianity function.

Christians center their concerns on what people believe. Having a correct theology is basic for faith. Christian denominations have split many times over small differences in how they define true belief. Having the right convictions is everything.

On the other hand, Jewish interest is in proper observance. Judaism encounters many groups with extremely different views of belief and this diversity is acceptable. What counts is ritually maintaining their link to the past. Keeping the high Holy Days is essential. Therefore, praying at the Western Wall touches the heart of Jewish conviction and faith. It is seen as ritual maintenance that links Jews to the past, to the present, and to the body of Israel.

Adding to the current strife, Jewish women are no longer willing to allow men to dominate ritual prayers at the wall in a manner that excludes them. The WOW group (Women at the Wall) has staged demonstrations wearing kipahs (skull caps), tallits (prayer shawls), and carrying Torahs. This infuriates the ultra-conservative Hassidics who believe they own the wall. Bingo! We have confrontation!

The WOW element are charged with being only Feminist without religious interest. I personally know some of these women (including a female rabbi) and recognize their genuine religious interest. They only want a piece of the wall to pray without harassment from the haredi element.

In the current confrontation put on tentative hold on June 30, Prime Minister Netanyahu appointed a task force to review and study the issues. Any legislation on the issue was asked to be delayed until the task force makes its recommendation. The Prime Minister has been well known for side-stepping controversy with such maneuvers. Moreover, Netanyahu has been a flip-flopper when it served his purposes. Haredi leaders Ya’acov Litzman, Moshe Gafni, and Arye Deri had threatened to topple his government if change was not put on hold.

At this moment any decisions are delayed. However, groups like the Shas political party and other ultra-conservative elements remain committed to stopping any change in the status quo which continues to shut Reformed and Conservative elements out. Is change inevitable? The Reformers say, ‘yes.” The Orthodox says, “never.” What’s ahead? We shall see.

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RUN IN AT THE WALL

BLOG 359 July 31, 2017

            Think it is hard to make sense out of American politics? Take a hard look at Israel. Even the most ardent evangelical supporters of Israel don’t venture far into the political system that involves many political parties with minority religious groups often swinging majority power. These complications flared up again on June 25 over negotiations about “who could pray where” at Jerusalem’s Western Wall called the Kotel in Hebrew.

I have walked the complete distance of the Western Wall several times with much of it underground.  The entire length refers to the entire 1,601 feet retaining wall on the western side of the Temple Mount. The classic portion now faces a large plaza in the Jewish Quarter, near the southwestern corner of the Temple Mount, while the rest of the wall is concealed underground behind structures in the Muslim Quarter. Touching the opening into the ancient Temple Mount is a spiritually thrilling experience.

The start of religious complications extends back to the beginning of the state of Israel in 1948. Probably with a minimum of reflection, David Ben-Gurion gave the Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox the keys to the country and they have dominated ever since while remaining a minority. At the same time, the Jewish Reformed and Conservative Movements were becoming increasingly popular in America and abroad. However, the Orthodox and particularly Ultra-Orthodox consider them outsiders even to the point of seeing them as heretics. The United States almost cannot grasp how intense these tensions and struggles are within Israel.

The Mea Shearim section of Jerusalem with its Haridi and Hasidic population wants no visitors who aren’t in their extreme groups. Don’t go walking through the area without a yamika on your head. Residents have been criticized for attacking police with stones, and other government officials entering the area. They have blocked the streets, or set fire to rubbish to protest non-orthodox visitors.  A small, violent, group called “The Sikrikim” of less than 100 families enforce censorship on bookshops, causing over 250,000 NIS damage to a shop that resisted their demands.  In April 2015, an IDF officer was attacked by men and women of Mea Shearim who allegedly threatened to kill him, while children blocked his exit. The incident received national attention.

Get the picture?

In January 2016, the government made a decision to establish a third plaza at the Wall (Kotel) for egalitarian prayer services. This decision was hailed by Reformed, Conservative, and Diaspora groups in American and aboard as a step forward. Then, on June 25 the cabinet voted to cancel the agreement. Fireworks went off everywhere! Five days later after intense negotiations with the haridi (ultra-orthodox), Shas and United Torah political parties, and the heads of progressive Jewish movements, a deal was struck that would give the High Court of Justice a period of time to make their own ruling, involving granting non-Orthodox converts recognition.

For the moment, the conflict is on hold.

Are the ultra-Orthodox that strong? Well, Prime Minister Netanyahu backed off for fear they would topple his government… and they could! Next week, we will explore the religious situation inside Israel further.

More to come!

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JESUS AND THE JEWS

BLOG 342 March 20, 2017

            For 2,000 years, the tension between Christians and Jews has grown out of the way each side views the person of Jesus of Nazareth. This problem was the theme of a widely acclaimed novel by Chaim Potok My Name is Asher Lev. Fictional Asher Lev was born with a prodigious artistic ability into a Hasidic Jewish family, set in the 1950s in the time of Joseph Stalin and the persecution of Jews in the Soviet Union. During Asher’s childhood, his artistic inclination brings him into conflict with the members of his Jewish community, which values things primarily as they relate to faith and considers art unrelated to religious expression to be at best a waste of time and possibly a sacrilege. Asher begins to go to art museums where he studies paintings. He becomes very interested in the paintings, especially the ones of the crucifixions. He starts copying the paintings of the crucifixions and nudes, but this would only get him into trouble. Potok’s book raises many important question for today’s world that are still under discussion.

This tension makes a current painting exhibition in Jerusalem’s Israel Museum particularly important. Entitled “Behold the Man: Jesus in Israeli Art,” director James Snyder believes that the exhibited works transcend time, place, culture, and even religion. He contends this theme is a universal impulse that helps us define our own identity from the symbols that part of collective world history.

The intent of the unusual exhibit is to bring insight into Jesus the man rather than the ubiquitous icon. The ideal of this exhibit is set against a persistent theme in the experience of the Jewish people. With a history that includes the Inquisition held by the Roman Catholic Church which resulted in the death and persecution of Jews as well as additional struggles through the centuries, it remains difficult for Jews (particularly Orthodox Jews) to see any personal application for their people. Contemporary Christians tend to “not get it” when this history is brought up. Consequently, we have one side that doesn’t understand how anti-Semitism applies to them and the other side that has lived through a persistent history of pain. The exhibit attempts to confront both issues.

Jewish artist Marc Chagall’s The Crucified is part of this irony. Perhaps, the greatest Jewish artist of the 20th century, Chagall (Like Asher Lev) had his own obsession with the figure of Jesus. In producing many pictures of the crucified Jesus, Chagall remained 100% Jewish.

Possibly the Jerusalem Israel Museum exhibit marks a turning point in how Jews and Christians have seen each other for over 2,000 years. A new examination of the history, the icon, the person of Jesus the man, the unfolding details of history will allow a new door to open. Possibly Jews will be able to see the Christian world as no longer chasing them while Christians embrace Jews as the elder brother who is to be loved and respected.

Let’s hope so.

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TREASURES UNDER YOUR FEET Part Two

Blog 336 February 6, 2017

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Got some more priceless items for you! Last week I described some of the recent extraordinary discoveries going on in Israel. Because space is limited, I stopped with more finds to tell you about. You’ll find these additions to be significant.

Before we start, I need to update you about an immediate exchange between US President Trump and Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu. Just the same as was the case with the Obama Administration, Trump told Netanyahu to curb settlements in Palestinian territory. The President has a goal of achieving peace in the Middle East and continued expansion by Israel is seen as jeopardizing that possibility of negotiations. (not obtained by any American president). In spite of the campaign rhetoric, political reality apparently has set in!

Last week, I wrote of recently walking through the Tower of David courtyard now under excavation and the recent Hanukkah candle lighting celebration held there. Even though it appeared the dig was complete, veteran archeologist Orna Cohen was in the museum’s archeological gardens when he spotted a metallic object on the ground. When he looked again, Cohen realized it was a small bronze coin. Upon further examination, the coin turned out to be from the time of King Antiochus IV Epiphanes who set in motion the events that are now celebrated on Hanukkah. His draconian decree sparked the Maccabean revolt and the reclamation of the Temple.

The coin was found near the Hasmonen wall built in the days of Jonathan and Simon, brothers of Judah the Maccabee. In those days, the coin was worth probably around 10 agorots. Ballista strones and iron arrowheads were also found that evidenced the battle to overthrow the Seleucids which was the last time Israel was free until the coming of the Romans.

A more recent treasure of a different sort was turned up by archeologists working in the remains of the Nazi extermination camp at Sobibor in Poland. In the area where victims were forced to undress and then have their heads shaved, archeologists uncovered a pendant with the words “Mazel Tov” (congratulations) on one side and Heh for Hashem (God) along with three Stars of David embedded. The remains of the building were next to the so-called “Road to Heaven” that Jewish prisoners walked down to their deaths.

The foundation of the Sobibor gas chambers and the original railway platform have been uncovered. In addition, many personal items of victims have turned up.

With the town Frankfurt stamped on the bottom, the pendant was once owned by a child from Frankfurt. This immediately drew attention because it is so similar to the pendant owned by the Holocaust victim Anne Frank, the author of the Diary of Ann Frank. After a search of Yad Vashem’s database on “Transports to Extinction,” it was believed the pendant might have belonged to a girl named Karoline Cohn, born on July 3, 1929 and sent to the Minsk camp on November 11, 1941. Later 2,000 of these Jewish prisoners were sent to the Sobibor death camp. Both Ann Frank and Karoline Cohn were born in Frankfurt.

A coin from 2,100 years ago and a pendant from 1943: Symbols of the on-going struggle for freedom and dignity.

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SURPRISE! SURPRISE! THE RULES ARE CHANGING

BLOG 326 November 14, 2016

embassy

            The week before the election I examined the Israeli perspective on both Trump and Clinton. Now the votes are in. What’s ahead?

Because Trump was often vague in the Fall Campaign, Israel believed he did not have a coherent foreign policy. It now appears that to some extent he didn’t want to fully expose his positions during the Fall. Of course, the campaign was highly personality oriented, and he changed positions spontaneously, bouncing back and forth. However, some positions were clear.

During the last days of the campaign, President-elect Trump clearly stated that he intended to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. Since 1948, no president has taken this position that would seriously undermine Palestinian claims to the eastern part of the city. Trump’s advisors are much closer to Israel’s hard-line right wing than the Obama administration ever was. As has been observed a number of times in the past, Obama not only had serious tension with Netanyahu but was seen negatively throughout Israel. Moving the embassy would be a major change for both nations.

At this time, Trump’s closest advisors are certainly not pro-Palestinians. Trump’s son-in-law is from the Jewish Krushner family. It has been reported that just prior to the election Trump’s daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared prayed at the tomb of Menachem Sneerson of blessed memory, the former leader of the Labvicher Hassidic movment. Newt Gingrich has called the Palestinians an “invented” people. Rudy Guiliani recommended abandoning the idea of a Palestinian state as part of a peace accord. The Republican platform did not mention Palestinian statehood. In Netanyhua’s cabinet, the education minister said this amounts to an opportunity to drop the Palestinian statehood idea.

Such a modification would be change indeed!

Some of the foregoing are speculation, but it is a clear indication that major adjustments are coming. Certainly, Trump’s rhetoric focused on fighting Islamic militants. Many of his pronouncements during the campaign were opposed to Islam.

At this point, the Palestinians are officially taking a wait-and-see attitude. Foreign Minister Riad Malki said they didn’t know yet what Trump’s policies will be but hope he will push for a two-state solution.

At this time no one can speak dogmatically about what is ahead because during the campaign Trump repeated outright contradictory positions on the Middle East. At this time, Israelis are probably more optimistic than they were a few weeks ago. The Palestinians have to be concerned.

More to come. Stay tuned.

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A SURPRISE ANNIVERSARY

BLOG 323 October 24, 2016

columbusday

            The year 1492 is famous for more than Columbus coming to America. In that year Ferdinand and Isabella, the Roman Catholic monarchs of Spain, drove the entire Jewish population out who would not convert to Catholicism. At least 200,000 people were expelled with many dying as they fled Spain. The large population of Sephardic Jews had first migrated when Jerusalem fell in 70 C.E.. Today’s Israelites will have their own remembrance of this period.

And the Anniversary?

Five hundred years ago in 1516 those Jews settled in Venice in an area called “The Ghetto.” The word ghetto came from the Venetian dialect for foundry or place of “casting” and meant nothing more. In approximately an acre and a half, tall buildings shot up for both residents and shops on the bottom floor. As high as nine stories, they became the skyscrapers of their day.

While the idea of a ghetto was forever stigmatized by the Nazis in World War II, the origins were only the name of a specific area. When Mussolini’s government fell in 1943, Venice came under the control of the Germans. The Gestapo systematically hunted Jews. Giuseppe Jona, the Jewish community leader, committed suicide rather that being tortured to provide names of other Jews. A total of 246 were found and sent to death camps. Only eight returned.

On March 29, 1516, the Venetian Senate decreed that “Jews must all live together” in a guarded and enclosed area of the city. The ghetto area was surrounded by canals and had two large gates that were locked at night. However, as anti-Semitism spread across Europe, many Jews came to Venice. In the 1620s, over 5,000 lived in the ghetto. Today only a handful still remain. The rest are spread throughout the ancient canal city. Five synagogues still stand and the area is the center of life for the 450 Jews who remain in the city.

The crowded streets and high-rises became a center for innovation, culture, and commerce. Theaters, music academies and literary centers sprung up. A highly-regarded kosher restaurant and kosher hotel are still open everyday.

That 1516 decree is now being remembered in Venice by an exhibition in the Doge’s (the chief magistrate) Palace. The exhibits trace the ghetto from the beginning of the Jewish settlement through the arrival of Napoleon in 1797 when the Ghetto gates were torn down. In addition, it marks the contributions of Jews into the 20th century.

The invasion of Napoleon gave Jews the right to own property and have free movement. In a sense, Napoleon set Jews free from the time when restrictions had been in place for what they could do. Banking, working in a pawn shop, the practice of medicine, money lending, or textile selling were the main areas that were open to them.

Even with these restrictions Jews lived a good life in Venice’s ghetto.

 

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