Category Archives: Judaism

ELECTIONS IN ISRAEL

BLOG 420 February 4, 2019

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 of his sons taught in Jordan and Lebanon universities. Wise presents an objective view of the behind the scenes situation in these countries.

If you haven’t already heard,  Israel will hold a general election with the office of the Prime Minister up for grabs on April 9. Israeli politics can be a fascinating rough and tumble affair. So, what’s going on?

When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dissolved the Knesset and called for elections, some commentators speculated that security issues prompted the call for a vote. After a couple of weeks of behind the scenes investigation, the picture became clearer. The call for an election had nothing to do with security. In fact, Israel remains well secured at this moment. The better commentary on the inside story came from journalist Yaakoy Katz writing for The Jerusalem Post.

Katz reported that State Prosecutor Shai Kitzan said at the Global Business Conference that work had been completed on indictments to be brought against Netanyahu in the immediate future. Charges of corruption were sent from the police some time ago and only await the response of the Attorney General to proceed with the case. By calling for an immediate election, Netanyahu would hope to put the squeeze on Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to hold off prosecution.

Prime Minister Netanyahu’s political future hangs in the balance. Actually, he remains in the public’s eye one of the most popular politicians ever. Whether the voters will be swayed one way or the other by these charges is unclear. Either way one views the evidence, Netanyahu is throwing the dice in this election.

Some high-ranking politicians view this election as one of the most important moments in recent history. Former prime minister Ehud Barak said that he considered this situation to be “the most important election since the assassination of Yitzhat Rabin.”

You can bet there will be plenty of political jockeying between now and April 9. In another week, I’ll be going to Israel and talking with people on the street as well as leaders. I’ll bring you a report back on how much fire is under that smoke.

Stay tuned.

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REMEMBER

BLOG 392 April 23, 2018


On April 18, a solemn observance fell across Israel. Yom HaZikaron or Israel’s Memorial Day was a pause felt not only in Israel, but around the world where both Jews and Gentiles remembered the Holocaust. With the passing years, the memorial has grown in scope and involvement as more and more people realize what happened in the murder of six million Jews. This gun still points at all of us.

    In Poland, the March of the Living brought people of all cultures together with Jewish survivors of the Death Camps to march from Birkenau to Auschwitz on this Memorial Day. Since this observance began in 1988, over 200.000 participants have marched down the same road that some of the victims traveled.

Gathering with both the Jewish and non-Jewish communities in Oklahoma City, I was deeply moved as the Jewish Federation presented the remembrance. Students dressed like Holocaust victims told their stories as if they were ghosts from the Camps while their living relatives of these actual people being represented came forward to light candles in their memory. Some relatives of death camp victims live in Oklahoma City today.

In a sense, that is the point. Hitler intended to eradicate all Jews. But now, there is even a significant population in, of all places, far off Oklahoma City. Life will not be extinguished, but we must stand against and stop all forms of prejudice and genocide. The motto “Never Again” demands everyone work to put an end to bigotry and hate. One of the reasons that Yom HaZikaron is important is because the world must remember what happens when any ethnic group is marginalized and their right to worship in their own way, to enjoy normal experiences, to live, is denied.

The problem continues today. This time it is the transgenders, Muslims, and the Blacks who get caught in the cross-hairs. Homosexuals are no longer the victims they once were. Sure. Some of the groups are nothing like us, but that does not deny them the respect and opportunities their existence grants them.

Israeli Lt. General Gadi Eisenkot, Chief of the General Staff of the IDF, led this year’s March of the Living in Poland. He wrote:

    The blood of 6,000,000 victims cries out to us – stand as the guards we didn’t have, assure that Jewish blood will never again be abandoned. We will proudly keep their last will and testament and continue to safeguard the State of Israel allowing it to prosper and flourish. May the memory of our brother and sisters be a blessing.

Let the world remember. Amen.

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A PERSONAL REFLECTION

BLOG 365 September 18, 2017

            Please grant me a little indulgence. I want to add a reflection that is outside the usual trip through the world of the Middle East. I feel a need to add my thoughts about what happened in Charlottesville and President Trump’s inability to initially condemn Neo-Nazis until public uproar caused him to be scripted to do so.

I do know something about the marchers who chanted “Jews will not replace us” and chanting “Seig heil.” I saw the media recording just after the November national election when Richard Spenser told the crowd, “Hail Trump, hail our people, hail our victory. The crowd responded in kind and outstretched their arms in the Nazi salute.

I take this very seriously.

I do know something about the Nazis. Last year I attended the gathering of Holocaust survivors in Berlin. I toured the city and stood on the railroad tracks where millions were loaded on trains for the death camps. I have toured Auschwitz as well as the Dachau Concentration Camp where I looked in the crematoriums. I do know something about what the Nazis did.

The movement called the Alt-right doesn’t seem to get it. The scary thing is that there’s nothing new about this mentality. German politics in 1930 had the same mentality and elected Hitler because he reflected their ideas of making “Germany Great” again.

Before you shrug these statements off, please remember the ideas of white supremacy are not new in America.  James Q. Whitman’s Hitler’s American Model documents how the Germans admired and borrowed from American legal procedures to prevent racial mixing. Maryland’s anti-miscegenation law put you in jail for ten years for such behavior. Don’t forget Henry Ford admired Hitler, kept his picture on his credenza, and was decorated by the German before World War II.

In reflecting on Trump’s hesitancy about condemning the radicals, the Jerusalem Post responded “President Donald Trump failed miserably.”

Fortunately, politicians of both parties took exception. Since the debacle hit the media, clergy, majors, and many community leaders raised their protests. They still remember that Nazism rose to power and World War II followed because the Alt-right types were tolerated. In contrast, vast numbers of the American public unambiguously reject the strategies of hate and any rise of the white supremacist types. There are certainly extremists that think the time is ripe to take over the government and change that ideals of the country. Fortunately, they are wrong.

We cannot tolerate anymore expressions of what we saw in Charlottesville. Citizens who love this country and its heritage must make their voices heard and not tolerate the rise of hate groups against any segment of society.

Ever!

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RELIGIOUS SHIFTS IN ISRAEL

BLOG 321 October 10, 2016

The past is always an important part of the present in Israel. The precedents set 2,000 years ago continue to effect what occurs in religious and political decisions today. Archeologists keep looking for pieces in the ever-growing puzzle. A fascinating part of this quest just turned up.

A gold coin struck somewhere around 56 AD (CE) with the image of the emperor Nero was found during an excavation on Mount Zion, just outside Jerusalem’s old city. An emperor for 14 years, Nero is remembered for killing his mother, executing Apostles Peter and Paul, and burning Rome. And now—Bingo! The countenance of his head surrounded by NERO CAESAR AVG IMP (implying Roman Imperial coinage) turns up in as pile of rubble from a first century Jewish villa. Amazing!

Within current Judaism, changes continue. In late March, the government made the decision to allow women and non-Orthodox Jews to have space to pray at the Western Wall. The High Court of Justice also made the decision that ordered the state to recognize conversions to Judaism that occurred beyond the purview of the Chief Rabbinate, meaning all converts could claim Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return.

The consequence of these rulings is that conversions within all Jewish communities are now valid in Israel. Whether it be Reformed, Conservative, or Orthodox groups, all are accepted within the state of Israel.

The monopoly that the Orthodox held over the state of Israel has been broken. When Israel was constituted a nation on May 16, 1948, the Orthodox grabbed the positions of authority and situated themselves in control of religious life and activities. Their subsequent involvement in Israeli politics kept them in place. Over the years the Reformed, Conservative, as well as women’s group protested this exclusivity. The Orthodox control has now been ended.

A group of women rabbis now called Women of the Wall also protested that they wanted a place at the Western Wall to pray and read the Torah scroll. They will now be able to do at the southern end of the wall.

A golden coin from the world of Nero and the contemporary world’s ever expanding inclusion of all positions and sexes reminds us that change continues in an on-going march.

However, Nero worked for exclusion; our world works for inclusion.

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HOW IS THE AMERICAN ELECTION SELLING IN ISRAEL?

BLOG 317 September 5, 2016

As always, this blog attempts to present an objective perspective and does not necessarily reflect a personal opinion. Please understand the following is a report from and about Israel – and what Israel is currently thinking alone.

How does Israel (which is considered vital to American interests) see the current battle between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton? Because Trump’s daughter Ivanka converted to Judaism and is married to Jared Kushner (one of American Judaism’s prominent families), he would seemingly be seen in a positive light. Not so.

The New Yorker magazine, August 26, ran a story on Trump’s initial displeasure about this wedding. The Kushner’s are one of Clinton’s major contributors. They are best friends with Chelsea (Clinton) and Marc Mezvinsky (he is also Jewish). Being Jewish and big friends with the Clintons was not good news with Trump. He then added Stephen Bannon of the Breitbart Blog to his staff. Bannon is extreme right wing and panders white supremacists. When you add all of this up, there are no positive marks in Israel for having a daughter who converted to Judaism.

On the other hand, Hillary Clinton has a long history of support for Israel and knows all the major players in Israel. As a senator, she fought for the recognition of Israel’s Magen David Adom’s acceptance by the Red Cross International (The Magen David Adom is Israel’s national emergency medical, disaster, ambulance and blood bank service. The name means “Red Star of David”. Since June 2006, Magen David Adom has been officially recognized by the International Committee of the Red Cross as the national aid society of the State of Israel under the Geneva Conventions, and a member of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. MDA has a dedicated medical emergency phone number in Israel). She introduced and supported bills to support Israel and blocked any support to Hamas. As Secretary of State, she negotiated a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas during the Gaza war. In other words, Clinton has a significant history of actual support for Israel.

In contrast, Greg Rosenbaum, who writes for The Jerusalem Report, in the August 22 edition noted that Donald Trump is seen as unfamiliar with foreign policy in general, the Middle East in particular, and has done nothing to change these positions during his campaign. He could not distinguish between Hama and Hezbollah. He has had a tendency to bring up anti-Semitic stereotypes during his campaign. Citizens in Israel follow this problem even more closely than many Americans do. Shlomo Maital in the same The Jerusalem Report noted that in Trump’s book The Art of the Deal (actually written by ghost-writer Tony Schwartz), he admits to using “truthful hyperbole” which means by definition being untruthful. Maital concluded Trumponomics would be bad for Israel.

Rosenbaum closes his article by noting that 100 signers on a letter from conservative foreign policy experts called Trump “fundamentally dishonest” and “utterly unfitted to the office.” In other words, Trump’s boat has sunk in Israel.

The issue isn’t whether these positions are correct or not – but that they do represent the current view from Israel. Come November 8, we will know how on target they are and what this perspective might mean for the future.

Remember this is only a report – not the views of this blog’s commentator.

Stay tuned.

 

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THE HIGH COST OF WAR

BLOG 312 July 25, 2016

The continuing hostilities in the Middle East are wracking up grief and suffering at an incalculable rate. Unbearable pain stretches from Israel to Saudi Arabia and back. Even people walking down the street or sleeping in their beds are not exempt. Take a look.

Clandestine strikes by Palestinians inside Israel include axe, knife, and vehicle assaults. Sometimes called the Third Intifada, these are individual assaults rather than an army marching. A recent picture in The International Jerusalem Post depicted Rena Ariel hovering over the shroud covered body of her daughter Hallel Yaffa Ariel.

The thirteen-year- old girl was sleeping in her bed when seventeen-year-old Muhammad Tarayrah crept into their house in Hebron and stabbed the sleeping girl to death. Hallel was a beautiful black haired, brown eyed girl loved by all who knew her. At the funeral Rena Ariel looked to the sky and cried out to God, “How do you eulogize a 13 ½-year-old girl? Tell me what words to use to eulogize a flower, a pure soul, who is courageous and beautiful. Your only sin was that you were almost perfect.”

During the funeral Rena Ariel cried out to the murderer’s mother, “I am standing here with a heart filled with pain and I am turning to you, the Arab mother, the Muslim who sent your son out to stab. I raised my daughter with love, but you and the Arab Muslim educators, you taught him to hate.”

The next day Rabbi Michael “Miki” Mark was killed in a terrorist drive-by shooting near Hebron. As the shots were fired, his wife and several of his children stood by him. Rabbi Mark tried to shield his wife and children. President of Israel Reuven Rivlin said at the funeral, “The light of the way that Miki paved will not be extinguished. May his memory be blessed.”

Nothing can justify the loss of an innocent child and a devoted scholar, both bent on filling the world with love and making life better for everyone. Their loss is of no small value in calculating the cost of ongoing war in the Middle East.

In the Jewish world, life is precious. Jews constantly salute L‘chaim, life, with a toast. Whether Jew, Muslim, Christian or whatever, all life is priceless. Tragically, war and murder reduces human existence to a mount of dirt in a windswept field.

During the past month, week after week, America has had people killed in the streets. In France from Paris to Nice, citizens lived with senseless killings. This weekend, a killer shot children and adults outside a McDonald’s restaurant in Munich. The police killings and shooting by police continue in the United States. Every 30 minutes to an hour, television gives us another programed version of murder, mayhem, and slaughter. We casually go out for another bowl of popcorn without even wondering if we might be desensitized by the endless carnage.

Well, are we?

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A CONTRAST IN VALUES

BLOG 310 July 11, 2016

A poignant example of one of the vast difference in values between the East and West emerged this past week. On one hand, an article appeared in the New York Times, July 3, 2016, describing how ISIS planned violence and killing. With recent terrorist incidences in Paris, Canada, Bangladesh, Turkey, etc., we need to be aware. In contrast, the world mourned the passing of Elie Wiesel, one of the towering figures of the 20th century and a survivor of the Holocaust who passed away at the age of 88. The difference between Elie Wiesel and ISIS is a contrast in life and death.

A Romanian-born American Jewish writer, professor, political activist, and Nobel Laureate, Wiesel was the author of 57 books, including Night, a work based on his experiences as a prisoner in the Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps. Wiesel was a professor of humanities at Boston University, and helped establish the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. He campaigned for victims of oppression in places like South Africa and Nicaragua and genocide in Sudan. He publicly condemned the 1915 Armenian genocide and remained a strong defender of human rights. He will always be remembered as person who stood for the sacredness of life and that all living persons of every race are to be valued.

I met Elie Wiesel a number of years ago in Oklahoma City when my friend Rabbi David Packman brought him to the city. A tall, thin man, I remember he had large hands and long fingers. In a quiet voice, he described the importance of human dignity. On several other occasions, we talked by phone about issues that affected people in the Middle East.

Elie Wiesel valued all humanity. ISIS values none.

The New York Times article described the radical Islamist agenda for taking life. ISIS has advised its operatives to kill “anyone and everyone” particularly in countries that oppose their operations in Syria and Iraq, women and children included. They single out religious groups. Suicide bombers are sent into Shiite mosques. Converts to Christianity are their favorite targets. In both Syria and Iraq, they have carried out a campaign of wholesale slaughter conducted in front of cameras.

Many in the Muslim community are quick to point out that the ISIS radicals violate the true principals of Islam and are heretical. However, ISIS justifies every act by verses in the Koran. The situation continues to be a violation of all human rights.

Can anyone escape a comparison of what Elie Wiesel barely survived in Auschwitz and Buchenwald? The radical Muslim terrorists are the 21st century’s version of Nazi intentions. As I prepared this blog, the media blasted the week’s stories of police killings in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Falcon Heights, Minnesota, and Dallas, Texas. When will we ever learn Elie Wiesel’s lesson about the value of all humanity?

The world can not write ISIS off as only a military presence. They are the epitome of evil in our time. Elie Wiesel exposed the meaning of these extremists. In contrast, we must continue to toast and salute “the L’ chaim,” to life, and not allow its precious value to be diminished!

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THE FEAR FACTOR

BLOG 308 June 27, 2016

Probably the largest migration in human history has been pouring across Asia and Europe as millions flee the wars in Syria and Iraq as well as other parts of the Middle East facing terrorist’s strikes. What sends them running? The fear factor.
After months of the immigration to countries like Hungry, German, France, etc., many European countries are closing their borders and pushing back. The numbers flooding into Europe have filled villages with a completely different population. Muslims are often known not to assimilate  and remain permanent outsiders. Of course, this tendency becomes threatening to locals whose ancestors have lived in these areas for millenniums. What’s the motivation behind the resistance to poor people in desperate need? The fear factor.
The most recent example of the problem was the affirmative vote in the UK to withdraw from the European Union. The impact of this decision sent ripples (more like tidal waves) across stock markets all over the world. In the United States, the Dow Jones average had just reached 18,000. After the UK vote, the market sank 600 points to a low of 17,400. The British pound dropped from around 1.75 to the dollar to a low of  130 pounds. In addition, the Brits discovered that Scotland was not going to pull out of the EU which split the unity of the United Kingdom . Multitudes immediately started petitions to rescind the vote. They had obviously miscalculated.
What was going on? Fundamentally, the immigration issue had pushed the envelope way too far. Extreme Muslim attacks in France and Belgium had greatly increased anxiety in the UK. The motivating force behind the vote?  The fear factor.
Folks who don’t think that wars and chaos on the other side of the globe have any affect on them had better take a second look. Fear doesn’t recognize border lines or passport numbers.  Recently, EJA (European Jewish Association) head Rabbi Menachem Margolin noted that 40% of European Jews choose to hide their identity.The level of anti-Semitism has grown that significantly in recent years. EJA is the largest Jewish Federation in Europe and knows the terrain well. Even during the high holidays on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur when all Jews gather, 80% now stay away from synagogues. The reason?  The fear factor!
The EJA continues to believe that Jews have an integral place in Europe and must not retreat. The fight against racism and xenophobia as well as all forms of discrimination begins at an early age They are not retreating even though their constituency has worries. I believe their example points the way through these perfidious times. While there are reasons to be fearful, it is not time to retreat. The day has come to be persistent in our bravery – wherever persistence is needed. We must reject the fear factor.

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THE SEASON OF LIGHTS

BLOG 283 December 14, 2015

We have come to the end of the season of Chanukah. In Israel this festival is always a national holiday season when the eight nights are marked by the lighting of candles. In this time of so much darkness, the flicker of even one candle flame in a stormy night continues to offer hope to the world.

In addition, an important archeological discovery adds a new highlight to the season. The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) has just announced the discovery of what they believe is the tomb of the Maccabees. The story of Chanukah begins with this ancient family who stood against tyranny and despotism in the year 169 B.C.E..

On the 25th of Kislev (December) in the Jewish calendar that follows the cycles of the moon, the Syrian emperor Antiochus Epiphanes descended on Israel with the deadly intent to enforce the ideals of Greek Hellenism. Having condemned the Jewish rite of circumcision, Antiochus decreed that any family performing a bris (circumcision) would have the father killed, the rabbi performing the ritual killed, the baby killed and tied around the mother’s neck left to petrify. Faithful Jews were smashed under the heel of Antiochus Eiphanes.

In the apocrypha, the books of First and Second Maccabees tells the story of the rebellion led by Judah Maccabee and his sons. Emperor Antiochus had desecrated the Temple by splattering pig’s blood over the high altar on the 25th of Kislev. Three years later the Maccabees won the war and rededicated a cleansed Temple on exactly the same day. Chanukah is the remembrance of how the holy oil that would only last for one day was multiplied and actually endured for eight days. Today, Jews continue to light a candle on each of the eight nights to commemorate the miracle of the enduring light.

The Tomb of the Maccabees was described by Josephus Flavius as located in the ancient city of Modi’in which was believed to be close to the modern Arab city of Al-Midya. Archeologist now proclaim they not only found the site but the ashes of Mattathias Maccabees. The only remaining debate is over exactly what happened at this site and if it was intended to be primarily the burial place of the Maccabees. Whatever the ultimate conclusion, this is a major find from out of the ancient past 2,200 years ago.

We are reminded that when freedom is challenged, it must be defended. The imposing of an alien culture on the prevailing society is an old story that continues with the emergence of the ISIS atrocities. Oppressors are persistent. Darkness is always around us and we must continue to light candles to make sure the light prevails. From the far distant past, we are still reminded that tyranny cannot be allowed to endure. Even when the disadvantaged victims are in the battle to protect the light, they can endure.

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ANOTHER INTIFADA? PART 2

BLOG 276 October 26, 2015

Let’s take another look at the current unrest in Jerusalem and the Old City. Israelis fear another intifada could explode – and it might!
The quagmire continues as Israel won’t budge in negotiations and the Palestinians won’t lead. The inability of either side “to give” has created a nightmare. As a result, the frustrated Palestinians attack with knives and stone throwing while the Israeli’s shoot back with bullets. A few Israelis get knifed and a much larger number of Palestinians get killed. How can we understand such extremes?
Israel won’t comment on their secret talks with Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal. The Palestinians are completely left out of these negotiations which only frustrate them further. While Hamas screams and hollers anti-Semitic threats, it appears they are actually negotiating an acceptance of a 10-year ceasefire with Israel. Their position reflects what the Prophet Muhammad did with a time-limited truce with a powerful Quraysh tribe in 628. Even in 1997, the founder of Hamas offered Israel a 30-year hudna. The facts suggest that Hamas needs time to rebuild their military strength and get their act back together after the drubbing they took in Gaza that a year later is little more than a pile of broken cement.
From the Palestinian point of view, Hamas has no business or authority to make and sign any agreements with Israel. PLO President Mahmoud Abbas is also left out in the cold. Turmoil within the Arab world is increased because Abbas does not trust Hamas leadership. He believes Hamas is out to create a separate independent state in Gaza and that Israel is willing to help them do so. The issues of expanding Jewish settlements, Palestinian refugees, and East Jerusalem would not be touched. Once again, the Palestinians have the door slammed in their faces.
Netanyahu currently has no intention of agreeing to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state along the l967 lines or granting sovereignty over East Jerusalem and control of the Temple Mount. Such a hard-line position could provide the fuel for a much larger Jewish-Muslim war. The recent violence by Palestinians extremists must strike the match that sets off the explosion.
And what would happen? As the matter now stands, the Israeli’s would kill a multitude of the Palestinians. The Arabs know this, but believe their sacrifice would somehow be worth the effort. Suicide-bombers have come to this conclusion already. When you add all this up, the equation equals disaster for the Arabs, but they don’t seem to get it or be willing to make adjustments for a settlement. They have already blown off everything from the Oslo Accords to the 2008 offer of Prime Minister Ehud Olmer’s offer of a Palestinians state along the l967 lines. Their intransient position sounds like madness.
Such madness is what starts wars.

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