Category Archives: Judaism

ABOUT THE POPE AND THE JEWS

BLOG 271 SEPTEMBER 21, 2015

Readers of this blog know that I have been traveling in Israel and the Middle East since 1968. I have two sons who were college professors in Jordan and Lebanon. In addition, I have many friends and colleagues in Israel. This week I am shifting from my usual views on the Middle East struggles because of the forthcoming arrival of the Pope in America. What you may not know is that Pope Francis ask me to be his envoy to spread the message that unity without uniformity is now possible between Roman Catholics, Protestants, AND Jews. Asking me to take the title “Apostolic Representative for Christian Unity,” Pope Francis directed me to spread the message that people who hold different opinions and convictions can still live and work together in unity. We can be one while having diverse perspectives.

Much to my surprise, I have found that the message of reconciliation is not universally received. Both Protestants and Roman Catholic leaders and members bristle over this message. Many will be surprised to discover that when Pope Francis is in Philadelphia this week, he will dedicated a new piece of sculpture called “Synagoga and Ecclesia” on the campus of St. Joseph’s University. The sculpture portrays two friends sitting together in harmony studying their sacred texts both with eyes open and recognizing the deep historical connection between the synagogue and the church.

Several week ago, I proclaimed this message of reconciliation on an internet and television recording for the Jesus Alliance’s emphasis on unity. Much to my chagrin, I was plunged into a maelstrom of disunity. Using all kinds of excuses for their dislike of my statements, the bottom line was that these people don’t like the idea of unity with Judaism. They were totally out of touch with where the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church actually are today.

I was in Bari, Italy the day the Roman Catholic Church signed an agreement with the Lutheran Church in Europe fully accepting Martin Luther’s position on Justification by Faith.

The Pope told me that this document ended all warfare between Catholics and Protestants.

Well, it ended the theological war, but it has not stopped the hostility that still exists in and with individuals today. Any student of history knows that the Church was the major source of religious anti-Semitism. During the centuries behind us, the Church provided the background for other forms of anti-Semitism expressed economically, socially, and racially. In turn, the Jewish community became distrustful and wary of the world beyond their boundaries. The late American Rabbi Leon Klenicki, a pioneer in interreligious dialogues, said about this problem, “Christianity must overcome the triumphalism of power, Judaism the triumphalism of pain.”

Friends, we are in a new age! We can overcome.

The Church is now part of the solution of stopping this animosity and strife. Pope Francis has expressed a “yes” to the Jewish roots of Christianity and an irrevocable “no” to anti-Semitism. His call is for rediscovered friendship while we maintain our different opinions and convictions. The time has come for all Christians of all persuasions to join this contemporary expression of unity.

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THE DEAL: ISRAEL & IRAN

BLOG 265 August 10, 2015

United States television commercials are beginning to heat up. One set of advertisements says, “Run from the Iran Negotiations.” The other side features Israeli generals who support the nuclear deal. You’d think they were selling soap or cars. Unfortunately, the politicians are currently turning the question into a political issue rather than dealing with the substance. Presidential candidate Huckabee recently made himself look foolish talking about Obama leading the Jewish people “into the ovens.”

So, what are the facts?

The first step is to develop a perspective on the problem. Let’s see if we can place some of the issues in a larger frame of reference.

1. We need crystal clarity about the meaning of this “deal.” Both Iran and Israel believe that Iran can develop a nucelar weapon after a relatively short ten year moratorium. Obama’s statements have been somewhat confusing and ambiguous. The public needs to know what is expected to happen at the end of the 10 year period.

  1. Iran has been and is a dangerous destabilizing force in the Middle East. The Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei recently made a statement that nothing in this deal improves their contempt for the United States and Israel. Can temporarily taking building a nuclear weapon off the table improve the terrorist threat Iran has been promoting? It has been argued that removing sanctions will release billions of dollars for more terrorist activities. Will it?

The only person who determines how this money will be spent is Khamenei. He has been clear about how he’d intend to use the cash and that’s not good.

3. There is a difference of opinion inside Israel about the Iranian deal. A number of military leaders disagree with Prime Minister Netanyahu. Why is there a difference in point of view. Obviously, Netanyahu’s strong rhetoric doesn’t reflect the entire country. Who’s right?

A former brigadier-general and division head of the Shin Bet (Israel security agency) recently wrote that the State of Israel is not under any form of existential security threat at the present time. Lior Akerman maintains that even with the radical Islamic uprisings in the region,  Israel’s military situation is quite calm.  Neither Hamas nor the Palestinian authority pose a threat to Israel. In fact, Hamas’s financial situation is bleak.

In this current debate over the nuclear negotiations, Israel will generally be portrayed as struggling to survive a common enemy (although who that enemy is goes undefined) Many like Akerman would argue that Israel’s immediate problems are a faltering health care program, a debilitating school system, and a serious erosion of support from the United States. These voices would claim Netanyahu would do better to turn his attention to these issues rather than orchestrate a political war with the American administration.

Before we can come to a clear, final decision, the American public needs more clarification on these issues and less emotional and political rhetoric. Before you give in to your emotions, make sure your mind is informed. And it won’t be easy with all the smoke that’s in the air.

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THE RIFT SHAKING THE WORLD

BLOG 262 July 20, 2015

Jay Leno’s in Israel cracking jokes at Natanyahu. “I know him to be a man of his word – unless of course the word is spoken the day before an election.” Are they laughing in Israel?

A carton appeared in an Israeli newspaper. One person says, “The US President is saying ‘trust me on Iran, I know what I’m doing.” The other person says, “Just like US Presidents have known what they were doing on Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria?” Are they laughing in Washington?

The Iran nuclear negotiations and agreement has pushed Israel and the US further apart than they have ever been. The United States and five other countries are being told by the leader of one nation that they are wrong. China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, Germany and the USA signed off on the agreement. The agreement is predicted to be Obama’s most significant diplomatic achievement. Prime Minister Netanyahu says they all made a “historic mistake.”

Even retired major general Giora Eiland who headed Israel’s National Security Council a decade ago believes Israel should stop opposing the agreement. He said fighting it would be “counterproductive.” Would Netanyahu listen? No.

Can Netanyahu win with Congress? Probably not.  Will he loose big time with Obama and his administration?  He already has and will only sink further –win or lose the current battle. Why is it worth the effort to fight to a bloody finish?

  1. President Obama believes the agreement could bring moderation in Iran and set the stage to bring it closer to the International community and thereby change its hostile attitude.

Prime Minister Natanyahu does not agree.

  1. President Obama argues they have obtained the best deal possible and that sanctions have succeeded. Iran will used the money to bring relief to their national economy.

Prime Minister Natanyahu argues Iran will use this released wealth to prop up its radical allies Syria and Hezbollah and only further destabilize the region.

3, The nations negotiating the agreement believe they have the means to detect any failure on Iran’s part to keep their end of the bargain. The six nation allies believe Iran will approach the deal in good faith.

Most Israelis believe the Iranians will attempt to cheat at every turn.

Who is right and who is wrong? Probably –and frighteningly – only time will tell.

At this point, Obama is certainly not anti-Israel but neither is he their “best friend ever.”

Israelis argue that his ideology blinds him. He fails to grasp how dangerous Islamism actually is. He tends to see the Palestinians as a Third World people victimized by whites. He can not even utter the phrase “Islamist terrorism.”

On the other hand, Natanyahu has proved to be a flip-flopping, double-speak politician who can be as obstinate as a brick wall. His logic is blurred by fears from the Holocaust.

Both men need to step back and take a deep breath – as does the public. The agreement achieved in Vienna is narrow in its scope and doesn’t pretend to solve a host of other problems –like American prisoners in Iran jails and Iran’s support of terrorism. It simply puts the lid on pursuit of a nuclear bomb for a limited period of time.

The question the world has to consider is whether that solution is better than nothing.

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SOME ‘THIS AND THAT’ FROM THE MIDDLE EAST

Blog 261 July 11, 2015

If you missed it, US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter testified on Capitol Hill about Presidents Obama’s policy with President Assad. What Carter had to say exposed the contradiction in Obama’s policy toward Syria. Obama has done virtually nothing for four years to remove Assad. His worst mistake was drawing a line than retreating and asking Putin to help. Putin’s answer was to take Crimea. Carter said they are doing nothing to remove Assad. He testified the US has spent $36 million dollars to train 60 fighters.

History may judge the Obama administration as harshly on its handling of Syria as it does Nevelle Chamberlin on his failure with Hitler.

Moving on–

Israel has just announced an amazing breakthrough discovery that can give sight to the sight. Cohen Arazi has developed a technology that promises to restore sight to many visually impaired persons. Sounding like a bionic body part from a science fiction movie, a microchip is inserted in the eye tht is about one quarter the size of a postage stamp. Inserting the chip requires only a simple 20 minute procedure. The microchip is powered by wireless electrical energy transmitted from a battery in a pair of glasses. Operating like a minature camera, the chip decodes light images and send them to the brain at the rate of about 600 pixels. Arazi has a goal of raising that rate to 2,000 pixels.

Chinese investors from the Ping An insurance Company are investing in the promotion and manufacture of the product. The current five-year health care plan of the Chinese government is committed to an investment of $70 billion dollars in health care. Cohen Arazi is well funded.

Turning the page: Israel has a serious race relations problem. For 2,000 years Ethiopian Jews prayed for a return to their homeland. Thirty-one years ago, Operation Moses brought the first group of refugees home. Other groups of Ethiopians followed. Of course, Ethiopians are dark-shined with coal-black hair and would be considered as blacks in the United States. Today 40% of prisoners in the Ofek Juvenile Prison are Ethiopians. Youth as young as 10 to 12 drop out of school because of problems they encounter with the system. Only 25% of Israelis actually want to Iive next to the Ethiopians. Consequently, the immigrants end up in weaker neighborhoods and virtually live in ghettos. Exposure of police brutality against Ethiopians exploded last April. Demonstrations against the police inTel Aviv left 60 people injured.

Life is not working out well for Ethiopian Jews!

Israel is facing a serious racial problem that is now on a par with this springs American demonstrations in Baltimore after a black man died in Police custody. The Jewish nation can ill afford to lose some of it finest sons and daughters. Feeling disconnect and alienated, the Ethopian situation is a serious issue that the country must now face up to. Prime Minister Netanyahu has expressed concern. The issue is what will he and the country do next.

Stay tuned.

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HOW ARE THINGS IN ISRAEL THESE DAYS?

BLOG 260 July 5, 2015

With the July 4th celebrations just concluded in the United States, is the rest of the world in a jubilant mood? Afraid not. The entire Middle East struggles with civil wars, terrorism and jihadist attacks. No joy there.

But there is progress in some quarters.

Several years ago, I met U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman. A brilliant man, Senator Lieberman is a charming person. At that time, he expressed views similar to what he recently stated when he received the Guardian of Zion award at Bar-Ilan University in Tel Aviv’s Ramat Gan area. Lieberman expressed gloom about the negotiations with Iran but unequivocally supported Congressional review of any final deal.

Lieberman appealed to President Obama to begin immediate construction of an American embassy in Jerusalem (which won’t happen) and was highly critical of American foreign policy over the past four years. The lack of US response since the civil war in Syria began, has been foolish in terms of geopolitics and immoral in terms of the humanitarian crisis, he said. Lieberman cited the failure of Obama to act when it was proven that Assad was using chemical weapons as one of the lowest points in American policy.

On the other hand, Senator Lieberman said this is the best time in history for the Jewish people. Interestingly enough, Jews within Israel are not as optimistic about themselves. As large a percentage (68.8%) believed Israel’s relations with the world is not good. Nearly 80% believed that the world makes demands for moral behavior on Israel beyond what is asked of other countries. On the other hand, Israeli Arabs are at the opposite end of the scale. At least, 58.2% believe Israel’s relations with the world are good. The Peace Poll Index found that both Israeli Arabs and Jews overwhelmingly support peace talks with the Palestinians even though they are not optimist about the results. (Netanyahu, are you listening?)

On the other end of the scale, Americans hear little about Turkey. Months ago, I reported that Turkish leader Recep Tayyip would break with Israel in an attempt to create a Muslim axis running from Turkey through Syria down to Iran. Of course, Tayyip envisioned himself as the caliphate. He criminally exposed Mossed agents, violating an understanding with Israel that crossed decades.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s plans have not gone well. Nothing about the war between the Shiites and Sunnis has played into this hands. His idea of an axis now looks like a cork-screw. Following the just completed parliamentary elections, Erdogan has suffered another set back. Sources inside Turkey believe this election could be the beginning of a reversal of Turkey’s Isalmization. While the battle for the soul and identity is far from over, Erdogan’s attempt to sweep the election and change the constitution has failed. Erdogan’s government was obsessed with ousting Assad which will now be under parliamentary scrutiny. Women, youth, and a diverse group of minorities, like the Armenians, will sit in the Parliament.

What’s bad for Erdogan is good for Israel. Israelis can now hope for better relations down the road. How are things in Israel? Actually, not bad at all.

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DECIPHER THE TENSION BETWEEN OBAMA AND NETANYAHU

BLOG 246 March 30, 2015

American-Israeli relationships have hit bottom. This week’s claim that Israel spied on the American-Iranian nuclear negotiations dumped another truck load of rocks on Netanyahu’s racist claims that barely won his re-election followed by a 24-hour flip flop on a two state resolution with the Palestinians. At the heart of the conflict is a collision between the American President and the Prime Minister of Israel.

What’s going on?

I have consistently attempted to stand above partisan politics in examining the Middle East. When it comes to explaining these two men –it’s tough! On one side are either Obama-haters or Obama-lovers pitched against multitudes who idolize everything that happens in Israel. Hopefully, I can get my readers to avoid any subjective perspectives and focus on the facts. So, why the traumatic collision?

Israelis tend to see Obama retreating from world leadership and withdrawing soldiers that ends in a vacuum filled by jihadists. Putin seized Crimea because of Obama’s failure to keep his threat in Syria that made Obama look like a paper tiger. They see Obama as a ‘80s progressive not to be trusted in handling Iran. His positions on the Middle East are seen as confused and contradictory. The Arabs are now forming their own army because they do not believe America can be trusted to stand with them against Iran.

On the other hand, Netanyahu is viewed as a liar that can’t be trusted to keep his word. In 2009 under intense American pressure, Netanyahu instigated a 10-month freeze on Jewish settlements in the West Bank. However, during the “freeze” 1,175 units were completed and 114 more were started. All in all, the Netanyahu government oversaw construction of 6,867 units in settlement areas, 2,622 were deep in Palestinian territory.  Critics in Israel noted that the $1 billion in illegal settlements could have been better spent to fight Israeli rising housing costs. America and Europe concluded he reneged on his promise and you don’t do that with Allies.

Behind such a “switching the checkers” deal, the Netanyahu politics have offered verbal deceit, talking of peace while torpedoing any two-state solution with the Palestinians. His stringent opposition to a nuclear arms treaty with Iran is seen as fundamentally wanting no deal on any terms with the Iranians. Regardless! His attempt to scuttle the negotiations is now suspect in Washington because he has overstated his oppositions hoping that Americans will not see through the smoke screen.

A week after the cease-fire during the Gaza war, Israel seized 1,000 acres in the West Bank for Israeli settlers. Peace Now, an Israeli group, called this the biggest land grab in over 30 years. The Netanyahu government would claim they were teaching the terrorist a lesson. The international community’s response was that’s not the legal way to teach a lesson.

The flip-flop on a two-state solution was viewed as a last minute attempt to save his election that worked in Israel and resulted in a re-evaluation in Washington of how relations between the two countries would be managed in the future. Not good for Netanyahu’s government nor Israel. A United Nations resolution would set a time table for withdrawal from Palestinians territories, a Palestinian state within 1967 borders, and East Jerusalem as their capital – all defeats for Netanyahu and Israel.

Will matters between Washington and Israel improve? Probably not until Netanyahu is gone. At this point, he probably will not be trusted again by the powers in Washington and Europe.

A most sad situation.

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