Parashas Devarim -- Who Believes in Mermaids?; Acts of Kindness, Great and Small
by Jonathan Rosenblum
August 1, 2014
Who Believes in Mermaids?
According to the latest CNN poll, 57% of Americans think that Israel's military operations in the Gaza Strip are fully justified, while 39% think that Israel's actions are "too much." One might interpret those figures optimistically: It is doubtful support for Israel is higher in any other Western country. On the other hand, I would be more than a little dismayed to learn that 39% of Americans believe in mermaids or the tooth fairy, and I fail to see any plausible distinction between that belief and the claim that Israel has been employing excessive force.
But it gets worse. Over half of Democrats are within that 39%. And to judge by their recent statements and actions, it appears that the president and secretary of state are among the believers in mermaids. Fox News caught Secretary of State Kerry in an unguarded moment sarcastically speaking of Palestinian civilian casualties in heavy fighting in Gaza's Shejaiya neighborhood, "It's a hell of a pinpoint action, a hell of a pinpoint action." Once he knew he was back on camera, Kerry quickly reverted to message; Israel has a right to defend itself; he was just reacting to the tragedy of innocent lives lost; war is hell.
But the anger in his voice directed at Israel, when he did not know he was being filmed, was as unmistakable as it was unjustified, for he could have known little of how many of those killed were actually civilians or of the circumstances of their deaths. Kerry promptly dispatched himself to the Middle East – uninvited, as former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren noted undiplomatically – with the acquiescence of President Obama, who expressed his own "serious concerns" about rising civilian casualties.
Gazan casualties, however, are a measure of precisely nothing except Hamas's callous disregard for the lives of those living in Gaza and its cynicism about the ease of manipulating the Western media. Any civilians killed in Gaza have died only because Hamas locates its prime military assets in civilian neighborhoods and fights from among civilians. For good measure, it encourages, sometimes forcibly, civilians to remain in those neighborhoods, even when they have been given ample warning of pending Israeli strikes. In both international law and morality, the responsibility for civilians killed as collateral damage from legitimate military action rests solely on the shoulders of those who place their military assets in close proximity to civilians.
Kerry's sarcasm about Israel's "pinpoint" actions aside, what Col. Richard Kemp, former High Commander of British expeditionary forces Afghanistan and someone with a lifetime of experience in asymmetric conflicts, said of the IDF in Operation Cast Lead, remains true today: No army in the history of warfare has done more to minimize civilian deaths.
That the IDF is employed in legitimate military actions is beyond cavil. U.S. satellites, using infrared imagery have identified sixty tunnels from Gaza into Israel, from which hundreds of Hamas fighters could have emerged in a coordinated attack and slaughtered hundreds of Jews living close to the border. Bombs under kindergartens and other high casualty targets have already been discovered in some of those tunnels.
So great is the threat posed by those tunnels that the toughest question put to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at a recent press conference was: How could you have even contemplated accepting a ceasefire before the IDF had succeeded in blowing up more than a few of the attack tunnels that constitute such a mortal danger? He had nothing to answer other than that he counted on Hamas to reject the ceasefire – likely true. As is so often the case, Canadian Prime Minister Harper put it best: Self-defense is "not merely an Israeli right, but an Israeli obligation."
The United States has no national interest in stopping the fighting before Israel has destroyed all the attack tunnels and seriously degraded the network of tunnels sheltering rockets and rocket launchers under Gaza City. The United States has, or should recognize that it has, a dog in this fight – i.e.. that a quasi-terrorist state should be thoroughly defeated and that its aggressive launch of nearly 2,000 rockets at Israel's civilian population and attempted cross-border attacks should be rewarded with an unambiguous defeat. Pressuring Israel to stop short of that goal is a betrayal of Israel, the West, and ultimately the people of Gaza.
Daniel Pipes has frequently pointed out that only the unconditional surrender of Germany and Japan paved the way for those two countries to leave beside their authoritarian pasts and join the democratic world. And Professor Mordecai Kedar of Bar Ilan University argues that Egypt's Anwar Sadat was only willing to make peace with Israel after the thoroughgoing Egyptian defeat in 1973. Despite the element of surprise – in stark contrast to 1967, when Israel destroyed the Egyptian and Syrian air forces in the first hours of fighting – and Egypt's initial success in crossing the Suez Canal, the war ended with Egypt's Third Army completely surrounded and with no alternative to surrender. Only then did Sadat realize Egypt and its allies could not defeat Israel militarily and embark on the path to peace. In short, a thoroughgoing defeat often benefits no party so greatly as the defeated because it forces a re-examination of failed ideologies.
Even from a humanitarian standpoint, letting Hamas cynically play on Western heartstrings to save itself will only encourage more warfare and civilian casualties. Not that President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry cannot sleep at night out of worry over less than 400 Gazan women and children. They have managed to sleep quite peacefully, thank you, and play numerous rounds of golf, while passively looking on as 170,000 human beings have been killed in Syria and many millions turned into desperate refugees.
The best thing we can do for loved ones who have developed unsavory habits – gambling, drinking, etc. – is letting them bear the natural consequences of their actions. Rocketing civilian populations of your far more powerful neighbor and plotting mass terror attacks is precisely such an unsavory habit. By seeking to secure a ceasefire before Hamas has suffered a richly deserved defeat, Obama and Kerry are only ensuring that it will live to fight another day, and that hundreds more Gazan civilians will be killed.
There is a name for that in the psychological literature for those who out of an excess of sympathy facilitate self-destructive behaviors of their loved ones: enablers. President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry should not be Hamas's enablers.
Written prior to Secretary of State Kerry's farcical ceasefire proposal and President Obama's intense pressure on Israel to accept it.
Acts of Kindness, Great and Small
Over the past month and a half, the unity of the Jews of Israel has been overwhelming. No one would ever hope for the tragic events that have aroused feelings of closeness – the kidnapping of three yeshiva students and Operation Preventive Edge in Gaza – but the tangible desire of Jews to draw closer to one another cannot be denied.
Tens of thousands of Jews, from across the Israeli spectrum, attended the funerals of two "lone" soldiers from America – Sean Carmeli and Max Steinberg – whom they did not know personally. And in communities across Israel, Jews are reaching out to one another with acts of chesed, both great and small.
Beit Shemesh, the scene of bitter intra-religious confrontation over the past two years and of a highly divisive mayoral election and subsequent re-run, has proven fertile grounds for various campaigns for unity. All sides of the religious and political divide in Beit Shemesh were eager to put the bitter feelings of the two mayoral campaigns behind. Two "unity" tefillah gatherings for Naftali Fraenkel, Gil-ad Shaer, and Eyal Yifrach, H"yd, were the first steps towards doing so. The gatherings drew chareidi, national religious, Yerushalmi/chassidiche, and secular women. Two more are scheduled for this week on behalf of the soldiers in Gaza.
After 40,000 reservists were called up for Operation Protective Edge, Mrs. Sharon Isaacson, a member of the chareidi community of Ramat Beit Shemesh -- Aleph, began thinking about a former student of hers at MMY Seminary whose husband had been called up, and how difficult it must be for wives of reservists taking care of children alone while worrying about their husbands. She decided – with the enthusiastic support of her husband and children – to do something. Between various communal forums, including one for national religious rabbis in Beit Shemesh, and calls to the head of the community center, social workers, and friends, she put together over several days a list of women in Beit Shemesh and Ramat Beit Shemesh whose husbands have been called up.
Then she started enlisting her friends in the chareidi community, who soon outnumbered the number of wives whose husbands were in service by a considerable margin. That turned out to be a good thing, for there was plenty of assistance needed – e.g., a woman just after childbirth, another woman with five little kids under seven. The first step of visiting with cakes and offering words of support and appreciation was soon followed by more concrete tasks – providing cooked meals, babysitting, driving, and shopping. Mrs. Isaacson even found a therapist to donate her services for a traumatized wife who was not coping with her fears.
While collecting her list of wives whose husbands were in Gaza, Mrs. Isaacson also began accumulating a list of women whose sons are in Gaza. Someone gave her the phone number of a Chassidic woman who lives in Kiryat HaChareidi, adjacent to the Modern Orthodox Sheinfeld community where the Beit Orot school, which was the scene of so much controversy nearly two years ago. She is one of the founders of a group called Ayin Tov, which includes women from both the various chareidi neighborhoods and the modern orthodox/national religious neighborhoods of Beit Shemesh. Among its members are women whose daughters attend Beit Orot and others from Ramat Beit Shemesh – Beis, home to the handful of crazies who harassed the girls. Ayin Tova brings the women together to get to know one another and create more ahavas Yisrael. That Chassidic woman immediately volunteered her group to contact women with sons in the army and to daven for their sons.
May these steps towards reconciliation in Beit Shemesh be the harbinger for Mashiach's arrival this Tisha B'Av.
Related Topics: American Government & Politics, Arab-Israeli Conflict, Islamofacism & Terrorism, Jewish Ethics, Social Issues, The Three Weeks & Tisha B'Av
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