The Shalit Deal
Israelis willingly endangered themselves in order to return captured soldier Gilad Shalit to his parents. While between 75-80% of Israelis expressed their support for the exchange, over 60% thought that the exchange would increase the incentives for future terror attacks.
They are surely right about the latter. Sixty per cent of released terrorists, according to one study, resume terrorist attacks. Since 2002, 182 Israelis have been killed in terror attacks carried out or planned by previously released terrorists. The terrorists exchanged for Gilad Schalit include the authors of some the grisliest terror attacks in memory – the suicide bombing on Seder Night in Netanya and that at the Sbarro Pizza Parlor -- and their skills and knowledge have only been honed during imprisonment.
By supporting the prisoner exchange for Gilad Shalit, despite the obvious dangers it poses, Israelis were acting in accord with familiar patterns. Psychological research shows that most human beings are willing to incur far greater costs to save one "identifiable" human being from immediate peril than they would be to secure the safety of what psychologists term "statistical lives." For over five years, the Israeli media made sure that Gilad and his parents would be "identifiable" human beings, with saturation coverage of his plight and his parents' campaign for his release. (In the process, the images of other "identifiable" human beings – victims of terrorist attacks and their families – were largely suppressed.) The faceless and as yet unknown Jews who might be killed in future terror attacks are just "statistical lives."
Israelis opted to rejoice in Gilad Shalit's return and to worry about the consequences later. Now that the exchange has been made, there is no other choice. But it behooves us to take immediate measures to minimize those future consequences. The first step would be a Knesset law mandating the death penalty for those participating in terror attacks resulting in death. No future terrorist should brazenly boast that he or she will soon be released and live to engage in terror again, as did Ahlam Tamimi, who disguised herself a Jewish student while accompanying the Sbarro suicide bomber. At the very least, imposition of the death penalty would dramatically release the number of terrorists available for future exchanges.
Second, Israel must stop negotiating from the position of supplicant. On June 21 1972, an Israeli special unit, commanded by the current defense minister, Ehud Barak, and including prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, entered Syria and captured five Syrian intelligence officers, who were subsequently exchanged for three Israeli airmen. During Operation Cast Lead, Israel could have captured top Hamas officials in the same way, but never considered doing so. In the same vein, Israel should employ reciprocity in treatment of terrorist prisoners. As long as Gilad was being held incommunicado and denied any visits by the Red Cross. Israel should have held Palestinians in the same conditions and cut off all family visits. Toughening of the prison conditions of Palestinian prisoners was one of the factors that lead Hamas to soften some of its earlier demands.
No one begrudges the Shalit family their campaign to pressure to the Israeli government to pay any price for Gilad's release, but one wishes that more of that pressure had been directed at those foreign governments who provide massive aid to Hamas, even as Hamas blatantly disregarded international law for the treatment of captured soldiers. The Israeli government should have been much more aggressive in that respect as well.
One final point about the huge costs and future dangers Israelis were willing to incur to return Gilad Shalit to his parents. Rabbi Noah Weinberg, the founder of Aish HaTorah, requested in his final will and testament that his students each spend ten minutes a night contemplating the pain to our Father in Heaven from the fact that the majority of the Jewish people – His children – deny the validity of Torah and are estranged from Him. Hashem is not an "identifiable person" on the TV screen, like Noam Shalit. That is why we have to set aside time to concentrate on His pain. But when we feel His pain, should we not be willing to incur costs and expend effort to bring His children home to Him – especially when we know, as the Chovos Halevavos writes, there can be no greater reward than for doing so.
Mearsheimer Dances with the Dark
The most shocking thing about The Israel Lobby (2007), by John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Stephen Walt of Harvard, was how lacking it was in any basic scholarly apparatus. A book that purported to be about American foreign policy was virtually devoid of citations to American government documents or interviews with policymakers. Even reading through the vast secondary literature on American Middle East policymaking proved too much for the distinguished professors.
Their argument was on its face incoherent. They uncovered the pernicious influence of the Israel Lobby like astronomers once discovered Pluto – via perturbations. In their telling, the Iraq War was so fiendishly irrational that no goy – not even Vice-President Cheney -- could have conceived it, but for the diabolical influence of Jewish neo-conservatives acting in the interests of Israel's Likud Party. Only one little problem with that theory: Israel itself was opposed to an American attack on Iraq and viewed Iran as far the greater threat, as no less an authority than John Mearsheimer told NRP's Tom Ashbrook in 2002.
Critics of the book wisely stopped short of calling the authors anti-Semites. But Tim Rutten in the Los Angeles Times did note an unpleasant odor wafting from its pages: "[R]eaders are treated to an explication of the religious affiliations of various Bush administration officials that reads like it was inspired by the Nuremburg Laws." Walter Russell Mead of the Council of Foreign Relations described The Israel Lobby as a book "anti-Semites will love" -- a judgment immediately confirmed by the praise of former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke for the authors.
With respect to Mearsheimer, the charge of anti-Semitism is becoming ever more plausible. In Mearsheimer's mind the Jewish state is diabolical in its cunning: He accuses Israel of having withdrawn from Gaza to bring Hamas to power in order to destroy the peace process. In a 2010 speech, he divided Jews between the "righteous" ones and the "new Afrikaaners." In the former category, he listed Noam Chomsky, Richard Falk, Norman Finkelstein, and Tony Judt, each of whom has called for the end to the Jewish state, ceaselessly accused Israel of war crimes, cheered on Hamas and Hizbullah, and decried the cynical manipulation of the Holocaust to advance Jewish interests. All other American Jews are either "new Afrikaaners" or ignorant of "how far down the apartheid road Israel has travelled."
Most recently Mearsheimer wrote an effusive blurb for The Wondering Who? by Gilad Atzmon, a self-described "self-hater," for exposing how "panicked Jewish leaders . . . have turned to Zionism (blind loyalty to Israel) and scaremongering (the threat of another Holocaust) to keep the tribe united and distinct from the surrounding goyim."
One his blog, Atzmon calls, sixty-five years after Auschwitz, "for some conclusive historical evidence" and asks "Why were the Jews hated. Why did European people stand up against their next door neighbors?" He accuses the Holocaust "religion" of being used "to kill, flatten, to loot and ethnically clean."
As Mead puts it, "not normally the intellectual company a Distinguished Professor at the University of Chicago is expected to keep."
Half of this year's Nobel Laureates in Physics, Chemistry, Economics, and Medicine were Jewish – a rather outsized number considering that Jews constitute only .2% of the world's population. That wildly disproportionate figure in part reflects the reverence for learning in traditional Jewish society, and the fact that the intellectual acuity that suits one to Talmudic study has always been so prized by fathers of Jewish daughters. But before we pat ourselves too hard on the back, we must acknowledge that none of the current crop of Jewish Nobel winners, as far as I know, honed their minds on Gemara.
Yet reading of the research of Technion Professor Daniel Schechtman, the Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, I did find a Jewish angle. Schectman won the award for his discovery of quasi-crystals, crystals based on assymetric, non-repeating patterns. He was subjected to almost universal ridicule at the time of his discovery almost thirty years ago. Two-time Nobel Laureate Linus Pauling joked that there were no quasi-crystals, only quasi-scientists. And the head of the Johns Hopkins University team on which Schectman was then working, dismissed him for bringing disgrace to the team. Nonetheless, Schectman persevered and ultimately prevailed. His research revised the traditional understanding of matter and opened up important practical applications.
Azus, the ability to ignore the ridicule of others, says the Midrash, is one of the quality that suited Jews to receive the Torah. Throughout our history, Jews have always stood against the current. In Europe, we denied the central value of the larger society – the belief that a man could be divine – for which denial, we were subjected not just to ridicule, but the most violent persecution. Yet the vast majority of Jews remained steadfast. Those ancestors were models for Jewish scientists like Schectman and Albert Einstein, whose theories upended the entire structure of Newtonian physics and were initially even more ridiculed than Schectman's, of the ability to hold fast to one's beliefs no matter how much abuse it entails.