Background: Some students at Kent State University pressured the administration to remove a photo of and quotation by Golda Meir. Their stated reason was that it was a daily reminder of racism on campus.
In a sane world, one would infer that it reminded them of racism on campus because seeing the photo of Golda Meir reminded them of the hatred permeating the genocidal campaign being waged against Israel by Arabs and Muslims, particularly by the Palestinian Arabs, and those coddled students were uncomfortable by being reminded about all the racism in the world. This not being a sane world, their motivation was to spread their own hatred and racism.
Kent State's president Beverly Warren initially said the university would take those hateful demands into consideration, but after a negative reaction from some who do not share the anti-Semitic agenda of the diabolically named "Students for Justice in Palestine," Muslim Students Association and other hateful groups, has apparently come to her senses.
A good article about the sordid affair, "Following Major Backlash, Kent State Says It Won’t Cave to Anti-Israel Groups Demanding Removal of Golda Meir Display," can be found in the algemeiner (https://www.algemeiner.com/2016/11/15/kent-state-university-refuses-take-down-golda-meir-display-in-wake-of-anti-israel-outcry-says-such-action-runs-counter-to-institutional-values/).
The situation led Massachusetts resident Marty Greenstein to send the following letter to Kent State's president:
Dear Ms. Warren,
Kent State University will always be remembered by my generation as the place where four students died at a war protest and others were injured, some seriously. This incident was a factor when, in my senior year in college, the school year was cut short when, in its aftermath, numerous universities realized that neither students nor faculty could concentrate on formal schoolwork. Like others, I had to deal with the dilemmas of the morality and rightfulness of the Vietnam War, the limits of protest when the subject was truly one of life and death, and the morality of even bringing guns onto campus, particularly by the National Guard who were mostly young people themselves; people not prepared to encounter students with whom they shared nationality and common concerns. Most importantly, the parallel between our troops, bombers, and gunships in Vietnam and our troops with guns on a college campus was painfully obvious.
Kent State symbolized at that time the ineffectiveness of a University to identify right and wrong, properly instruct, and most importantly be a satisfying forum for clashing ideas.
Kent State is so much better today than it was back then. At my Ohio high school in those days, only the most marginal of the college bound went to Kent State. Today, it is magnificently better. Any failure of Kent State to properly nurture its students will no longer be excusable given its current stature and the elapsed half century.
Today, Kent State has a similar dilemma with a solution equally elusive to its administration, faculty, and students. Golda Meir was an American school teacher who so much wanted to live with her Jewish people that she emigrated to what was then known as Palestine simply to live on a farm. The Jews in Palestine were endangered by a nationalistic Arab world. Just like today where there are essentially no Christians or Jews in Arab lands (with the exception of Coptic Christians in Egypt who are highly discriminated against), in the late 1940s the Arabs resented the presence of anyone else. This is why, when the United Nations agreed to provide a small amount of the British protectorate known as Palestine to host a Jewish state, all neighboring and, even some non-neighboring, Arab states invaded with the goal not just of preventing that state from occurring, but to kill all the Jews who were there. The efforts of Golda Meir helped prevent a complete massacre. Every woman (and man) can learn from her courage and motivation to exceed expectation.
Golda Meir ultimately became Prime Minister of Israel, one of the first modern day female government leaders. Unfortunately, during her time as Prime Minister, Egypt once again tried to destroy Israel simply because it existed. Golda was forever blamed for hesitating from preparing and even going to war when the intelligence was very strong that Egypt was planning a surprise attack, which they did on the holiest day of the Jewish calendar.
Today, Golda is remembered for her famous quote, “We will only have peace with the Arabs when they love their children more than they hate us.”
Unfortunately that hate has not gone away, and, most unfortunately for the Palestinian Arabs, that hate has been unmerciful in its cruelty. Specifically, not only did the Palestinian Arabs pursue murderous attacks despite no threat to their own lives, but the same hate blinds them from opportunities to have peace and even to prosper. Arabs who live in Israel are among the most prosperous in the Arab world and are in no danger. But the Arabs who live in, for instance Gaza, are mostly in immense poverty and under threat from a cruel government that knows nothing but to prepare for yet more attacks against Israel. Notice, that is not attacks from Israel, but attacks on Israel.
The people in Gaza are not stupid. However, they are subjected to immense propaganda and control. Their children are taught to hate. A person who would even say as we did in the Sixties, “Give peace a chance”, would be treated as a traitor and likely killed.
As a university president, you likely know this. One of the reasons Donald Trump was elected President was because he says what he thinks rather than sinking into the swamp of political correctness. His opinion is that Israel is a true friend of the United States, and this stalwart friend owes its existence to great people like Golda Meir. Sure, Israel has made mistakes. Some Arabs who lived in what was the Jewish Partition back in 1948 were probably scared into fleeing from their homes by Jews as well as the invading Arab armies. This is very sad, but the United States has made errors too. This does not mean that we would not want to honor the memories of people like George Washington (Indian fighter) and Thomas Jefferson (Slave holder).
Knowing Israel to be a vibrant democracy with a government which is a peaceful collaboration of Arabs and Jews, we ask ourselves what other Middle Eastern country is similar? Actually, what country does more to give rights and prosperity to all its citizens, not just those in power? But asking ourselves that question is not as important as asking that question, and similar ones, to those who would be in opposition to the principles of someone like Golda Meir.
Be aware, that foreign money is used to foment anti-Israel thought and even violence on campus. This is an organized effort by Islamic governments and groups to discredit Israel. Jewish students in California and even the University of Michigan are intimidated by those who call them racist or worse. Efforts are made by so-called pro-Palestinian groups to ban pro-Israel speakers from campus, or if that fails, to disrupt their lectures.
The truth is that lies, when repeated often enough, will be believed. Plus academic research has shown that when people believe something deeply and are shown they are wrong, they double down on their original beliefs. Perhaps this is why teachers have it so tough. Students walk in with set ideas, and it is difficult to open their minds to anything contrary. Moreover, academic research shows that a political group’s agenda is adhered to even by people who go along just to get along. Specifically, the so-called Left has picked up the Palestinian Arabs as a group to sympathize with in the face of Israel, a country that they even call an apartheid state. Again, whatever merit their claims have pales behind the ethnic cleansing of the Arab nations that they will not discuss.
Adolph Hitler said that if one tells a preposterous lie, the public will believe it. They reason that the lie cannot be true, but, then again, why would anyone say such a thing if it isn’t? Hence, a preposterous lie is believable simply because of one’s inability to believe that someone would dare to say it if it were not true.
So, Ms Warren, your university has a deep problem. A group of students who, for ethnic or religious loyalty and perhaps even financial support, sponsor undue hatred of a country half a world away. Other students, vulnerable to propaganda and “group think”, to their credit look for a social cause but find one that is destructive to Western values. Does the university have an obligation to present all its students with its own sense of morality? Do students who wish to spout hatred have a right to do so and in particular intimidate those who do not hold their views? Even more important perhaps, does a university have a right to decide what is right and what is wrong?
I live in Massachusetts now. A few years ago, there was a bombing at the Boston Marathon. One of the perpetrators was a college student living in a dormitory. What was the most upsetting thing about it to me was that another student in the dormitory covered for the student bomber. I personally think this reflects upon the university. It may be unreasonable to think the university will get all of its students to do the right thing, but there was no evidence of its even trying. Instead, they in their ivory tower left even matters of life and death in ambiguous terms. I guess ethics was not part of the curriculum or, frighteningly, not based on the fundamental values that, hopefully, define who we are.
Things can be better. I, maybe three years ago, went to a graduation at the University of Amherst, arguably the best liberal arts school in the country. At the graduation, the President of that college took a stand on sexual violence and harassment, since there had been incidents. This is to be applauded since it is clear that sexual harassment or violence, and even sexual discrimination, is at total odds with the ideals of our society. Similarly there is no room for slander of any people, but most outrageously slander of the Israelis who fervently aspire only to peace.
Thank You and Best Wishes,
Wednesday, November 16, 2016
Monday, October 10, 2016
The following is the text of a talk given by Alan Stein at the University of Connecticut's Waterbury Campus on October 10, 2016:
It's nice to be back in Waterbury.
I grew up and went to school in New York and then taught mathematics on this campus for 37 years. My office was on this very floor.
I was active both in the Jewish and general communities, serving as president of the Jewish Federation of Waterbury, being part of the Waterbury Progressive Caucus and a leader in the Connecticut Coalition to Save Darfur. I'm a liberal Democrat, in the tradition of Harry Truman, Hubert Humphrey, JFK and RFK.
When my wife and I started thinking about getting away from the brutal New England winters in retirement, my wife wouldn't consider Florida, which my father used to refer to as "the land of our people," and instead we went to the real land of our people. We now spend seven months a year in Netanya, a beautiful resort city. We eat dinner watching the sun set over the Mediterranean.
Here's one special connection between Waterbury and Netanya in Israel, where I now spend most of the year: Miriam Fierberg, our Netanya mayor, is under house arrest, being investigated for corruption.
I was president of PRIMER-Connecticut for ten years while living in Waterbury. I've since founded PRIMER-Massachusetts and PRIMER-Israel. PRIMER is an acronym for "Promoting Responsibility in Middle East Reporting." There is an enormous amount of irresponsible reporting, creating a distorted picture that's taken advantage of by hateful anti-Zionists such as those involved in the BDS - Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions - movement.
Hence the title of this talk: "Inconvenient Truths the Anti-Zionists Don't Want You to Know."
Today, I'll take for about a half hour to describe some instances of irresponsible reporting, briefly list a small subset - after all, I'm a mathematician - and document a few of them in more detail. You'll then have the opportunity to ask questions.
Okay, first a recent example of irresponsible reporting.
On September 20, William Booth and Ruth Eglash wrote an article for the Washington Post about the Trump campaign wooing American citizens living in Israel. The article, which was published in numerous newspapers, included these two sentences:
"The settlements are on the land that many Jews say is their biblical and historical home. It is also land the Palestinians want for a future state."
In the first sentence, Booth and Eglash gratuitously insert the words "many Jews say" to cast doubt about something that is indisputable, historical fact.
The second sentence does the opposite: it presents an opinion as fact.
The Arabs have repeatedly spurned golden opportunities to establish a state, casting doubt on whether they really want one.
The Arabs rejected the Peel Commission proposal for a state in 1937, the United Nations Partition Plan in 1947 and Israeli proposals in 2000, 2001 and 2008.
They didn't bother setting up a separate state between 1948 and 1967, when Jordan annexed the West Bank and made all the resident Arabs Jordanian citizens.
Now, maybe the Palestinian Arabs do want their own state, but it's definitely not established fact, especially given that the evidence strongly suggests otherwise. It should not have been presented as fact in a news article.
Headlines are often even more distorting.
Another recent example from the Washington Post: A September 18 article had this headline: "Israeli authorities kill 3 suspected assailants in Jerusalem, West Bank attacks." There have been dozens, probably hundreds or thousands, of similar headlines in recent months.
That short headline was ambiguous, inaccurate and, at best, inverted the actual news. As I explained in a letter to the Washington Post:
"The ambiguity: readers could incorrectly infer that Israeli authorities attacked people in Jerusalem and the disputed territories. It was Arab terrorists who did the attacking.
"The inaccuracy: the attackers were not merely "suspected;" there is no doubt the three dead were assailants.
"The inversion: the heart of the news was that there was another Arab terror attack; the fact that some of the terrorists wound up dead was just a consequence of what were, fortunately, mostly "unsuccessful" attacks."
Most of you probably remember what happened on September 11, 2001. On the next day, did anyone see the headline "Plane crashes kill 19 suspected hijackers in New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania?"
Okay. Now I'll list a handful of inconvenient truths, and then go into detail about others.
•Zionism is simply the national liberation movement of the Jewish people.
•Anti-Zionists deny the right of the Jewish people to our own state.
•Denying that right to the Jewish people, while promoting it for others, is anti-Semitic.
•Until relatively recently, the people today calling themselves Palestinians were insisting they weren't.
•The articles in the PLO Charter calling for the destruction of Israel have never been removed.
•Taken together, Israel and the disputed territories take up less than a quarter of what constituted Palestine at the time of the British Mandate.
•Historically, Jerusalem has never held much interest for Arabs or Muslims except during those times when it was controlled by others.
•Jerusalem has been at the heart and soul of the Jewish people since King David made it his capital about 3,000 years ago. Every Passover, Jews all over the world end their Seders with the chant בשנה הבאה בירושלים - "Next Year in Jerusalem."
•The Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 declares, as official United States policy: "Jerusalem should be recognized as the capital of the State of Israel."
•The term "West Bank" is a relatively new one. Historically, that area, the heartland of the Jewish kingdoms in Biblical times, was referred to as Judea and Samaria, or Palestine, or southern Syria.
•Only a handful, perhaps 50,000, of the so-called Palestinian refugees are really refugees. The youngest of the refugees are now 68 years old and have no recollection of ever living in what is now Israel.
•Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas is in the twelfth year of his four year term. He is no moderate, has shown no inclination to make peace with Israel and has neither the ability nor the authority to do so even if he wanted.
•More than 95 percent of the Arabs in the disputed territories have lived under their own government for more than two decades.
•The Christian community is increasing and thriving in just one country in the Middle East: Israel. It's being decimated in the Palestinian Authority and Hamas-run Gaza. Under the Palestinian Authority, Bethlehem has turned from a Christian city into a Muslim city.
•The proportion of civilian casualties in the Gaza wars has been amazingly low compared to the norm for post-World War II conflicts. General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said "Israel went to extraordinary lengths to limit collateral damage and civilian casualties." Israel has been criticized by international military leaders for setting a standard their countries can't possibly match.
Now I'll go into a few other inconvenient truths, in more depth - as our very limited time permits - with some documentation, including historical texts and the words of Palestinian Arab leaders.
•The Palestinian Arabs have shown far more interest in there not being a Jewish state than in having one of their own.
The PLO was established in 1964, while the West Bank was part of Jordan. Rather than promoting a separate Palestinian Arab state, the PLO was established to destroy Israel. This goal was enshrined four years later in the PLO Charter. It's sobering reading, although far less so than the Fatah and Hamas charters. Among its provisions:
The PLO "aims at the elimination of Zionism in Palestine."
"The Arab Palestinian people, expressing themselves by the armed Palestinian revolution, reject all solutions which are substitutes for the total liberation of Palestine."
"Armed struggle is the only way to liberate Palestine. Thus it is the overall strategy, not merely a tactical phase."
In their fundamental covenants, the Palestinian Arabs clearly say they reject the existence of Israel, but do not call for their own state.
•Mahmoud Abbas has admitted he's responsible for the continuation of the conflict.
In his own words, spoken in Ramallah on October 15, 2010: "If we showed flexibility on these issues the peace agreement would have been signed a long time ago."
•Mahmoud Abbas has also told his people he will never compromise on any of the key issues.
As quoted in the Palestinian Authority's own newspaper, Al-Ayyam, on September 7, 2010: "If they demand concessions on the rights of the refugees or the 1967 borders, I will quit. I can't allow myself to make even one concession."
•Abbas clearly rejects the very concept of a two-state solution, vigorously insisting he will never acknowledge Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.
•Abbas even bluntly told President Obama he would not commit to an "end of conflict" - in other words, even if he signed some agreement with Israel, the conflict would continue.
Peace requires concessions, by both sides.
Israel has made enormous concessions. Benjamin Netanyahu may be considered "right wing," but he's offered concessions, such as offering the Palestinian Arabs a state, Yitzhak Rabin insisted he would never make.
Mahmoud Abbas may be called "moderate," but he has yet to make a single significant concession; he's still clinging to the same demands Arafat was making in 1993. It's one thing to start negotiations with extreme demands; I thought only my mother-in-law, may she rest in peace, could refuse to budge for more than two decades. I was wrong.
•Abbas demands ethnic cleansing.
For example, on Christmas Day, 2010, in Ramallah, he said: "We have frankly said, and always will say: If there is an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, we won't agree to the presence of one Israeli (meaning Jew) in it." How's that for the Christmas spirit!
•Mahmoud Abbas was a prime instigator of the year-long and counting wave of knifings, shootings and vehicular attacks.
On September 16 last year, he proclaimed "Al-Aksa is ours and so is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. They (meaning the Jews) have no right to desecrate them with their filthy feet. We won’t allow them to do so and we will do whatever we can to defend Jerusalem."
Praising Muslim women who harass Jews on the Temple Mount, he said "Each drop of blood that was spilled in Jerusalem is pure blood as long as it’s for the sake of Allah. Every shahid (martyr) will be in heaven and every wounded person will be rewarded, by Allah’s will."
•In Israel, Arabs comprise nearly a quarter of the population and have full, equal rights.
Of course there's some discrimination; I challenge you to name a single country in which there's no discrimination. I also challenge you to name a country, other than Israel, giving equal rights to a minority which in significant measure is loyal to the nation's enemies.
Arabs participate in every area of Israeli civil life. They're doctors, lawyers, teachers, police. They're in the Knesset, the parliament. Majalli Wahabi, an Israeli Druze, actually served as Acting President for a time in 2007. George Karra, an Israeli Arab Supreme Court Justice, convicted President Moshe Katzav and sent him to prison.
Think about that: an Israeli Arab sent the president of Israel to prison!
When it comes to legal discrimination, if anything, it's the Jews who suffer. Jews are compelled to serve in the army. They don't have a choice. Arabs have a choice. They may serve if they wish, but they don't have to.
•The BDS movement is anti-Zionist and thus inherently and irredeemably anti-Semitic.
Omar Barghouti, the most prominent of the founders of BDS, has said: "Definitely, most definitely we oppose a Jewish state in any part of Palestine. No Palestinian, rational Palestinian, not a sell-out Palestinian, will ever accept a Jewish state in Palestine.”
Anna Baltzer, a frequent speaker at "Tree of Life" events, was even more blunt, saying, quote: "“We need to wipe out Israel.” unquote.
•While Mahmoud Abbas may refuse to make peace with Israel, may defame and slander Israel at every opportunity, when push comes to shove he knows Israel is his only friend.
In April, Abbas' brother, who lives in Qatar, was in critical condition with cancer. Where did Abbas make sure he went to get the best medical care? Assuta Medical Center in Tel Aviv, where the doctors had saved his brother-in-law's life with a delicate heart operation six months before, and where his wife underwent leg surgery in 2014.
Ismail Haniyeh is even more extreme than Abbas. Haniyeh is the chief Hamas terrorist in charge of Gaza. But he wasn't too proud to send his granddaughter for treatment at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv in 2013. In 2014, he sent both his mother-in-law and his daughter there, one shortly before the war he launched and the other shortly after.
•The "illegally occupied territories" aren't even occupied. They are disputed territories and Israel has a strong legal claim to them.
At the San Remo Conference in 1920, following World War I, Britain was assigned a mandate over Palestine - which then comprised all of what is today Israel, Jordan and the disputed territories. The mandate called for Britain to prepare for the reestablishment of the Jewish homeland, including the "close settlement" of the land by the Jewish people. This actually included the "East Bank," the 77-78 percent of Palestine east of the Jordan River which Britain separated from the rest, renamed Transjordan and gave to the Hashemites. The decisions made at the San Remo Conference were confirmed by the League of Nations in 1922, and incorporated into the founding documents of the United Nations. That makes them international law.
So, under international law, Israel has claim to all of the disputed territories and building in those territories is not only not illegal, but encouraged.
•The "1967 borders" were never borders.
Article II of the 1949 armistice agreement with Jordan stated "no provision of this Agreement shall in any way prejudice the rights, claims and positions of either Party hereto in the ultimate peaceful settlement of the Palestine question, the provisions of this Agreement being dictated exclusively by military considerations."
In plain language, the armistice lines were specified to have no political significance.
References to "1967 borders" are factually wrong; no borders existed.
Insisting on "negotiations based on the 1967 borders" is actually an insistence on the violation of that signed agreement! It's also an insistence on the violation of United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.
Resolution 242 was adopted November 22, 1967, exactly five years after the assassination of President Kennedy. Its provisions called for:
"Withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict" in conjunction with the "termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgment of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force."
So, according to this binding Security Council resolution, any Israeli withdrawal awaits a peace agreement and must not be a total withdrawal to the temporary armistice lines. The Security Council itself has given legitimacy to an Israeli presence in the disputed territories until that time.
My apartment in Netanya lies about nine miles from the armistice line and the Arab town of Tulkarm, which is already under the control of the Palestinian Authority. I'm across from the Mediterranean, so the actual width of Israel at that point is only about 9 miles and 50 yards. Secure borders, as called for in the resolution, are unfortunately an impossibility, but the goal should be to make them as close to secure as reasonably possible.
•The Palestinian Arab leadership accepted the Israeli presence in the disputed territories and depends on it.
They agreed to it in the Oslo Accords and Mahmoud Abbas knows that he wouldn't last a week if it wasn't for the Israeli military maintaining security.
Abbas may demand an Israeli withdrawal, but he stakes his life on Israel not caving in to that demand.
My final three inconvenient truths:
1. We keep hearing that the Palestinians deserve a state of their own. There is actually an "Encyclopedia of Stateless Nations." Most people know of the Kurds and the Tibetans, but there are literally hundreds of others, almost all with a far longer and more peaceful history than the Palestinian Arabs. None have repeatedly rejected statehood the way the Palestinian Arabs have. Every one of those national groups is arguably far more deserving of statehood than the Palestinian Arabs.
When my wife and I bought an apartment in Israel, we decided we needed to sell our private home in Waterbury and move to a condo in Massachusetts nearer our daughter. We joined the nearest synagogue, Temple Israel of Natick, which has a "Rabbi Laureate" you may have heard of, Harold Kushner, of "When Bad Things Happen to Good People" fame. One week ago today, on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, I was in the first row, right in front of Rabbi Kushner, when he gave his sermon and said:
"I would remind you that for almost twenty years, from 1948 to 1967, the Palestinians had a state of their own on the West Bank and half of Jerusalem, including the Old City and the Temple Mount."
Now, when Jews say "Jordan is Palestine," people tend to dismiss it as propaganda. But it turns out that Mahmoud Abbas - remember, he calls himself the president of Palestine, even though there is no Palestine - agrees with Rabbi Kushner. Just last year, on June 2, 2015, Abbas said "Jordan and Palestine are one people living in two states."
There are two basic reasons the Palestinian Arabs get so much undeserved attention: They are the world's most successful practitioners of terrorism ... and their target has been the world's only Jewish state.
2. Israel is the front line state in the fight against fanatical, Islamist terrorists. Every method used by those terrorists against the United States, against France, against Britain, was first used against Israel. Had the civilized world stood solidly with Israel in the past, we might not be suffering from today's outbreak of terrorism. The first, essential step in defeating terrorism around the world is standing with Israel.
If you value human rights, Israel stands with you.
If you value freedom of the press, Israel stands with you.
If you value the rights of gays, Israel stands with you.
If you value the rights of women, Israel stands with you.
If you value diversity and multiculturalism, Israel stands with you.
If you believe children should grow up and not blow up, Israel stands with you.
If you treasure the values that have made the United States of America the greatest country in the history of the world, Israel stands with you.
Israel exemplifies the very values true liberals cherish most, while Palestinian Arab society rejects those same values.
Rabbi Kushner said, in his Rosh Hashanah sermon: "We were privileged to see the rebirth of a Jewish nation in the ancestral Jewish homeland. Be grateful that you were privileged to live in the age of the Third Jewish Commonwealth."
In my years of involvement with the Arab-Israeli conflict, I've rarely read a news story, or a letter to the editor, or a presentation by someone anti-Israel, that wasn't tainted by what I'll euphemistically call false information. I urge you to read, and listen, skeptically, and find the real truth, the inconvenient truth, so often denied.
On that note, thank you for listening to these inconvenient truths. I'm eager to hear your questions, with the usual qualification: questions, not long-winded statements.
Saturday, July 30, 2016
This D'var Torah was presented at Temple Israel of Natick, Massachusetts, July 30, 2016, by Alan Stein. During the summer, the D'vrai Torah are given by congregants.
Today's parshah, Pinchas, serves as a reminder that, as important as our sacred texts are, we need to interpret them using our own knowledge, understanding and morality.
God explains to Moses how he rewarded Pinchas, the son of Elazar and grandson of Aaron, for slaying Zimri, and his Midianite consort and thus halting a lethal plague.
Is the Torah really telling us that licentious behavior causes plagues? Is it really telling us we should slay people engaging in such behavior?
The parshah discusses a census of the people, including 601,730 males between the ages of twenty and sixty, used in conjunction with the allocation of the land of Israel among the tribes and families.
Is that figure reasonable?
That many adult males implies a total population of millions, all descended from the roughly 70 families that had gone down to Egypt with Jacob 400 years earlier.
David Ben-Gurion, that celebrated prime minister, noted scholar of the Bible and atheist, observed that in שמות, Exodus, the Hebrew text refers to שש מאות אלף. This is usually translated as 600,000, but The Old Man noted אלף can also mean "family" or "clan." Having 70 families grow to 600 families seems a lot more reasonable than growing to millions of Israelites.
The parshah also relates the story of the five daughters of Tzelafchad, who had no brothers when their father died. They beseeched Moses to allow them to inherit their father's land. God accepted their plea and the law was adapted, although it was still discriminatory against women.
Are we comfortable with this?
Parshat Pinchas brings to mind the importance of critical thinking, of questioning, of family, and of the centrality of Eretz Yisrael to us, the Jewish people.
I love that in Judaism we don't have a catechism, but we question and we disagree.
The first time I ever drove a car with a GPS was in Israel in 2006. Marsha and I were there for my cousin Hagit's wedding in Beersheva, staying at the Paradise Hotel. What a prime example of a hotel's name being as believable as Mahmoud Abbas.
The night before the wedding, we went to the Inbal Hotel, in the heart of Jerusalem, for the Bat Mitzvah of a friend's daughter.
It was about midnight by the time we left, very dark - it must have been around Rosh Chodesh - and since I always make wrong turns driving out of Jerusalem, even in daylight, I decided to depend on our rental car's trusty GPS ... until we found ourselves at a dead end, on a dirt road, in an unfamiliar area, in front of a large home with mosaic tiles and Arabic lettering, and I realized, just as we must interpret Torah using our own judgment, it was time to supplement the GPS with my own judgment.
We finally, successfully, got out of Jerusalem that dark night, started wintering in Israel four years later, and made aliyah four years after that.
The city in which we live, Netanya, is a sister city to Nice.
Nice. The site of that massacre barely two weeks ago. 84 people murdered because a fanatic did not use independent judgment to temper the extreme theology of the radical Islamist clerics he followed.
The street on which we live, Nitza, is named after Nice. Apparently, if you transliterate Nice into Hebrew, and then transliterate the Hebrew into English, you come up with Nitza. That's Israel.
Ironically, Netanya has benefited from the terrorism and anti-Semitism in France. French Jews have been making aliyah in increasing numbers and Netanya is their favorite destination. Our Vaad's AGM, Annual General Meeting, is now conducted in both English and French, and occasionally a little Hebrew.
One of those olim, who had come to Israel after being a victim in the attack of the Charlie Hebdo terrorists on the Hyper Cacher kosher market in Paris, was also the victim of the one stabbing attack in Netanya during the time we were there last year.
Our lives in Israel are very similar to our lives in the United States.
As in Natick, our Masorti synagogue is an important part of our lives, our substitute family. On Shabbat, we're usually at services, which are like services here except nobody kisses their tsitsit during the Shema and nobody wears a tie.
Home for lunch, we look out our window at what Marsha calls the "Shabbat parade," the large Orthodox families from Kiryat Sanz, Netanya's version of Mea Shearim, marching along the tayelet, boardwalk, still in their synagogue clothes. After lunch, we'll often join them or walk down to the beach. I find a Shabbat nap on the beach by the Mediterranean even more pleasant than one on our porch in Natick.
With our synagogue a six minute walk from our doorway and morning minyan starting not at 7 am but at a more civilized 8, I'm usually there on weekday mornings, too. We daven using Siddurim that previously got a lot of use in the chapel here, at Temple Israel of Natick.
We go to concerts and lectures. We shop in supermarkets, where I not infrequently need to make use of a Hebrew app on my phone. We shop at Netanya's wonderful shuk, around the corner from which, at a spot I walk by several times a week, the one terror attack in Netanya since we left took place. We visit with friends. We host friends from Natick and show them around Netanya.
We replace broken appliances, always an experience. We needed a plumber when I tried to replace a faucet but, because of the corrosion from the sea, couldn't get the old one off. That cost me an extra 150 shekels, about $40. Not quite what a plumber costs here. And the plumbers here don't usually wear yarmulkes when they're fixing toilets.
At kiddush, our post-minyan coffee klatch, at AACI or ESRA - Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel or English Speaking Residents Association - or with friends, the conversation often turns to politics. We try to decide whose politics are more insane, America's or Israel's.
And people kept asking us what was going on with the Jewish community in the United States. Why all the public sniping at Israel, the patronizing op-eds in The New York Times by clueless self-appointed leaders criticizing Israel no matter what Israel does, ignoring the basic fact, obvious to everyone but the oblivious fringe in Israel, that the Palestinian Arabs and their leadership aren't willing to make peace with Israel, no matter what Israel offers?
Israelis remember Mahmoud Abbas, the "most moderate" leader the Palestinians have ever had - what a joke! - walked away after being offered the equivalent of all the disputed territory, plus a redivision of Jerusalem, in 2008 and has, for all practical purposes, ever since refused to negotiate. Last week, he announced plans to sue Great Britain for issuing the Balfour Declaration a century ago. My God! It's not even Purim.
What does Abu Mazen have to do before those critics, including, most incomprehensibly and discouragingly, Jewish critics, admit Israel can't force the Arabs to make peace, and has no alternative but to try to manage the conflict until Palestinian Arab society, and its leadership, undergoes a complete transformation?
I recently watched a few YouTube videos featuring Rabbi Avi Weiss being interviewed by Rabbi Mark Golub on JBS, the Jewish Broadcasting System. Rabbi Weiss said he viewed all of world Jewry, including Meir Kahane at one extreme and J Street at the other, not just as community, but as family.
In private, family members may argue bitterly with each other, but they usually know better than to argue publicly in the pages of The New York Times or the Boston Globe. Yes, I remember the Market Basket family feud between Arthur S. and Arthur T., but normal, loving families stand together in public, especially when they are under attack.
There is no shortage of vocal criticism of Israel, some justified but mostly unjustified, coming from anti-Semites, from anti-Zionists. Public criticism from Jews only adds fuel to the already flaming fire.
Especially now, we need to all act in the spirit of the banner in front of Temple Israel: "We Stand With Israel."
And not just because Israel needs our support. The world needs us to stand with Israel.
The words of our friend Charles Small, executive director of ISGAP, the Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy, keep reverberating in my head: "It may start with the Jews, but it never ends with the Jews."
Today, it may start with Israel, but it never ends with Israel, the frontline state in the fight against radical Islamist terrorism.
The world is today reaping the dubious rewards of not standing with Israel.
Today, it's not just Israel that's under attack. America is under attack. The Western World is under attack.
Is there a type of terrorist attack that wasn't used against Israel before being used against America, or France, or England, or Germany?
Trucks ramming into pedestrians
Planes ramming into buildings
Attacks on schools
Attacks on synagogues
Attacks on nightclubs, attacks on restaurants
They were all tried on Israel.
The world is silent when terrorists attack Israelis ... until Israel defends itself.
The United Nations adopted the infamous "Zionism is Racism" resolution, welcomed Yasser Arafat to contaminate the formerly august General Assembly while wearing a gun holster.
It repeatedly rewarded the PLO, the organization which effectively invented and popularized modern terrorism.
And thus sowed the seeds of today's plague of worldwide terrorism.
It may start with Israel, but it never ends with Israel.
Hillel said "If I am not for myself, who will be for me?"
If we are not solidly for Israel, who else can we expect to be with Israel?
Hillel also said, "If I am only for myself, who am I?"
In standing with Israel, we are not only for ourselves, but we are protecting the civilized world.
The scourge of terrorism facing the civilized world started with the rewarding of terror attacks on Israel. To turn the tide against the terrorists, the civilized world must reverse that original sin.
In Pinchas, God instructs Moses to appoint Joshua as his successor, with the responsibility of leading our people into the Promised Land.
Is it not now our responsibility to, by standing with our people in the Promised Land, do our part to help lead the world out of today's darkness into the shining light of peace?
Am Yisrael chai.