Friday, March 23, 2018

Lauder uses wrong venue for mostly misguided remarks

The following was submitted as a letter to the Jerusalem Post but was not published because I had another letter published shortly before. Let me emphasize that, though I disagree with most of Lauder's criticisms, I believe he has an obligation to express them, but in the proper forum, directly to Israeli Jews and Israeli government officials. The New York Times is not a proper forum; it both discredits him in the eyes of most Israelis, thus actually diminishing our willingness to listen to him, and provides the enemies of Israel and the Jewish people with ammunition to use against us. 

To the editor:

Of everything about Ronald S. Lauder's op-ed "Grave threats to Israel as a Jewish democratic state" with which I disagree, I disagree most with the attribution "This article first appeared in the New York Times."

If someone has advice for a friend or relative, the appropriate way to give that advice is to speak with or write to that person. One doesn't send an op-ed with that advice to the New York Times and hope it's read.

By publishing a critical op-ed in the New York Times, Lauder behaved, a la J Street, like an adversary rather than like a loving member of the Jewish people and thus forfeited any ability to be taken seriously by Israelis.

In terms of his critique, Lauder wrote as if the only alternative to the so-called "two-state solution," one the Palestinian Arabs have repeatedly rejected and which Mahmoud Abbas has emphatically said he would never accept, is a "one-state solution." However, there's absolutely no chance of a "one-state solution." We long ago turned over governance of almost all the Arabs in the disputed territory to their own government and we're not going to take that over. We'll just persevere until the Palestinian Arabs are willing to live in peace, at which point we'll come up with some arrangement.

It's instructive that the bias against Israel that permeates the media and the demonization Israel that permeates college campuses has had far more effect on the American Jewish community than on the non-Jews, whose support for Israel is at record highs. This indicates a potentially disastrous failure of the leadership of the American Jewish community.

The one kernel of a real problem Lauder mentioned was the stranglehold of the ultra-Orthodox rabbinate on government actions relating to Judaism here. However, despite Lauder's blaming that for alienation of American Jews, it's basically a domestic issue, one that we will resolve, and it has virtually no practical effect on Jews in the United States. I can give that assurance from personal knowledge, as someone who was born, raised and spent his entire working life in the United States and still spends nearly half of each year there.

American Jewish leaders, like Ron Lauder, need to figure out what they need to do to reverse the decline of their community, of which I am still a part, part-time. And if they believe Israel should be doing some things differently, they need to convey their opinions appropriately, not broadcast them in the New York Times.


Alan Stein

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Purim pondering: Persia, then and now

Purim ponderings: Persia, then and now

By Alan Stein
Alan Stein, the founder of PRIMER–Israel and PRIMER– Massachusetts, splits his time between Natick and Netanya, Israel.

Published in the Jewish Advocate, March 9, 2018

Iwrite this from Netanya, Israel, the day before Purim. Tomorrow evening, I’ll go to my Masorti synagogue, Bet Israel, for the reading of the Megillah, followed by a party including a Purim shpiel in which I’ll be playing Mordechai. (I seem to have been typecast.)

A Yom Haatzma’ut banner hanging outside an elementary
          school PHOTO: ALAN STEIN
A Yom Haatzma’ut banner hanging outside an elementary school PHOTO: ALAN STEIN
I The following morning, following my weekly Hebrew class – I’ve improved my Hebrew to the point where I occasionally have some idea about what people are saying if they speak very slowly – my wife and I will walk to Kikar Haatzma’ut, Independence Square, just under a kilometer from our apartment, where the Netanya municipality has scheduled a daylong program of festivities.
Purim is a joyous holiday here. For days, people have been walking in the streets wearing costumes. But for all the fun, the Purim story, whether based on actual events or not, is a serious one which has had echoes throughout our collective history as a people and, given its setting in Persia, which is now called Iran, has particular relevance today.
Unfortunately, most of the world is ignoring the relevance as the clock ticks down and the situation gets more explosive.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, supreme leader of today’s Persia, the Islamic Republic of Iran, has not only pledged to do what Haman, his predecessor, tried and failed, but has been adept at putting his pieces into play.
Alan Stein, the founder of PRIMER–Israel and PRIMER–
          Massachusetts, splits his time between Natick and Netanya,
          Israel.Iran has long had control over Lebanon (through its Hezbollah proxy) and Gaza (through its Hamas and Islamic Jihad proxies). It is now probably the strongest power in Iraq and has a strong and growing presence in Syria. It was from Syria that it recently sent a drone into Israeli airspace, precipitating a confrontation in which an Israeli plane was shot down for the first time since Ron Arad’s plane during the 1982 Lebanese war.
In Israel, most people feel another war with Iran’s proxies in the north, or with Iran itself, is inevitable; the winding down of the Syrian civil war brings that war closer. Unless a miracle happens, that war will come and it will be far more damaging, to all sides, than any war since the War of Independence.
The last war with Hezbollah, in 2006, was traumatic for those in northern Israel, with many coming south for safety. That won’t be an option the next time. Whereas in 2006, Hezbollah only had a few thousand missiles, mostly inaccurate and with a short-range, it now has an estimated 150,000 missiles, able to reach everywhere in Israel, with more accuracy and with heavier and more lethal payloads. As sophisticated as Israel’s missile defenses are, including Iron Dome, David’s Sling and the Arrow, it’s impossible to defend against 150,000 missiles, with thousands being launched daily.
When Khamenei decides to strike, people will be killed. Critical infrastructure will be hit. We will have no option but to play offense rather than defense, as we have since the War of Attrition in the years after 1967. We will have to destroy Hezbollah and its missiles in days, not weeks or months. Ayn breira – there will be no alternative. This will make the consequences for Lebanon devastating; especially since almost all those missiles are in civilian areas: in homes, schools, mosques, hospitals.
Is there any hope?
Maybe the United Nations will start doing its job. Maybe the Iranian people will finally overthrow their fanatical rulers. Maybe the people in Lebanon will retake their country.
Objectively, none of those possibilities seems reasonable, but as long as the war hasn’t started, we can’t give up all hope. Maybe, just maybe, there will be a miracle. Didn’t Ben Gurion say “in Israel, in order to be a realist you must believe in miracles?”
In the meantime, in Israel we still celebrate Purim joyfully and are looking forward to April 19, the 4th of Iyar, when Yom Haatzma’ut, Independence Day, will mark 70 years since the formation of our third Jewish commonwealth. The elementary school a block from our apartment already sports a banner proclaiming those 70 years. (Of course, in a sign of the alertness Israelis must practice, when I stopped in front of the school yesterday to take a picture of the banner, the school’s armed guard looked at me very suspiciously, even though he must have recognized me since I pass by him almost every day on the way to morning minyan.)

Chag sameach.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Peace in the Middle East is Not on the Horizon

Published in the Connecticut Jewish Ledger, March 2, 2018

Peace in the Middle East is Not on the Horizon

Reading the “Point/Counterpoint: Two State | One State | No State; Which solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict works best … or works at all?” commentaries (Ledger, Feb. 9, 2018), a few thoughts come to mind.
It should be obvious to all that every attempt to resolve the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs (a conflict which is a part of and a result of the broader Arab-Israeli conflict) has made things worse. Whereas there seemed to be some likelihood of peace at the start of the failed Oslo process, there is no reasonable chance of peace in the foreseeable future, certainly not until there’s a profound change in Palestinian society and its leadership.
The best thing anyone can do to bring peace closer, and save lives, is to give it a break.
When people talk about a “two-state solution,” they’re really talking about a four-state solution: Israel, Jordan (which comprises more than 3/4 of the territory of the Palestine Mandate), the West Bank (the name given to Judea and Samaria by Transjordan after capturing that territory during the 1948 war) and Gaza.
When we talk about a “two-state solution,” we mean two states for two peoples (or three, four or more), but that’s something Mahmoud Abbas has insisted he will never accept.
It’s not up to us to decide what the Palestinian Arabs do with whatever territory we give them in any hypothetical peace agreement; that’s up to them, as long as they finally let us live in peace. Many people have proposed alternatives to the so-called “two-state solution.” They’re usually disparaged, certainly by those who close-mindedly insist there’s no alternative to a two-state solution. Yet, given how harmful the fanatical pursuit of a two-state solution has been, it’s hard to see how they could be less feasible. Still, that’s not up to any of us.
Ultimately, the goal is peace. The creation of additional Arab states is a possible outcome, but treating the so-called “two-state solution” as a goal is misguided, counterproductive and downright harmful.
Alan Stein
Netanya, Israel
Natick, Massachusetts